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Posts by Dan Rodriguez


On lawyer competencies

Building on the “specialization” posts I referenced recently, another interesting post by Prof. Campbell of Peking Law.  How can I not agree with his analysis when he references Northwestern Law’s admissions process in particular?

I certainly associate myself with his observations about the role and pertinence of these key lawyer competencies.  Where I might quibble just a bit in his observation, referencing NYU in particular (although he might as well have referenced other law schools, including ours), that there is limited value added by the work within law school to develop these competencies.  I do believe there is more value that meets the eye.  Emphasis on developing business skills is growing and I think that is a fruitful development indeed.


Prof. Leigh Bienen’s intriguing biography of Florence Kelley

Florence Kelley and the Children

My colleague, Leigh Buchanan Bienen, who is first and foremost an expert on (and agitator for) capital punishment reform, just published a book about Florence Kelley—labor activist, political reformer, and 1895 Northwestern Law alumna. Kelley’s tireless efforts to reform labor laws, particularly for women and children, had a profound impact on working in the United States.

Florence Kelley and the Children: Factory Inspector in 1890s Chicago, focuses on Kelley’s life in Chicago in the 1890s, during which time she served as Chief Factory Inspector for the State of Illinois. A woman in a job like that was all but unheard of in those days, but so was a woman earning a law degree. Kelley put her legal education to good use in her lifelong efforts to change labor laws. She battled legislation challenging the Illinois factory inspection law all the way to the Supreme Court, and won. She was one of the contributors to the 1908 Brandeis Brief, which combined legal argument with scientific evidence and changed American jurisprudence forever, and she worked on other labor-law cases heard by the nation’s highest court. She was an appellate rock star in an age when women couldn’t vote.

The book is more than a just a history, though. Using biographical elements from her own life and work, Leigh draws interesting parallels between the struggles of the labor movement of the late 19th century and the events that led to the end of capital punishment in Illinois just a few years ago. Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here, describes the book in this way: “In these pages, Leigh Bienen offers a worthy tribute to Kelley and draws intriguing parallels to the struggles of today.”

My congratulations, and my thanks, to Leigh!


On specialization and the future of lawyering

Some very thoughtful, provocative comments here and here by way of Prof. Ray Campbell at The Faculty Lounge.  Well worth a careful read.

Here is one quotation which frames the basic argument:

“[L]aw practice has changed fundamentally since Langdell reformed law teaching. Today law practice is highly specialized, and rather than roaming across the field of the common law modern lawyers tend to their own narrow patch of expertise. Today, no one can master all the ‘dogma’ that is routinely applied by lawyers in the major law firms or major government agencies. There is just too much. Whatever marks the commonality of the practice of law – and should therefore play into the training of lawyers – it’s not applying the same technical legal expertise on a day to day basis.

Neither does the background knowledge or skill reflected in ‘thinking like a lawyer’ provide a sufficient answer to training lawyers. As practice has evolved, legal reasoning remains important – much as putting is important to golf – but it’s far from the whole game.”

The “quandary,” Campbell notes, is how law schools ought to best train these students who will encounter a highly specialized practice.  I have some thoughts on that (as he and others certainly do).  More on that in a future post.  But, for now, note the important implication he draws from these observations about the trends toward specialization and commodification of legal services:

“As legal practice becomes more and more specialized, the possibilities for non-lawyer specialists to take on roles that used to belong to lawyers become ever greater. If a lawyer does not actually need broad based legal training to proved the specialized service, competitors who are not lawyers can enter the market unless the market is protected. On the corporate side, where regulatory barriers are largely papered over by having general counsel in between the law workers and the non-lawyer clients, we can already see a number of these – e-discovery specialists, document review specialists, litigation consultants, merger and acquisitions consultants, and on and on. Other countries, including the UK, have opened the doors to such providers, and some states have relaxed or are looking at relaxing barriers on the consumer side of the market. I think the range of non-lawyer specialists that compete for law work will only become more extensive and more elite over time.”

This is an enormous issue, of course, and one that is best framed around both positive and normative analyses.  I might quibble with the description as regulatory barriers being “largely papered over”  — claims regarding the unauthorized practice of law don’t always fail, and there has been controversy stirred up by individuals and entities entering the so-called traditional lawyer space with various services (litigation involving Legal Zoom, for example, continues in various state courts).  But the general point, that specialization in legal practice has and can drive legal generalists out of key parts of the market, seems surely right as a descriptive matter.  The normative implications, to say, the obvious are controversial and fascinating.


