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Reflections from the Dean of Northwestern Law

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:


Honoring Newt

Last night we orchestrated a surprise for Newton N. Minow, JD ’50. Lured to a reception at Sidley Austin LLP’s Chicago offices (where he is Senior Counsel) under false pretenses, Newt arrived to discover it was in fact a surprise party in his honor—to thank him for his many contributions to American political discourse, to First Amendment jurisprudence, to legal education and practice; and to announce the creation of the Newton N. Minow Professorship at Northwestern Law.

This new named chair was made possible by a remarkable group of people: personal friends, fellow alumni, and Sidley Austin colleagues. Together, they donated gifts totaling $4 million to create an endowment for a new named professorship in his honor. The gifts also establish the Newton N. Minow Debates, which will bring together outside experts, law school faculty, and students to debate important and timely legal topics.

Newt’s contributions to public and civic life in the United States are extraordinary. Appointed by President Kennedy, Newt served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in the early 1960s. In 1961 he gave a speech that became famous for his criticism of television as a “vast wasteland.” Not one to merely criticize, Newt set about improving broadcast communications in an astonishing variety of ways. While at the FCC he actively promoted the implementation of communication satellite technology at a time when most people had almost no understanding of that technology. He was instrumental in the creation of the All-Channels Act, legislation passed by Congress in 1961 that made more of the broadcast spectrum available to the public. One result of this was public educational programming, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that without Newt there would be no Big Bird.

In the 1970s he served as chairman and director of the Public Broadcasting Service. In 1976, Newt and two other Northwestern Law grads, Henry Geller, JD ’49, and Richard Wiley, JD ’58, reintroduced televised Presidential debates (an idea that was originally launched in 1960 but had, in the intervening years, fallen on hard political times) and worked with the FCC to change the rules so that these important public information events could be broadcast. Their efforts paid off and the debates began again, starting with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976. Newt even co-chaired the 1976 and 1980 debates. (For an interesting article about the history of these debates, check out “TV Debates: The Heart of the Presidential Race.”)

The Presidential debates have become an important part of the American political process, and they provided the inspiration for the idea to honor his legacy further by creating a permanent debate program here at Northwestern Law.

Newt identified a problem and then worked diligently, systematically, and effectively to address it. This combination of astute analysis and creative problem solving is what makes him such an effective attorney. He is also a friend and mentor to many generations of lawyers. The fact that the endowment is funded by a consortium of Newt’s personal friends and colleagues illustrates the strength of these relationships. I extend my thanks to them, and to Newt, for their many contributions!


NU Law celebrates new Chair recipients

Comprehensive notice here.

We will be pleased to honor, this afternoon at a regal ceremony, the three newest holders of endowed chairs at the Law School:

Steve Calabresi to the Barber Chair

Matt Spitzer to the Chapman Chair

David Dana to the Kirkland & Ellis Chair

The great accomplishments of these distinguished teacher-scholars are included in detail on the attached notice, as are the histories of these chairs.  Let me just add that it is always a pleasure to acknowledge the accomplishments of our top faculty by selecting them as chair recipients.  Moreover, this ceremony also allows us to thank properly those responsible for the extraordinary gifts that make these treasured professorships possible.  And, so, to the Barber and Chapman families and to the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, thank you on behalf of a grateful law school!


Big win at NLRB for Northwestern athletes

UPDATE: Professor Zev Eigen discusses implications of the NLRB ruling on public radio


The National Labor Relations Board today decided that Northwestern University football players are employees, and that means the players can vote on whether to form a union.

Peter Sung Ohr, Director of the NLRB’s Chicago office, wrote in his ruling:

College Athletes Players Association (“the Petitioner”) is a labor organization within the meaning of the Act. At the hearing, the Employer stipulated that the Petitioner was a labor organization if two conditions were met: (1) its football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are found to be “employees” within the meaning of the Act; and (2) the petitioned-for-unit was found to be an appropriate unit within the meaning of the Act. I find that both of these conditions have been met.

