Welcome friends of Northwestern University School of Law. I hope you will enjoy these observations about our Law School, about legal education and the rapidly changing legal profession, and about (on a somewhat lighter note) the adventures of a new transplant to the City of Big Shoulders.
I welcome your feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
Conversations about medium and large-sized change in legal education have mostly been framed around comments by deans and law professors — with an occasional foray into this debate by prominent public officials, including President Obama, Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Scalia and other elder statespeople who are furnished ink by the barrel (old-timers will get the journalism reference here!).
So, in the main, the conversation about reform has a typically top-down quality. We in the legal academy talk about the imperative of forging change; prominent outsiders chime in with suggestions; and the professors (and perhaps especially the deans) quarrel over the content of such changes.
But we should think in earnest about the ways in which the law school reform debate should be equally a bottom-up endeavor. The folks who have unique perspectives on reform are those who in the practice (I mean “of law” but would also include anything following the “of” about which law is pertinent and important) and those entering into this practice as law students. Reform agendas should be framed in no small part around what gaps have emerged in the post-graduate skill-building of young lawyers. Bottom line: “What ought they to know and what ought they to be able to do when they join the profession as lawyers?” Every other question ought to be secondary to this one. And every other key matter of interest and concern to academicians in internal debates — including the critical and controversial matters of cost, debt, and value — should be viewed in the service of best answering this question. For this question undergirds debates over curriculum, the balance between theory and experience, who should teach law students, and even the overarching economic structure of the enterprise.
Moreover, practicing lawyers and even to some degree mid-stream law students, will have a perspective on this question that, despite all our best efforts as profs and deans, we will lack. So, my tiny point here is simply that the change engineers are, to a greater extent than we inside the tent typically appreciate, those who are engaged delay in the practice of law and the performance of legal (incl law + business) tasks and skills. “Let’s see what the lawyers think” is a convenient knock off question, when our own debates tail off or hit an impasse. But this tactic goes about the inquiry in a too truncated way. The inquiry should begin, perhaps paradoxically, from a starting point which inevitably counsels modesty about our comparative advantage in answering the key questions. Again: What should lawyers know? And how should we in law schools contribute to this knowledge? The practical architecture of major reform should reflect a more bottom-up focus, a more humble sense of what we do and do not know.
Innovation begins with engagement.
A key part of our Northwestern Law entering class are our foreign students — that is, the dozens of students from across the world who join us either as part of our LLM graduate program for foreign lawyers, our first-year JD class, transfer students, and members of our new Master of Science in Law program for STEM professionals.
Whatever the program, these foreign lawyers enrich our community in tangible ways. They bring the perspectives gleaned from educational and legal experience in other countries — some quite different than the U.S. So, for example, many of our foreign lawyer law students have been educated in civil law systems and bring to bear unique perspectives to our essentially common law system in the U.S. Others have worked on significant international transactions and can and do enrich class discussions with critical experiences emerging out of this unique work.
Likewise, the exposure these foreign students have to American law students and (mostly) American law faculty enriches their work and their lives here in the U.S. It is truly an international dialogue at work, with foreign perspectives drawn into the mix of our pedagogical work and domestic perspectives radiating out among a large foreign contingent. None of this is accidental, of course. We are a purposive international community of students and faculty and we are proud to build upon our global strategies while improving the quality of our educational program provided to our foreign visitors.
In the coming months, I expect to report more specifically on some of our central global programs and projects.
From my remarks at the Orientation ceremony this morning:
On behalf of the faculty and staff, I am pleased to welcome you to the Northwestern Law School entering class of 2014. We have here students in our several degree programs, including entering JD students from our regular and accelerated JD programs, and of our JD/MBA program. We also welcome the students who have transferred to Northwestern after spending their first year elsewhere. Last, but not least, we welcome the students to our two LLM programs, the program in Tax and the LLM program for foreign lawyers. All of you share in common that you are valued new members of our Northwestern Law School community and we are looking forward to working with you during your time here and, when your studies are completed, welcoming you into the Northwestern family as treasured alumni.
While we look forward to our accomplishments at Northwestern Law, you are already a very accomplished group. You come here with outstanding academic credentials of course, but also equally outstanding backgrounds and experience. Ours is a multidimensional, multilayered admissions process, one that looks holistically at all the criteria that goes into a great law student. And while we are of course interested in your record of accomplishment, we are also very interested in fit, that is, in students who we believe will thrive in the unique environment of Northwestern Law School. Yes, indeed, you are all here because our confidence in you as a Northwestern law student and of your confidence in us as a law school.