The Robin Chemers Neustein Law School Visiting Professorship

I’m very pleased to share with you today’s announcement of the Robin Chemers Neustein Law School Visiting Professorship. Robin earned her JD-MBA from Northwestern in 1979; she serves on the Board of Trustees and is a great friend of the University and the Law School.

Her gift allows us to bring noteworthy visiting scholars to the Law School. The first of these is Morton Horwitz, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History Emeritus at Harvard Law. Morton is the author of a very important book, The Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860—which won the 1978 Bancroft Prize. He also wrote The Transformation of American Law, 1970–1960: The Crisis of Legal Orthodoxy and The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice. These works secured his place as a leading scholar of American Legal History.

This semester he will teach a seminar entitled American Legal History: the Warren Court, and, together with Professor Nadav Shoked, a course on the History of Economic Regulation. He is a terrific addition to our community of scholars, and as it happens, several of us on the faculty—myself, Nadav, and Stephen Presser—studied with Morton, back in the day, at Harvard.

Morton is the first of many extraordinary scholars we will bring to Northwestern Law as a result of Robin’s generosity. Her gift will enrich our teaching and scholarship in innumerable ways.


Legal services in-sourcing

Is the focus of these two recent articles, one from WSJ law blog and the other from ABA journal.  The basic takeaway is that corporations are decreasing meaningfully their spend on outside law firm work and are handling much more of it internally.

Interesting quantitative analyses raise further questions:  Is this driven solely by economic considerations and, if so, what will outside law firms do to respond to these choices?  Are there kinds of matters which corporations are looking afresh at in-sourcing?  In other words, are there non-economic considerations underlying these strategies?  And will these developments impact the hiring of new law graduates, as law firms face the challenge of providing added value through assignment to freshly-minted associates?  Further, will they impact law school curriculum (perhaps by encouraging law schools to focus more squarely on training for in-house law careers)?

These are hard questions, and not new ones.  But the brute facts of legal in-sourcing bring these complex matters into ever-sharper relief.


Northwestern Law in the September spotlight

We have a number of significant events coming up this week at Northwestern Law.

On Thursday evening, we will be launching the public phase of our comprehensive funding campaign.  We will join with over 200 alumni, faculty, students, staff, and friends to celebrate NU Law and to look ahead to our great fundraising objectives.  Please check out the Law School’s campaign website for up-to-date information about our campaign.  (And, of course, news about our campaign will be featured on this blog).

On Friday, we will honor a number of distinguished law alumni at our second annual awards ceremony.  We are especially pleased to welcome home Justice John Paul Stevens.

That same day, we will meet with our Law Board, the alumni advisor group to the Law School.  I look forward to updating this group about the progress of our strategic plan.

On Friday afternoon and through Saturday, we will host our all-alumni weekend, with several programs and panels and also a Q & A session with me about the Law School.  Finally, on Saturday night, we will celebrate with many alumni their reunions.  We welcome back all our alumni from Chicago and around the world.



International law and law and economics expert, and one of my colleagues here at Northwestern Law, Eugene Kontorovich has been tracking the phenomenon of “gaolbalization” for a few years now. Earlier this week he published an update on The Volokh Conspiracy that is well worth a read.


Collaboration networks in legal academia

Terrific post by one of our star law students, Ryan Whalen, JD-PhD student and editor in chief of the Northwestern University Law Review.

Check it out (and his blog generally)!


Envisioning the future of legal services requires us to define “legal services”

The bold title of the commission assembled by the ABA is “The Future of Legal Services.”   I am chairing one of the working groups, that on “Blue Sky Thinking on Innovations.”  (One committee member wryly noted that the abbreviation could be “BS Thinking”!).

Such blue sky thinking allows us to consider, through a wide lens, present and future innovations in the contours of legal services.  One threshold issue, I think critical, is the definition of “legal services.”  Are we going through an era in which the configuration of what is “legal” and what is, say, “managerial” is changing? As I and others have written about elsewhere, the imperative of thinking about problems of risk and performance as issues at the interface of law, business, and technology is critical.  Managers often want their lawyers to help them think through risk and reward and to do by evaluating not only the legal dimensions of the problem (will I be sued? what is my potential exposure? what can I do to ameliorate my legal risk?), but also the business performance dimensions (how ought my legal risks be assessed in light of potential opportunities? how do these risks map onto the strategic objectives of my company?).  Traditionally, these latter issues were handed back to managers once the legal issues were properly ventilated.  And, to be sure, these C-suite level decisions must be framed around considerations that are often above the competencies, and indeed the “pay grade” of these able in-house lawyers.  Yet, the twin elements missing in this standard depiction is this:  The manager making the business decision should have adequate insight about the structure and basis of the legal advice to properly incorporate that advice into the business decision — to be clear, it is the context, not the content, that is critical here; we still want the lawyer to be the lawyer.  And we want the lawyer to have enough of the context of the business strategy decision to understand the nexus between what light “the law” sheds on this matter and what are the issues pertinent to the manager’s choices.