Here is a link to the decision, with thanks to Inside Higher Ed for posting it. It’s a lengthy document but well worth a read. It describes some of the cultural and financial mechanics that operate behind Northwestern football—mechanics that are certainly not unique to one school.

Many legal experts were not optimistic that the students would prevail, including my colleague Zev Eigen, who is one of the media’s go-to experts on this subject. In January Zev wrote a great post for this blog in which he described the relevant history and precedents, and suggested the law be revisited to clarify “…categories of work that now dominate the employment landscape.”

It’s fascinating stuff.

The NCAA, not surprisingly, disagrees with the decision, and the University will likely appeal, so this is a story that is only beginning to be told. Judging from the incredible public interest—this exploded on social media today, in case you didn’t notice—we can expect a lot of conversation around these issues. And that’s a big win, too.


A most unfortunate narrative

Many law schools are working hard to keep up enrollments and student credentials; some are indeed struggling.  As deans and university leaders work hard to make adjustments on the expenses side in order to deal constructively with these difficult issues, there has emerged an almost daily narrative about how the sky is falling (which is isn’t).

The most recent iteration of this is the news emerging from a handful of schools that faculty members are being offered retirement incentives.  Although I am in no vantage point to assess the wisdom of any of these strategies for any of these law schools, it strikes me as a sensible reaction to enrollment circumstances that are, for the most part, currently out of control for some law schools.  The business of retirement incentives is not, of course, a new phenomenon.  With the end of mandatory retirement, university departments can manage human resource costs only by looking at creative tactics such as retirement incentives.  Sometimes this will involve more senior (and typically highly compensated) members of the community; other times, given the long careers ahead of young faculty members, this will involve incentives nearer the front end.  These incentives create a dynamic of negotiation not distinct from any other sort of employer-worker negotiation.  They are tried-and-true carrots, not sticks.

That law schools are looking to manage their costs by taking close looks at their faculty labor force seems entirely sensible.  It is hardly the harbinger of disaster; and, like the press releases that are attached to these proposals, these are important messages to the wider community of students and alumni that the law schools are looking at constructive ways of preserving strong academic programs and high quality in their student bodies.

These should be welcome developments.  Folks like our friends at Above the Law, who are habitually cranky about law school decisionmaking and the motivations of academic leaders, should say:  “Hurray.  It’s about time law schools take a hard look at costs.”  But, instead, the headline of the day is essentially “Law Schools are Crashing Around Us.  Witness the Scramble to ‘Kick Out’ Faculty Members.”  Think I am exaggerating?  Here’s a link to a post by the sober Pepperdine Law professor and influential blogger, Paul Caron.

Take a breath, doomsayers.  Have some perspective.  This is evidence of adaptation, not desperation.  And you are not helping the general situation, IMHO!


Judge Horace Ward ’59, an extraordinary alum

Amazing denouement to a story that began with a talented, intrepid young Georgean, Horace Ward, who, as an African American, was rejected as a law student at the University of Georgia in the early 1950′s.  He persisted with his strong claim of racial discrimination and the dispute ended only when Mr. Ward was successful in seeking admission to Northwestern University School of Law, from which he graduated in 1959.

He continued on to a stellar career as a lawyer, a state senator, and, with President Carter’s appointment, the first African-American federal judge in Georgia.  The University of Georgia, of course, become desegregated in later years — surely in no small part due to the efforts of this remarkable man.

This May, U. Georgia will be awarding Judge Ward an honorary doctor of laws.  I know all members of the NU Law community will commend UGA on this appropriate, if long overdue, gesture.  And, likewise, all will join me in a warm congratulations to the great Judge Ward!

Here are two interesting commentaries, the first from the UGA press release and the second, somewhat more fulsome, story from an encyclopedia entry.

(thanks to Tony Tangora, in our development office, for pointing me to this story).



An End to Mandatory Life without Parole Sentences for Juveniles in Illinois

Earlier this week the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in People v. Davis, deciding that the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama is retroactive in Illinois. The Miller case decided that children under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses could not receive a sentence of life without parole without consideration of their specific circumstances. Now, individuals currently serving mandatory juvenile life sentences without parole in Illinois will have an opportunity to have resentencing hearings. These hearings will allow judges to weigh all of the circumstances in the 80-odd cases that were subject to these mandatory sentences.