It is customary at this point in an Orientation ceremony to describe some of the exceptional new students — to talk about the student who hiked Mount Everest clad only with a Chicago Bears jersey and nourished by a bottle of water and a fistful of Ritz crackers or the student who came here after a career as a two-term senator from the northeast, elected at age sixteen naturally or the Olympic decathlon who arrived after a Rhodes scholarship and a tour of military duty, doing counter-espionage work. Yes, you are an amazing group and among you are men and women who have had truly remarkable experiences and travels and have accomplished great things. But rather than offer tantalizing anecdotes, I thought I would take the more unconventional path of leaving to you the valuable task of learning about one another on your own. You are all incredible entering law students and I urge you to get to know another over the next few days of Orientation.
To those of you – and this figure is approximately three quarters of the class – who have come from outside the Midwest, welcome to the City of Big Shoulders; welcome to Chicago. This is a great city, filled with world-class culture and amenities of all sorts and a city with Midwestern charm. This is the city of the Bears and Bulls, the Blackhawks and White Sox, and the national champion Little League Team! I should mention the subject that shall not be spoken of in the student recruitment process, and that is the weather. As you look outside on this beautiful late summer day, please note that it won’t look like this beginning in December or in January or February, for that matter. Yes, we are at Northwestern, but when the new year rolls around, it would seem a bit more “North” than “West.” But you will get used to this; and you will see our four seasons – well, maybe three seasons – as part of the cadence of ordinary life in this great city and in this grand part of the country.
With this Orientation ceremony, we bring more or less officially to close the summer season. If you are at all like me you are not altogether thrilled by this fact. It is tempting to think back to all the goals you had at the beginning of the summer and all you look forward to accomplishing. I know the feeling well. I had set out this summer to accomplish all sorts of great things, to complete grand projects and continue to lead change through speeches, articles, and books. But as late August rolls around, my goals have become more modest. I congratulated myself on completing the second season of the House of Cards and I might just manage to get organized for my fantasy football draft later this week. But that’s OK. A new school term brings new goals and new energy. At the very least, let me give you this unsolicited advice: You should think of this Orientation period as a transition, a reentry of sorts. Do keep your focus, but do enjoy this time – watch some baseball, catch up on some TV, enjoy a hot dog . . . some of you will be with us this coming Saturday in Evanston as the Northwestern Wildcats take on the California Golden Bears. Go Cats.
I want to speak briefly about the institution you will join. First, as to our history, you should know that Northwestern Law School has a grand tradition of excellence. Through our halls have come governors, judges, including both state and United States Supreme Court Justices, captains of industry, able public servants, and incredibly accomplished lawyers who practice throughout the nation and across the world. Yes, ours is a glorious history and all of you are a part of this extraordinary legacy. Yet, ours is a living history. And we are constantly building and shaping that history through our work and efforts in the here and now. You have heard and will hear much about the Northwestern Law difference. Yes, much of this is intangible, but I believe I can summarize it like this: This is a student-centered community, one that treats law students like the adults you are and with significant ownership over your academic pursuits and your careers. The legal profession is an intense, demanding, and occasionally competitive profession and there is every reason to believe that it will become more, rather than less, so in the coming years. Northwestern Law School is fundamentally a collaborative place, a place where much of the real work takes place outside the classroom, in your interactions with your classmates, with the teams you build and nurture in coursework and in the cooperative endeavors among students, faculty, and alumni. Our physical space is an admixture of the old and the new. And the environment of the Law School, here in the beating heart of Chicago, is a hothouse of energy and enthusiasm. With myriad student organizations, opportunities for social gatherings, often spontaneous interactions with not only law students, but with other graduate students who come down here from Evanston to take advantage of our cross-campus programs, Northwestern is a place in which great things happen and in which real learning takes place.
It is also an institution with relentless forward momentum. In an era in which the legal profession is changing in key ways and in which there is legitimate uncertainty about precisely what lawyers’ careers will look like five, ten, twenty years from now, it is fundamentally important to make sure that law students are equipped with the right mix of skills and the best foundational education and practical training to flourish, to adapt, and to lead in this brave new world. Northwestern Law is responding to this dynamic landscape intentionally and strategically. We have a faculty of top lawyer-educators, many with substantial interdisciplinary training and all with a passion for educating modern lawyers with modern skills. We have a curriculum that is rigorous and comprehensive, yes, but also imaginative and future-focused. At Northwestern, we understand that the lawyer of 2020 (which is not that far past your graduation date) will encounter a profession in which the practice of law will not be preoccupied with a separate language – legalese – cordoned off from the rest of the world. Rather, lawyers will be social engineers, managers of information, and developers of novel techniques to help facilitate the objectives of government and of the economy – and alongside all of this, they will – you will – continue to be the front line protectors of the rule of law and of civil rights and liberties in a world that demands just this sort of protection. You will be lawyers working at the intersection of law, business, and technology and I promise you that the intensive, multidisciplinary education you will receive at Northwestern Law will equip you well to be this new kind of lawyer, this professional leader for the modern age.
