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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:


Tech innovation, business, and law schools: New York Times reports

Timely write-up in the New York Times that includes a shout-out to what we are doing here at Northwestern Law at the law/business/technology interface.


Pre-law work experience

This article from U.S. News “Law Admissions Lowdown” purports to give pro/con arguments for work experience before law school (noting, accurately, that Northwestern Law is unique in putting a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of such experience).

The “con” arguments rely on a number of false premises:
First, the suggestion that law schools have a more or less set number of spots for students with and without work experience is misleading. Law schools, generally speaking, prefer students with work experience. The difference stems from how high is this preference and, moreover, how the school evaluates the tradeoff between high numerical credentials and such experience. The lesson here is that if a student has credentials within the ballpark of one or another law school, s/he would only be helping him/herself by gaining some valuable work experience before enrolling — and perhaps before applying. I confess that it would be great for Northwestern Law is we cornered the market on such students but, in reality, the other law schools are moving rapidly in our direction.

Second, the idea that students, because they will be older when they graduate, will have a harder time transitioning into the working world is belied by the evidence. Legal employers greatly value work experience and they regard the maturity and exposure to the real world as very valuable traits and skills.

Finally, the notion that students will be less adept at doing academic work with a break between college and law school is false — or, I should say more carefully, is false as a generalization about the college/law school gap. Generally speaking, we see the opposite, that is, students can take a deep breath from the academic pressures of undergraduate (or graduate school), gain some perspective, experience, and energy, and return to school with the resolve to do high-level, intense academic work. Again, that has been our experience with our students; and this tracks with other law schools who are increasingly looking to students with work experience.

So, in the end, the “cons” are not really “cons” at all. And certainly the “pros” outweigh any “cons” that might loom!


Professor Erin Delaney, Fulbright Award Recipient

Great news to share today: our Northwestern colleague, Erin Delaney, was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant for her extraordinary work on comparative constitutionalism. She will spend the Fall 2014 semester at McGill University in Canada working on “Safeguarding Federalism: American Federalism in Comparative Perspective.”

Earlier this year Erin was a MacCormick Visiting Fellow at the Edinburgh Law School, where she was researching constitutional change in the United Kingdom—a timely topic in the lead up to the national referendum on Scottish independence. The changing nature of the British constitution is captured in an interesting recent article of hers, “Judiciary Rising: Constitutional Change in the United Kingdom,” which was published in the Northwestern Law Review earlier this year.

Congratulations, Erin!


NU Prof. David Scheffer on Scottish independence

Learned analysis from our colleague and director of Northwestern Law’s Center on International Human Rights.


Law schools and the lost generation

Criticizing ATL and its legal educ reporters for hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and other assorted mischief is a habit for those of us on the front lines of this business, and I have this habit as much as anyone.

But, when one of these folks calls it right, credit is due, and listening is the right reaction.

Elie Mystal has a post today on Above the Law that gets to the heart of a real problem, and one which potentially will only grow in significance and impact. Law grads, as he notes, feel increasingly disaffected from their law schools once they graduate, this disaffection being tied not principally (my characterization, not his) to the quality of the education provided, but to the employment outcomes and correlative debt burden suffered by students out in the marketplace with challenges and stress. In the law schools, we call this group (grads of the last seven years or so) “the lost generation.”

The basic problem which undergirds Elie’s righteous and thoughtful post is that law schools too often regard their undemployed or underemployed graduates, more than, say, a year out, as someone else’s problem. Even those law schools that work hard, and creatively, to increase employment opportunities for their current students and newly-minted graduates lack the clear incentives to continue that assistance — and in a tangible way — over the several beginning years of their graduates’ careers. No wonder why young alums perceive their law school as connecting with them only with their hands out for money. They are more right than wrong.

Let’s keep it real and say, again with credit to Elie’s main message in this post that law schools must be proactive and strategic in providing their graduates with assistance over at least the first few years following graduation. Practically, this means (at least): (1) substantial loan repayment assistance (in addition to IBR); (2) assistance which tracks not only public interest/public sector employment, but employment in legal sectors which cannot realistically hold out the promise of helping graduates’ cover their post-graduate debt; (3) meaningful career assistance which continues in the first years following graduation (not “thanks for meeting with us for your 2nd and 3rd year. Good luck!); and (4) professional development initiatives (subsidized principally by the Law School) which assist graduates with developing the most applicable modern skills, skills which will enhance their employment opportunities and point them toward more successful outcomes.

Spare us the “well, law schools will never do this, as it costs them money and it won’t have a perceptible impact on their rankings.” We are doing all four of these things are Northwestern, and we will do more. There are certainly other law schools who are engaging with their young alumni in similarly, if not more, creative ways as well. The costs of substantial action are high, and some law schools will be better resourced (of course) than others to undertake these initiatives. But, folks, let’s move it much higher up our priority list. The time has come to do something meaningful with this lost generation. It’s good for the law schools; and it’s the right thing to do.

So, hats off to Elie (at least until a future irritating post by him!) for making an essential and powerful point about the connection between the applicant decline, young alumni anger, and the flaws in the current structure of legal education.


