Teaching Law Students to Find Their Own Executive Presence

We’ve heard before that we should “dress for the job we want,” but it takes a lot more than a great suit to make a solid impression. It is a collection of factors that establish true “executive presence” (EP). Jessica Wood was pleased to weigh in on this topic at a recent Georgia Latino Law Foundation (GLLF) event focusing on establishing EP hosted by Mark Newman and his firm Troutman Sanders.

Coined by Kennedy Scholar and economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, “executive presence” is an amalgam of qualities that true leaders exude, a presence that telegraphs you’re in charge or deserve to be. EP is a dynamic, cohesive mix of appearance, communication, and gravitas.”

Some people seem to have EP naturally, like Amal Clooney, Nelson Mandela, Oprah and Malala Yousafzai, but like anyone seeking to gain respect and be heard, they had to work to get to that point. It isn’t just about being bold either, those with true executive presence build others up too. They support their peers – particularly women and people of color who may be vulnerable – avoid destructive gossip, and model exemplary workplace behavior. Jessica and her fellow panelist, Sofia Bork of Hispanic Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE), shared with the law students in attendance the actions they had taken to create their own EP.

Other topics discussed included how to give and accept compliments and constructive criticism, how to exceed expectations by establishing clear deliverables with law professors and partners, and ways to establish processes to impress others with authority, poise, reliability, and stability. Real life examples of how to accomplish this included:

  • Visiting courthouses and other important venues in advance of important dates, to control logistics and enhance proactivity;
  • Researching clients, opposing counsel, and the judge to identify points of commonality, work styles, and preferences;
  • Creating more than one version of any speech or presentation, as well as videotaping and watching themselves with the sound on and off, to eliminate nervous tics and focus on nonverbal communication; and
  • Adding value with comments and questions without undermining that value with throat-clearing expressions like, “this may be a stupid question, but….”

To round out the event, GLLF founder Ana Maria Martinez educated the entire group about proper dining etiquette to instill confidence during interview-based meals and other professional events. (Jessica learned more than she anticipated during this part of the event.)

If you are interested in learning more or having Jessica speak about executive presence with your organization, feel free to reach out.


GLLF was created to increase diversity in the legal profession by supporting the Latino legal community pipeline. Participating law students attend events, work with individually assigned mentors, and they are eligible for prestigious fellowships.