An article in today’s edition of the Chicago Tribune focused on the perspective of judges in particular: “Ruling offers hope to some imprisoned as youths: Judges also pleased by end to mandatory life terms for juveniles.” The article highlights the tireless efforts of lawyers in the Children and Family Justice Center to, in the words of Alison Flaum, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Legal Director of the CFJC, “…demonstrate the problems with mandatory, one-size-fits-all sentencing.”

“These are but two of the many examples of the impact of Bluhm’s work in the representation of clients and on justice reform,” Tom Geraghty, Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic (and Northwestern Law alum!) told me earlier today. “Working with others, Bluhm faculty provide important leadership in an impressive array of justice-related activities. Our faculty-led initiatives provide unequaled educational experiences for our students.  It is my hope that we will be able to capture and convey what Bluhm faculty are accomplishing while, at the same time, continuing to work collaboratively with the justice community (and with other leaders in clinical education) and modeling the best of professionalism for our students.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

If you are interested in additional information and perspectives on this decision, the Children and Family Justice Center published a recap of the Davis case and its implications on their blog, Youth Matters, and Joshua Tepfer published a thoughtful article about how this relates to his work on innocence cases on the Center on Wrongful Convictions blog.

Thank you to my colleagues for their extraordinary work in this area, and for their important contributions to juvenile justice.


Disruptive innovation in lawyering; perspective from the U.K.

Interesting essay (thanks, again, to Bill Henderson for the pointer).


Why Bother with Global Community Work?

There are lots of reasons to encourage students to work and study abroad. I’ve discussed why I think this is important, as well as some of Northwestern Law’s international initiatives, on this blog. Today I encourage you to read my colleague Juliet Sorenson’s thoughts on this subject: The University as Global Citizen, published earlier this week on the Health and Human Rights blog.

Juliet and an interdisciplinary group of students—from the School of Law, Feinberg School of Medicine, and Kellogg School of Management—left yesterday to travel to Douentza, Mali, as part of the Access to Health program. Students in her Health and Human Rights class have spent this semester researching health needs and issues in Mali in preparation for this trip. Once in Douentza, they will work closely with health care providers and community leaders to develop and implement a meaningful, sustainable health intervention specifically for that community.

The Access to Health trip is one example of the type of international human rights projects Northwestern students will undertake during Spring Break. International Team Projects is another: under the supervision of a faculty sponsor, law students travel abroad to conduct research on topics of their choosing. The students work in teams to develop the research topic; prepare advance materials including extensive briefing materials on the country’s history, culture, and legal and political systems; and plan the logistics of field work. Once in country they interview government officials, legal scholars, policy makers, and business and civic leaders, and conduct other fact-gathering as required by the research scope.

This year teams will travel to Cuba, Chile/Argentina, Myanmar/Thailand, and South Africa, to explore questions including Constitutional rights to housing, human rights in the mining industry, foreign direct investment and entrepreneurship, banking, freedom of expression in journalism and filmmaking, and environmental issues.

These are excellent examples of the type of global experiential learning Juliet writes about, and they illustrate the role Universities can play in improving the lives of people around the world. It is, as she says, quoting John Masefield, “…one of the things that makes a University beautiful.”



NU Law alums sworn into the Supreme Court bar

on motion of our distinguished alum and Supreme Court advocate par excellence, Carter Phillips ’77.

Here is a lovely photo.


Northwestern University announces multi-billion $$ fundraising campaign

NU notice here.

The Law School is hard at work in developing its strategic priorities and case statement for its campaign, to be launched in September of this year.  This campaign, which will surely be the largest in the history of the Law School and among the largest of U.S. law schools generally, will help provide us the resources with which to undertake valuable innovations, support the important professional and academic work of our faculty and students, address student financial need, and build an enduring legacy for the Northwestern Law School for the years and decades to come.

Stay tuned for news about our campaign over the coming weeks and, as well, for information about our fall launch!