Law school apps, general trends

down nationwide this year; more or less stable at “top” schools (including Northwestern).


Northwestern Law at legal writing conference

Description here courtesy of one of our Communications & Legal Reasoning faculty members, Dana Hill:
The Legal Writing Institute (LWI) recently held its 16th Biennial Conference of legal writing and research, library, and academic support professors in Philadelphia and Northwestern Law’s faculty was well-represented among the presenters, planning committee, and attendees. LWI’s mission is to improve legal writing by providing a forum for discussion and scholarship about legal writing, analysis, and research. Clinical Assistant Professor Elizabeth Inglehart was a member of the conference planning committee. The following Northwestern professors made presentations:

Elizabeth Inglehart presented “Practicing Today for Practice Tomorrow: Innovative Approaches” with Karl Okamoto & Terry Seligmann of Drexel University School of Law and Lori Johnson of UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law;

Dana Hill & Kathleen Dillon Narko presented “Using the Problematized Teaching Method to Engage Students in Critical Thinking in the
LRW Classroom”;

Michelle Falkoff & Chris Martin presented “When the Student Becomes the Teacher: A Different Kind of Flipped Classroom” with Lorie Reins-
Schweer & Caroline Sheerin of University of Iowa College of Law;

Deborah Borman presented “De-Grading Assessment: Rejecting Rubrics in Favor of Authentic Analysis”;

Susan Provenzano & Sarah Schrup presented “Are Law Graduates Legal Writing Mushfakers? Designing Upper-Level Courses to Promote
Mastery in Analytical and Persuasive Legal Writing”; and

Cliff Zimmerman presented “A Multicultural Perspective on PLAGIARISM: Teaching about an Age-Old Problem in the
New Age of the Global Student” with Jaime Bourier & Jonathan Gordon of Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

More detailed descriptions of the presentations can be found here:

Additionally, Professor of Law Emerita Helene Shapo and Clinical Professor Judy Rosenbaum were recognized for their years of service with LWI.


Legal education scholarship and its coming heyday (?)

cross-posted from Prawfsblawg.


Legal automation and law curriculum

cross-posted from Prawfsblawg.


Guest post: Prof. Tom Geraghty from South Africa

from my remarkable colleague, Tom Geraghty, the Class of 1967 James Haddad Professor of Law and Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic:

Geraghty_UNODC Conference_web (2)I write from Johannesburg, South Africa, where I am attending a UNODC-sponsored International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System. (View conference program.) In attendance are 250 advocates for the improvement of legal aid systems, including high government officials from around the world (Africa, Asia, the Middle East, U.K., Eastern Europe), leaders of NGOs, leaders of legal aid offices, and faculty from law school clinical programs. I am moderating a panel on meeting the demand for legal services in criminal justice systems and making a presentation on children’s access to legal services while in police custody.

I was invited to participate in this conference as the result of work that my colleagues, students, and I have done over the years on access to justice in developing countries. At the opening of this conference, Justice Dustan Mlambo, Judge President of the Gautang Division of the High Court of South Africa and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Legal Aid South Africa, referenced the Lilongwe Declaration on Legal Aid (2004) as a foundational document for the recently adopted (2012) U.N. Guidelines for Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Systems. The Lilongwe Declaration, a document that students and I had a hand in drafting in 2004 in Malawi (along with Justice Mlambo, then head of Legal Aid South Africa, and Adam Stapleton, who will be visiting the Bluhm Legal Clinic this year to expand international human rights opportunities for our students), has turned out to be a foundational document for those advocating for the improvement of legal aid and an inspiration for the new U.N. Guidelines, which are truly transformative.

Our country has much to learn from international practices and particularly from the Lilongwe Declaration and the recently adopted U.N. Guidelines on Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System. These documents set forth a comprehensive human rights-based approach to the provision of what we call public defender services, including early provision of legal assistance to children and adult suspects in police stations and special consideration for the needs of children in conflict with the law, women, vulnerable groups, as well as victims of crime and witnesses. The documents also emphasize the need to expand legal aid to those in need through the use of paralegals who can deliver many necessary services less expensively than lawyers and who are available to deliver legal aid in rural areas. Those seeking to improve the quality of indigent defense services here and abroad should use these documents as sources of a comprehensive view of the range of services that should be provided to those affected by the criminal justice systems.

Participation in international conferences, such as this week’s International Conference on Access to Justice in Criminal Justice Systems, provides our programs at the Bluhm Legal Clinic with fresh perspectives on legal practice, human rights, and the effective delivery of legal services. We use this information in our representation of our clients, especially when international standards and documents respond more concretely to real world problems in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Collaboration with our international counterparts also gives our students opportunities to perform meaningful legal services/human rights work on the ground. And curiously, attendance at such conferences enable us to meet with our colleague in the U.S. who are doing remarkable work. An example of this was the presentation made yesterday by Seymour James of the Legal Aid Society of New York. His description of the fine work done by his office was inspiring and underscored what I view to be a priority for law reform in Cook County—improvement of the quality of services that we provide right at home. Let me add that we could learn a lot from Legal Aid, South Africa.