I envy each and every one of you in the journey you are about to begin as a law student – whether as part of our JD or LLM programs This is a wonderfully interesting, intellectually rich and rewarding experience. You will engage with complex issues in your readings and your class discussion. And these are issues that matter. The study of law is the study of the structure and contents of rules and institutions which foster a civilized society. It is the study of “wise restraints” that keep us free. You will spend most of your time focused on the trees, but don’t forget about the forest. It is not only big data that matters in our increasingly complex world; it is the big picture – how we ought best to think about our legal system, our rule of law, our structure of justice, and how what we study as law students and lawyers contributes to the well-being of our civil society, both in the United States and throughout the world.
I envy you in another respect as well. This is an extraordinarily exciting and important time to be in law school. This may be an incongruous and perhaps even odd observation given the broadsides one hears about law school and legal education in the media. What do these challenges mean for our law schools? Or, to cut to the point deeper, “is now a good time to go to law school?” When the question is framed around the educational programs at Northwestern Law, my answer is an unequivocal yes.
So, in conclusion, let me again welcome you to law school, welcome you to Northwestern Law School, and wish you the very best in the coming weeks and months. I look forward to getting to know all of you. I hope you will check out my blog (it is listed on the front of the Law School web page) and my twitter feed. And, likewise, I hope you will share with me and my colleagues your thoughts and advice about we can make your law school and your law school experience as great as possible. We care what you think; we value your advice. For now, just a proud purple welcome to the entering class of 2014.
Northwestern Law alumni: a very generous anonymous donor has pledged $100,000 to the Law School Fund if 500 fellow alums donate before the end of the school’s fiscal year—August 31, 2014. Gifts of every size count toward the challenge.
This summer, we’re asking you to show our current students that no matter where they go after graduation, they have the support of a strong alumni community. Participating in our Summer Road Trip Challenge is a great way to do this.
Please make a gift and help us secure the match!
Professor David Scheffer, the Director of our Center for International Human Rights, and the first-ever War Crimes Ambassador for the United States, was instrumental in creating the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, this court was established to bring to trial those most responsible for the atrocity crimes that plagued Cambodia in the late 1970s.
Earlier this month, the Tribunal brought some measure of justice to Cambodians: “The two most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders from Cambodia’s genocidal Democratic Kampuchea regime…were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.”
This has been a long time coming. It wouldn’t have happened at all but for David’s tireless efforts as a State Department official during the Clinton Administration and as a special expert with the United Nations in the years since then. (If you are interested in how David helped establish war crimes tribunals for the Balkans, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, I urge you to read his remarkable book, All the Missing Souls.)
As Director of the Center for International Human Rights, David leads an incredible group of faculty who make possible a unique set of experiential opportunities for our students, of which one—among many—is working on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. I thank them for their efforts to expand due process around the world and increase accountability to international law, and I join them in celebrating their success.
Our Northwestern Law colleague, Steven Lubet, published an interesting opinion piece on the Steven Salaita controversy at the University of Illinois in today’s Chicago Tribune. The link is here.
One suspects that the ABA Council is taking a deep breath, and perhaps also a victory lap, after several years in which it reviewed existing standards and made some meaningful reforms. Attention rightly shifts to the implementation of these reforms and, one hopes, to working constructively with law schools to best manage the burdens (and also the benefits) of these new standards.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that there is much more constructive work to do. The multiyear process just completed was described as a comprehensive one. Yet, the most comprehensive approach to reform would look freshly at all the rules in toto, asking simultaneously the questions: What is the fundamental purpose of law school regulation? How do the standards maintain public confidence in legal education while encouraging law schools to revisit their basic instructional and economic models, in light of the changing landscape for students, faculty, and lawyers? And how can these standards be framed as drivers of innovation and of creative reform, rather than as maintenance of a model of legal education that is coming under challenge, and from many quarters, as ill-suited to the needs, wants, and exigencies of the profession?
Drilling deep into these questions can assist the Council and its many stakeholders in opening the kind of dialogue that promises to lead, albeit not in the next few months or even couple years, to important change.
