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NU all-alumni weekend, a spectacular success

NUpicThanks to the hundreds of Northwestern Law alumni and friends who joined us over the past few days as part of our inaugural all-alumni weekend festivities.

Beginning with a great alumni awards ceremony at the University Club (stay tuned on this blog for details about our honorees), we brought alums back to the Law School with myriad programs and events.  For my part, I enjoyed the give-and-take at the Friday afternoon panel about the present and future of the school.  Good questions, good energy.

On Saturday evening, graduates from each classes, beginning with the early 1950’s, gathered together at the Marriott in Chicago to enjoy conversation, cocktails, and dinner with their classmates.

A good time was had by all, and we are very much looking forward to the all-alumni weekend becoming a regular part of our fall law school programming.


New tricks of the trade

well, not “tricks” exactly, but some interesting ideas from Dean Phil Weiser at U. Colorado Law.


False confessions

The work of our Center for Wrongful Convictions and Center for Wrongful Convictions of Youth was highlighted in an insightful article published yesterday on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website.

Beginning with the unhappy case of the “Englewood Four,” Gary Gately wrote about why juvenile suspects confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to coercive interrogations and there is a growing body of work to back that up: “The National Registry of Exonerations, put together by Northwestern University Law School and University of Michigan Law School, showed 38 percent of youths who were convicted and later cleared had given false confessions, compared with 11 percent of adults.”

Northwestern Law professors, alumni, and students, are on the front lines of this battle every day, and have been for many years. Due in large part to their tireless efforts, law enforcement and the judiciary are starting to change the way they handle juvenile suspects.

For additional information on this important subject, I urge you to read “False Confessions Dog Teens,” which was published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, or “In juvenile justice, kids need protection from false confessions,” which was published in the Christian Science Monitor in late August.

Please join me in thanking the professors, alumni, and students of the Northwestern Law School Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth for the many contributions they have made—often, against long odds—to building a more equitable criminal justice system.


Thoughtful blogging (not always an oxymoron!) on the 2-year law school debate



(Re)gazing into the future

Much food for thought here.  These developments are well worth our close attention.

The suggestion near the end that law profs are more or less asleep at the switch is jarring, and thankfully somewhat overstated.  For many law profs, there is a “this too will pass” sensibility and that is, for various reasons, unconstructive and downright worrisome.  For the rest, there is a commitment to thinking through just how best to integrate foundational legal training and inculcation of critical professional values into this new world in which lawyers face vigorous competition in the law space by folks who haven’t been so trained.  This does not, in and of itself, suggest that law profs are not paying attention to change; it suggests that the integration of this changing landscape into an embedded set of educational practices — or, to put it more charitably, a coherent model of how best to educate lawyers (a subset of those who will engage with law and legal disputes) — is a quite challenging, and obviously important, venture.

One other point about the common narrative:  Let’s be clear that these LPOs are in business to make money.  No shame in that, certainly.  But framing these companies as noble warriors coming to the rescue of a fat-and-happy profession in steep decline is not really the best framing.  For every Novus there are a steady supply of would-be entrepreneurs (frequently out-of-work lawyers) who are scrambling to capture some market share of a market that is just being defined.  The larger social value question of whether and to what extent the successful of these companies will widen access to legal services and improve the performance of the legal system remains to be answered.  For now, the most accurate narrative, to me, sees this principally as a fascinating employment story (and a critically important one at that).


Big data = big opportunity

says this article from an industry commentator.


Some bromides from the ABA Task Force report

courtesy of SLU law prof, Matt Bodie.


$1 million for public interest fellowships at Northwestern Law

I have noticed a steady increase in the number of Northwestern Law students who are interested in practicing public interest law. But young alumni sometimes have difficulty getting into the field because there is a real shortage of opportunity in the public interest sector, particularly at the entry level.

To help our grads pursue their goals in public service, earlier this year we established the Northwestern Law Public Interest Fellows Initiative. The program supports members of the Class of 2013 who are committed to practicing public interest law: fellowship recipients were chosen based on projects they designed to provide legal services or advocacy to underrepresented clients at a domestic nonprofit agency. The fellowship provides financial support for a one-year period to complete the project.

It was a good first step.

Later in the summer, I had a conversation with Law School alumni Dan Pritzker, JD ’86, at which I learned that he is equally committed to expanding public service options and increasing access to justice in underserved communities. We discussed how post-graduate opportunities for public interest work expand access to justice, while at the same time offering young alumni important entryways to careers in the public interest law sector.

Today, I’m delighted to announce that the Jay Pritzker Foundation has given one million dollars to establish the Jay A. Pritzker Fellowship Program at Northwestern Law. This initiative will support post-graduate public interest work in underserved communities. Several fellows (hopefully as many as a dozen) will be selected annually over a three-year period, with preference given to talented students who demonstrate financial need.

This gift is particularly interesting because it is designed to encourage collaboration: it is a challenge gift, in which donors who make a gift of $25,000 in support of post-graduate public interest fellowships will have their gift matched one to one. We are actively seeking match gifts to expand the reach and scope of this program.

While the short-term benefits of this program are considerable, the long-term benefits are just as important: it will help assure that skilled advocates in the public interest sector are available for years to come.

Please join me in thanking the Jay Pritzker Foundation for their extraordinary generosity and commitment to public service. And if you are interested in making a gift and having it matched, I urge you to get in touch with me!


Tuition tide

The high cost of legal education is a significant problem, as has now become rather obvious, and we at Northwestern have undertaken some constructive steps to address this problem.  One of these steps is to limit significantly our annual tuition increases.  The aim is to limit any increase to the level of inflation. We have kept to this commitment for two years running, with tuition increases at the 3% level last year and this year.

