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The Ebola outbreak: Northwestern faces the challenge

I wanted to share with you some of the interesting and important work that Professor Juliet Sorensen and her cross-campus colleagues are doing on the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Today is Global Health Day at the Feinberg School of Medicine and there will be a faculty panel on the Ebola outbreak at noon. Panelists will “discuss the virology, transmission, epidemiology, and prevention of the disease, the current state of the outbreak, as well as how emergency departments and field staff collect data and prepare. [They] will also discuss the ethical considerations of the outbreak and efforts to contain it, including the selective use of the experimental and untested ZMapp drug on two American physicians infected in W. Africa.” Juliet will participate as one of the panelists.

In a few weeks, on October 1, Juliet and Dr. Shannon Galvin will give a talk here at the Law School on “Ebola, Health and Human Rights,” which will focus on the nexus between the Ebola crisis, access to health issues, and the human right to the highest attainable standard of health.” This program is sponsored by the Center for International Human Rights; the Center for Global Health; the Program of African Studies; and a new student organization, the Health Law Society.

Additionally, Northwestern University’s law and medical schools are actively partnering with the University of Bamako in Mali, on access to health issues and the Ebola outbreak. Dr. Robert Murphy, the director of the Center for Global Health, oversees a lab at the University of Bamako that is at the front lines of Ebola testing, and he and others from his team partner with the Northwestern Access to Health Project—which Juliet directs—to conduct health and human rights trainings in Douentza, Mali.

Juliet founded the Access to Health Project to leverage research and clinical expertise from across the University in an effort to develop long-term health improvement projects that evolve from interdisciplinary needs assessment in communities across the globe, and it happens that they have been working in Mali this year. This work will continue into next year as well.

This is challenging and important work. I thank Juliet and her colleagues for taking it on, and I wish them the best success.


UPDATE: Here are links to two reports on the October 10, 2014, Global Health Day panel:

Feinberg Global Health Day gathers panel to discuss Ebola outbreak

Faculty Experts Discuss Ebola Virus During Global Health Day



Ronald Allen to receive the 2014 China Friendship Award

Our esteemed colleague, Professor Ronald Allen, is a 2014 recipient of the China Friendship Award, the highest award the People’s Republic of China gives to honor non-Chinese nationals for “outstanding contribution[s] to China’s economic and social progress.” The award will be granted September 29 and 30, 2014, at a ceremony in Beijing.

Established in 1991 to recognize the importance of international exchange and cooperation, it is a fitting honor for Ron, who has been actively participating in China’s efforts to reform their evidentiary laws for the last fifteen years or so.

The Fall 2014 issue of the Northwestern Law Reporter—at the printer today, copies available late next week—includes a lengthy article about Ron’s work reforming evidence laws around the world. Here is an excerpt:

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, many of the country’s lawyers and intellectuals were killed, and the legal system was gutted. After Communist Party leader Mao Zedong died in 1976, successor Deng Xiopeng struggled in his push for economic growth, in part, Allen said, because “The economy can’t function without a legal system. At that point, you’re just bartering.”

So in the 1980s, Chinese scholars began traveling overseas to learn law and economics, an effort that ultimately led to Chicago when members of the reformist vanguard determined that evidentiary reform was a smart starting point and that Allen could help them learn the field.

The underlying legal principles [of China’s evidence code] are Germanic in origin and they were adopted by the leaders of Republic of China after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The legal system was declawed but not replaced after the mid-century Communist revolution, so the same foundation remains in place. That system doesn’t feature American-style adversarial proceedings and thus doesn’t decentralize the evidentiary process. “My students are grafting an Anglo-American conception of the law of evidence onto a Germanic system, and the Germans would say you can’t do it,” Allen said. “The Chinese are saying, ‘Yes, we can.’ And so it’s kind of a fun and interesting exercise.”

Some of Allen’s students drafted a code of evidence that has been adopted by several Chinese judicial districts. Meanwhile, several other districts have adopted alternative evidentiary codes, and last year the nation’s highest court started a research program to investigate more formal legal reform. Allen is an advisor to the 30-person committee, which includes many of his former students.

This year’s Friendship Award complements an earlier honor: in 2007, Ron was designated a Yangtze River Scholar by China’s Ministry of Education. This was in recognition of his work with the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, to “reform the legal system of the People’s Republic of China.

Please join me in congratulating Ron on this richly deserved honor!


Waiving into state bars: a constitutional problem?

Historically, only Wisconsin permitted law students who attended law school within the state (at U. Wisconsin or Marquette) to automatically waive into the state bar upon graduation.  In recent months, a number of other states, including Iowa and New Hampshire have proposed the same rule.  Rumor has it that New York (and perhaps some other states) are considering this option as well.

A very prominent constitutional law scholar wrote me earlier to note that this arrangement may well violate the Constitution’s dormant commerce clause.  He makes a convincing case, at least, that there is a plausible constitutional argument against these rules.  The logic is basically this:

What the state is doing is providing an economic good — a license to practice law within the state — to folks who have purchased services in the state, and denying this same good to individuals who have purchased services elsewhere.  Note that they are not discriminating in favor of their state residents, which is arguably permissible under existing doctrine.  A New Jersey resident attends law school in Iowa and gets waived in by virtue of their attendance (and tuition paid) in Iowa.  An Iowa resident gets the same benefit.  However, the Iowa resident who attends law school in Illinois gets no such benefit.  In short, there is discrimination based not upon the residency of the law student, but upon where they “purchase” this economic good.  Moreover, the intent certainly is to benefit the in-state law schools — not state law schools, but in-state law schools, since this rule applies to private as well as public schools.

An interesting constitutional claim, not obviously compelling, but strong nonetheless.

What do you think?  Happy to post comments (attributed and on-topic, please).


Northwestern Law tax symposium

Just published in the Northwestern University Law Review, as noted in this blog post.  Great lineup of speakers and articles.  Thanks to Prof. Charlotte Crane and her colleagues for putting together a first-rate symposium!


NU Law kickoff challenge!

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.



Prof. Robert Burns on American criminal justice

burns     Recommended late summer reading, from my colleague, Bob Burns:  Kafka’s Law: The Trial and American Criminal Justice (Chicago 2014).


Law firm innovators

Interesting perspectives from Prof. Bill Henderson (Indiana-Bloomington).


Biglaw job satisfaction

Some rankings, with the usual caveats, courtesy of Paul Caron.  Northwestern ranks #10.


Big 10 football predictions

northwestern_football_helmetLet 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!


Engineering change; change engineers

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.