More specifically, the ABA Council might think in earnest about the following (which is not to say that such thinking has been entirely lacking within leadership of the Council and ABA Section headquarters:
1. What is the right regulatory approach to teaching faculty? The Council punted entirely on the matter of job security, in the face of criticism and worry. But the matter has not dissolved in importance. What role is there for creativity and flexibility in the construction of a teaching faculty (tenured, long-term contract, and adjunct)? How can the best approaches to academic freedom and faculty governance be married to a vision of high-quality, innovative pedagogy?
2. What is the role of technology in the delivery of legal education and of legal services? The ABA has taken some baby steps toward flexibility with its new distance education standards. But there are large issues which loom nearby. The Council could take a leadership role in thinking about this issue not solely or simply as one of regulation of novel behavior and activity among member schools, but of how best to incentivize and create a space for law schools to think differently (and in some cases radically differently) about information delivery. A thoughtful standard on so-called flipped classrooms might be a bite-size place to start.
3. What should the ABA Section’s regulatory role be with respect to non-core JD programs, including LLM, Master degrees, and certificate programs? Hardly any law dean craves traditional regulation in this space. On the other hand, the development of sensible, informed standards for evaluation — and, yes, even for assistance to law schools — would aid confidence among the public and various stakeholders that law schools are thinking through the implications of these novel programs and are serving important professional objectives.
4. How can the standards help law schools advance the cause of breaking down traditional silos between modalities of professional education? In other words, as the law-technology-business interface replaces the traditional dichotomy of “law practice” and “business performance,” can there be accreditation standards that both absorb this multidisciplinarity and also reward collaborative change? One specific recommendation: Permit, and even encourage, more dual degree programs, cross-listed courses, alternative admissions tests and criteria, joint faculty hiring, and various efforts to build bridges between law schools qua law schools and other professional departments, including business, engineering, medicine, and the social sciences.
5. What is the role of these standards in assessing alternative legal education providers? And by “alternative,” I mean to include non-U.S. law schools, undergraduate institutions, paralegal, for-profits . . . that is, the whole gamut of institutions that are not regular law schools. There is a “looking for the keys under the lampshade” quality to the existing standards. A comprehensive review, consistent with Dept of Educ guidelines, might look at how there could be coherent standards of all relevant accreditation standards to ensure that there are good approaches to legal education wherever such education happens.
Many more questions, and other welcome perspectives. But here is a plea for the Council not to take too long a break from their standards review. There is much more work to be done.
Matt Leichter weighs in thoughtfully on the “JD advantage jobs = lousy jobs” narrative. This is part of the swimming upstream various bloggers — usually, but not always, disaffected, anonymous posters — have been doing as part of a strategy of criticizing law schools for not enabling their students to pursue interesting, remunerative careers.
The wave of change impacting the legal profession and also the business sector has opened up opportunities for new law graduates. The business sector — especially, but not limited to, the technology sector — sees the utility of law-trained professionals in a world in which the intersection among law, business, and technology is increasingly useful. Indeed, the traditional silos between “legal services” and “business services” is dissolving in important ways. And while professional associations of lawyers, and perhaps state bars and the ABA, may be resistant to these changes, disruptive innovation is coming fast and furiously.
So why do Matt Leichter and others want to pound once again on the JD advantage drum?
First, he wants to draw the connection between unemployment rates and JD advantage positions, making the true, but banal, claim that when unemployment rises, “the proportion of graduates finding themselves in JD advantage positions is likely to increase.” Huh? No one is insisting that a law graduate will always or even mostly prefer a JD advantage to a JD required job. It surely depends upon the job. And everyone agrees (right?) that employment in a JD advantage position is preferable to unemployment. So what is so fuzzy about the proposition that, in this difficult job market, law graduates are pursuing eclectic professional opportunities. And why is it just labeled, derisively, “scrounging for work?”
Let’s look at the matter the other way ’round, that is, from the vantage point of employers. Presumably indebted law grads will have higher salary needs than, say, grads with a BA or even a post-graduate master’s degree. Why would non-traditional business sector employers then prefer law grads at this higher salary level if the JD degree was not truly an advantage? Is it the position of these critics that employers, too, are being scammed?
Here is the essential point: It is not NALP and not the law schools who are foisting law grads on unsuspecting employers by insisting that the JD degree is an advantage. It is the employers — and here, to be sure, I am focusing in particular on the business sector — who are seeing this educational path as providing value added. In the data described by Leichter, twenty percent are in “other business settings.” Would more precision in describing these jobs help? Well, surely yes. But the main point is that businesses are in fact hiring these grads and presumably across salary ranges. Different schools, different outcomes. Yes indeed. But I can report that Northwestern Law grads entering the consulting and business/technology fields are seeing salary outcomes that are quite remunerative indeed. And these fall squarely into this so-called “fuzzy” category.