So, we are back to the puzzle of what are “legal services” in a setting which legal advice is embedded in business strategy and in which business strategy incorporates not only elements of substantive law, but also of legal reasoning — the process, as well as the content.  Lawyers, often acting through the accreditation authorities and within the structure of a profound culture of “law” and “lawyering” will see themselves as the sole stakeholders for what is or is not a “legal service.”  But in the world in which the silos between pure lawyering and pure business performance are dissolving — or at least the purity of these concepts are interrogated — the hegemony of lawyers in defining this phrase is controversial.


Northwestern MSL students

Along with our entering JD and LLM students, we welcome a new group of students to Northwestern Law School:  the inaugural class of our new Master of Science in Law (MSL) program.   These students are scientists, engineers, and medical professionals who will study the foundations of law and regulation in a one-year program that focuses on intellectual property & patent law, regulatory analysis & strategy, and business law & entrepreneurship.  The 30 members of our MSL entering class come from a diverse mix of backgrounds and interests – all share in common that they want to combine their technical expertise with legal and business skills so that they can work effectively at the interface of law, business, and technology/science.

In the days/weeks ahead, I will share more about the MSL program and the innovative curriculum we are providing to MSL students.  For now, though, I wanted to give you a sense of who are the students in the MSL program – the trailblazing souls who will set the tone for the MSL program for years to come.

By the numbers:

30 students

18 full-time and 12 part-time students

15 women and 15 men

Average age: 30

50% have advanced degrees, with 4 PhDs, 1 PharmD

One-third from life sciences, one-third from engineering, last third split between medicine, chemistry, and technology.

Two-thirds have work experience after their undergraduate or advanced degrees.

Two-thirds are from US; one-third are international students, representing China, India, and Mexico.


To give you a better sense of who is in the MSL program, let me detail the backgrounds of some of our MSL students here:

  • A patent agent who did her undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania in Bioengineering and has been working as a patent agent for the past 8 years.
  • A research scientist at Northwestern who an MS in Immunology & Microbiology from Rush University.
  • A recent undergraduate from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering who studied Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology and is interested in management consulting and private equity.
  • A student who just finished his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Iowa and is interested in becoming a scientific advisor or technical specialist.
  • A recent undergraduate from Tongji University in Shanghai, China, who studied Software Engineering and did an internship at eBay.
  • A student who graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in integrative biology who is interested in public health and the future of health care and medicine.
  • A research assistant professor at the Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute who has his PhD in Neurobiology.
  • A student who recently earned his Master’s in Civil Engineering and a Master’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois who wants to design, engineer, and construct super insulated buildings.
  • A student who earned his BS in Biomedical Engineering in Mexico and wants to start his own medical device company
  • A student from India with a BS and MS is Biotechnology who wants to help researchers avoid legal obstacles surrounding their discoveries and inventions.
  • A pharmacist who would like to work in the pharmaceutical industry and be involved with the process of making medications available to the public.
  • A person with a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and an MS in Biomedical Engineering from Texas A & M who has been working as a Safety & Regulatory Engineer.
  • A student with a master’s degree in Urban Planning & Policy, who is a legal operations manager at a technology company.
  • A data assistant at Northwestern University who is interested in becoming more involved with scientific research and grant administration.
  • A student who started his own software company and has earned degrees in Product Design and Development and Values-Driven Leadership.
  • A lab manager at the Lurie Cancer Center who has an MS in Biotechnology from Rush University.
  • A Histology Technologist in the Pathology Core Facility at Northwestern.
  • A Post-Approval Monitoring Coordinator in an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
  • A consultant with an MBA and a Master’s in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois.
  • A PhD in Neuroscience who is a compliance analyst in a University Conflict of Interest office.
  • A Senior Regulatory Affairs Specialist at a construction products company with an undergraduate degree in Biology.

One thing that these students have told us is that the program really “hit the spot” for them – these are people interested in the intersection of law, business, and technology who are happy to have found a program that is specifically tailored to their exact interests.  We are happy that these students found their way to our program and look forward to a productive and exciting year with them.