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December 20, 2011

Layers and Lawyers

by dan rodriguez

Northwestern Law Levy Mayer Building DoorwayAs you enter the Northwestern Law School in downtown Chicago, you are immediately struck by the striking architectural admixture of design and form.  The Rubloff building dating from the 1980’s conjoins, via an attractive atrium, with Levy-Mayer, the century-old edifice housing gothic style faculty offices and seminar rooms, the magnificently aged Lincoln Hall, and the many reminders of a law school life well-lived.  John Henry Wigmore’s Northwestern; our Northwestern.

The built environment of the Law School is, in short, formed of many layers.  Navigating these layers poses many challenges, to be sure, but it provides a nice metaphor for thinking about how best to articulate a vision for a law school’s future, while living in the present and noticing its past.

The layers of the Law School are also forged by the overlapping constituencies who make up our community.  Hundreds of busy students interact with faculty, themselves ranging from newbies to long-serving teacher-scholars, and also with able staff.  The governance of the Law School emerges from choices of these many constituencies (albeit with some delegated authority to particular leaders and groups), and these choices are made in the shadow of these multifaceted layers of constituents, of community members, of Northwestern folk from our time and long before.  We must ask:  How do our governance decisions affect present students?  How do they affect their careers and interests of our alumni?  How do they impact the Law School’s future — and, with it, the future of the legal profession?

All well-functioning law schools think likewise, of course.  However, our unique physical layers — the modern, the older, the ancient — give us daily reminders of how these layers (physical, temporal, administrative) can be configured to serve the common enterprise.

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