Naturally, context matters.  And it is useful to see our tuition strategy in light of what other peer schools are doing meanwhile.

Looking at the currently available data, I can report that our tuition, which includes tuition and fees, increases have been the second lowest (higher only than Yale) over both a one-year and two-year period.  Increases among the top dozen private law schools have ranged from Yale’s low of 4% to U. Chicago’s at the highest end, with an increase of 11.8% over two years.  A couple law schools have increased tuition and fees by at least 9% over this period.  Only Stanford and Northwestern are in the 6% range (SLS is 6.8%).

This is not earth-shattering news; and these tuition strategies illustrate just one step toward curtailing the high costs of legal education.  But I do think it is important to see our efforts both in the local context of what are we doing for our students and also what this looks like in the shadow of our competitors.


ABA task force releases its draft report

here is an early commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education, reprinted in full:

Panel Suggests Dropping Tenure Requirement to Reform Legal Education

By Katherine Mangan

Law-school accreditation standards, including the requirement for tenure, would be relaxed and scholarships would be redirected to students who need them rather than those who help schools climb in national rankings under a draft proposal released on Friday by the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.

The report offers a variety of recommendations for a system the panel says is reeling from soaring tuition and student debt loads, three years of sharply falling applications, and significant, possibly structural changes in the legal job market.

“These have resulted in real economic stresses on law schools, damage to career and economic prospects of many recent graduates, and diminished public confidence in the system of legal education,” the report says.

Among its specific recommendations:

  • The ABA should “repeal or dramatically liberalize” certain accreditation requirements to allow law schools to be more creative in restructuring their programs, cutting costs, and offering a variety of options to students. The standards that could be relaxed include requiring accredited schools to offer tenure.
  • Law schools should work with licensing authorities and the bar association to help produce graduates who can provide basic legal services that don’t require the expertise of someone with a J.D. degree. They should follow the lead of the State of Washington, which is producing “limited-practice lawyers,” who offer services that are affordable to low-income clients and those living in rural areas or small towns. A few other states are also moving in that direction.
  • Law schools, which have been expanding hands-on training in recent years, should do even more to teach practical lawyering skills. State supreme courts should test law graduates more on such skills and less on academic subjects.
  • U.S. News & World Report should stop using expenditures per student as part of its methodology for ranking law schools. Doing so encourages law schools to spend more and raise tuition, the task force says.

The panel’s chairman, Randall T. Shepard, said in an interview on Thursday that he expected it would be “both revered and reviled” when educators begin dissecting the report. He is a retired chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and visiting professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Confronting a Crisis

The task force was created in July 2012 and charged with making recommendations to the bar association on how legal education could be overhauled to deal with its current crisis.

Applications to law schools were down 18 percent this fall, marking the third consecutive year of double-digit decreases. Many schools have responded by cutting the size of their entering classes.

As part of its yearlong information-gathering process, the task force held two public hearings and conducted an online conference as well as a forum for law-school deans. It solicited input from educators, judges, regulators, and other interested parties.

The panel is circulating its draft recommendations for public comment, which it will consider in preparing a final report to be presented, probably in November, to the ABA’s House of Delegates. That body is expected to vote on the recommendations in February, a spokesman for the bar association said.

The recommendation to drop tenure as a requirement for accreditation is bound to create intense controversy. Justice Shepard said he expected most law schools would continue to offer it to remain competitive in faculty recruiting.

Faculty members, the report says, tend to resist the kinds of changes legal education needs to consider. “This entrenched culture and structure has promoted declining classroom teaching loads and a high level of focus on traditional legal scholarship,” it concludes.

Serving Basic Legal Needs

The entire way the nation delivers legal services needs to be re-examined, the report goes on to say.

The current system of legal education focuses on the J.D., which requires four years of college followed by three years of law school.

By the time students graduate, most have incurred so much debt that they can’t afford to represent the many low-income and minority clients who earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to pay full market prices, the report notes.

While those groups are underserved, law firms that charge high prices for their services are hiring fewer new associates, leaving a mismatch between the country’s legal needs and the professionals who are trained to meet them.

What the country needs and law schools can help produce, the report suggests, are professionals with basic legal skills who can handle routine tasks, such as helping people facing foreclosures. Because their training would be cheaper and faster, they could afford to work for lower salaries.

“The current lack of access to legal advice of any kind that exists across the country requires such innovative steps,” the report says.

It also calls for a shift toward more need-based scholarships. Under the current system, “students whose credentials are the weakest incur large debt in order to sustain the school budget and enable higher-credentialed students to attend at lower cost,” the report notes. While chasing students with high grade-point averages and high scores on the Law School Admission Test and offering them generous scholarships help schools jump in the rankings, that approach leaves too many graduates with overwhelming debts and dismal job prospects, it says.

The report also calls on all of the players in legal education to stop “moralizing and blaming” and to presume that everyone is acting in good faith to fix a system that’s badly in need of revamping.

One Educator’s Response

Prominent legal educators who have reviewed earlier drafts of the proposal have started weighing in.

Michael A. Olivas, a professor of law at the University of Houston and a former president of the Association of American Law Schools, said schools are already experimenting with curricular models. Relaxing accreditation standards would be mistake, he said, particularly when it comes to the requirement that schools offer a tenure system.

“When times are bad, you need the regulatory process more than ever,” he said, adding that he spoke only for himself. “I want to strengthen the hand of the ABA. I don’t want 200 free-for-alls at all the various schools.”

Mr. Olivas called the idea of developing a process for nonlawyers to offer basic legal advice “craziness” and said it would lead to more unauthorized practice of law and would hurt the low-income clients it was designed to serve. And relying more on part-time, non-tenured faculty members, which the report suggests law schools should be free to do, would lead to more faculty turnover and less institutional loyalty, he said.