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
At the Northwestern-California game on Saturday, three brave law students, one each from the JD, LLM, and MSL program kicked a field goal for a chance to win some scholarship money. Two of three made it (and the one who didn’t can blame it on me as the holder!).
Congrats to these three great sports! Go Cats.
Let the (college football) games begin! On the eve of the opening Wildcats game — we take on the California Golden Bears this Saturday in Evanston — I offer my predictions on the coming B1G football season.
1. Michigan State Spartans
2. Wisconsin Badgers
3. Michigan Wolverines
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
6. Iowa Hawkeyes
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
9. Indiana Hoosiers
10. Northwestern Wildcats
11. Illinois Illini
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
13. Purdue Boilermakers
14. Maryland Terrapins
First seven will definitely be bowl eligible. Maybe one or two others.
Sorry I couldn’t show more love for the Wildcats, but facts are stubborn things!
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.