Northwestern Law Orientation 2013
Herewith a copy of my remarks at this morning’s NU Law Orientation:
Welcome to the Northwestern Law School class of 2016. We have here students in our several degree programs, including entering JD students from our regular and accelerated JD programs, and of our JD/MBA program. We also welcome the students who have transferred to Northwestern after spending their first year elsewhere. Last, but not least, we welcome the students to our two LLM programs, the program in Tax and the LLM program for foreign lawyers.
All of you share in common that you are valued new members of our Northwestern Law School community and we are looking forward to working with you during your time here and, when your studies are completed, welcoming you into the Northwestern family as treasured alumni.
While we look forward to our accomplishments at Northwestern Law, you are already a very accomplished group. You come here with outstanding academic credentials of course and, because of our unique admissions process, most of you come here with some substantial work experience and life experience accumulated after your undergraduate studies.
One of my favorite parts of the Orientation experience is learning from our admissions folks something about the exceptional experiences that this class has made before coming to Northwestern. None of you will be surprised by the range of academic achievements. So, seated among you are Rhodes, Fulbright, Truman, and National Merit Scholars. But also seated among you are a slew of accomplished college debaters, former college and university student body presidents, and All-American athletes. There is a former world-champion speed skater and a member of the 2006 BCS champion, Texas Longhorns.
There are several Peace Corps alumni and also alumni from the Teach for America program. There are former employees of the White House, the US Embassy in Moscow, the United Kingdom House of Parliament, the American Embassy in Manila, and the US Consulate General in Dusseldorf. And we are proud to welcome alumni members of our nation’s Armed Forces, individuals from all branches who have served our country with distinction. Three of you have top secret clearance, so I know if I asked you a question around the law school and you told me, you’d have to kill me. But it gets even worse for me, because I understand there are several black belts in the class as well.
You have climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, backpacked the 165 mile Tahoe Rim trail and the 211 mile John Muir trail and you have completed marathons in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Boston, and New York.
In this class, we have a student who achieved national and international ratings as an “Expert” chess player; a democratic candidate for the Guam Congressional Delegate seat; a road manager for “a multi-platinum hip hop artist;” a college jeopardy national semifinalist; the lead pyrotechnic designer for the Super Bowl XLVII; a nuclear submarine Naval officer; a speechwriter for Bill Walton; someone who created an iPhone app to teach medical students how to identify different heart murmurs; an American Idol Season 9 “anti-award winner;” and a student who was born in Somalia at the start of the civil war who lost a parent and several relatives, before fleeing to Kenya.
Yes, this is a remarkable class and we are proud of your individual and collective accomplishments and do look forward to what is to come.
To those of you – and this figure is approximately three quarters of the class – who have come from outside the Midwest, welcome to the City of Big Shoulders; welcome to Chicago. This is a great city, filled with world-class culture and amenities of all sorts and a city with Midwestern charm. There are certain rules of the road in these parts, which you will get used to as you settle into Streeterville. These are certain lessons that we passed on to me as I arrived here nearly two years ago. If you are a baseball fan, you must choose between the Cubs and the White Sox. If you are a basketball fan, you must have a strong opinion on Derrick Rose. And, if you are a football fan, you need not have any special loyalty except to our beloved Northwestern Wildcats, who are, as the billboards proclaim, Chicago’s Big Ten team.
Another rule of the road concerns the subject that shall not be spoken of in the student recruitment process, but we can talk about it now: that is, the weather. As you look outside on this beautiful late summer day, please note that it won’t look like this in late December or in January or February, for that matter. Yes, we are at Northwestern, but when the new year rolls around, it would seem a bit more “North” than “West.” But you will get used to this; and you will see our four seasons – well, maybe three seasons – as part of the cadence of ordinary life in this great city and in this grand part of the country.
The last rule of the road I would mention has less to do with Chicago and the Midwest, but has to do with our Northwestern Law community. You have heard and will hear much about the Northwestern Law difference. Yes, much of this is intangible, but I believe I can summarize it in at least one key sense: This is a student-centered community, one that treats law students like the adults you are and with significant ownership over your academic pursuits and your careers. The legal profession is an intense, demanding, and occasionally competitive profession and there is every reason to believe that it will become more, rather than less, so in the coming years. But Northwestern Law School is not a competitive place. It is a collaborative place, a place where much of the real work takes place outside the classroom, in your interactions with your classmates, with the teams you build and nurture in coursework and in the cooperative endeavors among students, faculty, and alumni. Our physical space is an odd mixture of the old and the new. And the environment of the Law School, here in the beating heart of Chicago, is a hothouse of energy and enthusiasm. With myriad student organizations, opportunities for social gatherings, often spontaneous interactions with not only law students, but with students of the Medical School, and of Kellogg, and of graduate students who come down here from Evanston to take advantage of our cross-campus programs, we have a place in which great things happen and in which real learning takes place.
Location, location, location is what realtors say. I do believe that you are going to law school at the finest urban campus of any law school in the United States. Yet it is not only, or even especially, the physical space that defines the Northwestern Law difference. It is the committed work of the faculty, faculty members who through their teaching, their scholarship, and their clinical work, and their mentoring of students contribute in tangible ways to the educational experience of all of you. It is the supportive work of our administrative staff, those who work tirelessly on your behalf and will support your professional endeavors while you are here and thereafter. And, again, it is in the extraordinary efforts of each of you individually and this class as a collective. My advice to you – truly the only advice I have on offer as you begin this exciting journey – is to be supportive of one another and to take every opportunity to work constructively and collaboratively on behalf of your class, this newest Northwestern class. The whole of your class is truly greater than the sum of its parts and, with due attention to what makes you both accomplished and distinctive, intelligent and diverse, and enthusiastically committed to earning a law degree – a Northwestern law degree – you will shine. And we will be proud to congratulate you upon graduation, just as we welcome you here now.
This is an interesting time to be a law student, and to be a member of the legal profession. I’ll spare you the resort to the “Tale of Two Cities” line about this being the best of times and the worst of times. So far as the legal profession in the U.S. and the world is concerned, it is neither. Rather, it is a challenging time, a dynamic time, and a time where real energy and innovation can and does occur. Our principal responsibility as members of this great profession – as faculty members, administrators, alumni, and as beginning law students – is to think imaginatively about what we want the legal profession to become in the next several decades. There are various measures that are no doubt important: the grades you receive; number of jobs our students get after graduation; the prestige of the law school of which you are a part; measures and metrics of the reputation of our faculty. But the principal measure of excellence – actually, less of a measure than a goal for which we strive and reach – is how we develop the skills and use the skills of an educated professional, of a lawyer, armed with a great Northwestern law degree to improve our community, the well-being of our clients, and the professions (law, business, and public service) for which this valuable education is intended.
The dynamic times of the legal profession will continue during your studies here. And I encourage you to give voice and to contribute through your good works to this debate about what the legal profession can become and how this dynamism can be turned through constructive, meaningful change. At Northwestern, we are building a great law school for the new world. It is ever a work in progress. And with your contributions, the accomplishments you have had before here and the accomplishments you will have during your time here, you can be part of this building, part of this grand work.
Welcome to Northwestern Law.