Leichter insists that NALP should reshape the category to include only positions which offer “the graduate opportunities for exercising professional judgment while using their legal skills and knowledge.” Even making the heroic assumption that some smart cookies could come up with a useful measure of this, there remains very good reasons to suppose that employers are making this assessment in the real world by pursuing with alacrity law graduates. Yes, not all of these positions are lucrative and Leichter’s point that the salary at the 25th percentile of JD advantage jobs is not very large (still, the question is compared to what??). But trotting out the trope that the lion’s share of JD advantage jobs in the business sector are in fact positions which do not demand professional judgment or legal knowledge and thus we know that JD grads are “scrounging” and settling for these jobs (having been duped by NALP and deans) is not only tired, but is belied by the market.
Educated, data-driven debate by careful thinkers — and, to be clear, I certainly view Mr. Leichter as in this category, as someone with a valuable perspective and useful things to say on this subject — is necessary in this fuzzy climate. But let’s have this discussion in the context of a larger debate about the changing nature of legal services, the increasingly innovative work that law schools are doing, multidisciplinarity in the law-business-technology space, and economic judgments made by rational college graduates. More data and analysis in this realm would be a welcome relief to the scambloggers’ cranky refrain.
Here is a letter sent to me today, and presumably to every other law dean in the U.S., from the CEO of ExamSoft, followed by my response:
Dear Dean Rodriguez,
As you may have already heard, on Tuesday evening last week, there were delays in uploading answer files following the day’s exam sessions. Please accept my sincere apologies to you, your students, your faculty and staff. We take our obligation seriously, and after many years of supporting bar exams across the nation, Tuesday night’s delay was very disappointing to say the least.
Since that night, our core priority has been to assist and support each student and ensure solid technical performance for any remaining bar-related activities. If you would like, in the near future, we would be happy to send you a more robust account of what happened on Tuesday night, including details about the root cause of the delays, what changes have been made to improve performance, and how we can ensure this doesn’t happen again.
With that said, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some general information, which you may have already seen, in the hopes that it is helpful to you:
• Tuesday’s post-exam delay did not impact exam day functionality in SofTest, nor did it impact the integrity of exam takers’ answer file content.
• Based on the accounts we’ve received from site engineers, it seems that the exam sessions themselves went well.
• On Tuesday evening, around 6pm ET, as east coast students were uploading their exams, our internal system began processing files at a slower-than-usual pace for a period of approximately six hours.
• Naturally, this led many exam takers to wonder about the status of their uploads and, in some cases, whether they would be able to upload by their deadlines. Therefore, we worked diligently to communicate with applicants via our call lines, Facebook, Twitter, and our website throughout the evening. The state bar examiners were great partners and extended upload deadlines as needed to accommodate the delay, and we communicated such extensions throughout the night.
• On Wednesday, we made several network configuration changes, and Thursday’s exam upload process went smoothly. We are continuing our diligence and will be making further enhancements in short order.
• This week’s overall exam volume was almost the same as last year’s and lower than other weekly periods for final exams, so the volume itself was not the challenge.
Our performance this past week was inconsistent with the standard we’ve set over the years, and we are committed to doing better. Again, more information will be forthcoming as we complete our internal analysis, and please let me know if you would like to talk with me or a member of my executive team.
ExamSoft Worldwide, Inc.
Thank you for your note. I assume that this exact note is being sent to every dean of every ABA-accredited law school in the U.S. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to have a comprehensive accounting of this situation from the perspective of ExamSoft. I believe, and very much hope, that there have been no specific negative consequences on the ability of any graduates of our law schools to process their exam files.
At the same time, there was unquestionably a serious toll taken on the students in their wholly understandable anxiety and worry, perhaps even panic –clearly consequences of the technological problems resulting from your internal systems, just as you note below.
For that reason, it is striking to me that in your boilerplate note, there is no indication that you are making any refunds to any bartaker. Nor is there any indication that you are planning to make financial recompense that would be a tangible, important acknowledgment of what, at the very least, was a serious problem that resulted from technological problems within the scope of control of ExamSoft.
Such a gesture, whether or not legally compelled, would be the right thing to do, in my opinion. While I by no means speak for anyone other than myself, I would respectfully suggest that you consider, if you have not already, some tangible steps that meet this clear moral obligation to make amends. I call upon you to reflect further upon this unfortunate episode and do the right thing.