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Unbundling legal education

The ever growing strategic focus on legal education for non-lawyers builds on an emerging insight about the nature of legal education.  I would describe this as follows:  Legal education consists of three large sticks in a general bundle; one is the development of lawyerly skills, what has long been described as educating students to “think like a lawyer.”  Circular on its own terms, to be sure, but the idea captures the admixture of reasoning, communication, and advocacy that is characteristic of professionals who work in the legal domain on behalf of clients (using “clients” here broadly to include, as well, public service and law reform activities).  Training lawyers requires a coherent sense on the part of educational providers of what mix of skills is encompassed in this category of lawyerly skills.  What, in short, does a young lawyer need to know to be able to “think like a lawyer?”

Next is the development of skills essential to engaging in the practice of law.  Experiential learning is at the heart of this; yet, much of what we aim to do throughout the curriculum, including the so-called doctrinal classes, is (or at least ought to be) channeled in the direction and service of enhancing the ability of students to practice law.  (These include, although I won’t say anything more about this here, the development of a professional identity and an ethical compass tied to the lawyer’s profession, all of which are properly encompassed in “skills training”).

Finally, we aim to provide substantive content, starting with the foundation laid in the first year and extended, cumulatively, through the coursework provided, sometimes required, sometimes elective, in the upper division.  In short, we expect our graduating students to know some law, and be able to draw upon their best analytical skills to reason in the law as they tackle, first, the bar exam, and, next, the demands of the fields in which they engage and practice.

What our efforts to train non-lawyers do, in essence, is to unbundle legal education.  We look at ways of developing some relevant skills in individuals who will not practice law, but who will deploy law and work with lawyers on accomplishing their professional objectives.  This is skills training to be sure, but it is the training in skills that map not only legal practice, but onto the professional domain in which these non-lawyers operate and function.  Moreover, we aim to give these individuals substantive legal knowledge, knowledge which can and ought to be applied in settings in which law and the legal environment matters to their field, to their performance, and to their enterprise.  None of them are truly taking the place of lawyers; rather, they are accumulating knowledge which enables them to engage and work with lawyers, on behalf of their objectives and with the newly acquired benefit of a common vocabulary and a more fruitful pathway to important objectives.

“Thinking like a lawyer” is not a part of this enterprise except in the very broad sense that non-lawyers can learn in the unique environment of a law school how lawyers reason and analyze.  Unbundling legal education in the sense I describe it here means providing not “law school lite” for these students but, rather, a coherent structure of training that is suited to the goals and tied squarely to the objectives of the professionals who operate in a space in which law is relevant and, indeed, omnipresent.


The rise of non-JD programs

Post containing some data.

NU’s new MSL program is referenced in the post, along with mentions of some innovative new programs from peer law schools.

In all, this is a superb post by Prof. Mueller at Pepperdine.  It really captures the nub of what law schools like ours are doing, that is, expanding the scope of legal education by looking at the products that we produce.  Training new lawyers to be sure, but also providing legal training to the myriad professionals who use, if not practice in the strict sense, law.


Washington DC alum club–fall visit

washingtondc2I had the good opportunity to meet with a large cohort of DC alums last Friday at the Dolly Madison House.  The DC alumni club welcomed this spirited group and we enjoyed a nice evening reception.

As always, a highlight for me was the opportunity to have a dialogue with the group about the Law School and its ambitions and activities.  I noted that the reactions of the many law school leaders I had been working with in the past several months in connection with my work on behalf of the Association of American Law Schools could be broken into four categories:  (1) Nothing has significantly changed.  We are just fine and we will ride out this current, temporary set of difficulties by doing exactly what we have been doing all along; (2) The sky is falling and we need to scramble for cover; (3) Change is profound and, in order to adjust rapidly to the standard ways of doing business, we need a panacea, a new program, economic model, etc., which, as soon as we adopt it (whatever the “it” is), we will be able to right this sinking ship; and (4) While change is significant and important, we must, in adapting, stay true to who were are.  We need to be innovative to be sure, but also have a clear, firm commitment to the fundamentals of educational excellence.

Naturally, I described the ways in which Northwestern is working within the structure of this fourth category.

DC alums were excited about this new alumni club and were excited and supportive about the state and direction of the Law School.  We are proud of all our alums who, in our nation’s capital, are doing extraordinary things in law, business, and government.  This area is an extraordinary, vibrant place to live and work and we will continue actively to reach out to DC alums with both social events and substantive programming.


Kudos to Prof. Tom Brennan

whose recent tax paper is (by far) the #1 downloaded paper currently on SSRN.  Check out this post for a more thorough description.




Interesting article by Rob Warden, Executive Director of our Center on Wrongful Convictions


on disruptive innovation in higher education

see this post and video on Prof. Clayton Christensen.  Interesting stuff.


NU MSL-STEM program press release



Leaders with technical expertise will be able to innovate better with legal know-how

CHICAGO  — Northwestern University School of Law is offering a new Master of Science in Law (MSL), starting in fall 2014, designed specifically for professionals with backgrounds in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and medicine.

STEM professionals are central drivers of today’s global economy, and the new one-year master’s program will support innovation and entrepreneurship by offering these professionals a fundamental understanding of how law and business intersect with technology.

Often using team-based projects, the master’s program will contextualize the complex web of intellectual property, regulatory, business contracting and licensing issues that scientists, engineers, medical practitioners and other STEM professionals around the world face. They will learn within the context of bringing the next new product to market, creating a startup, running a lab or developing a company’s innovation and patent strategy.

The degree is not meant to turn professionals with STEM backgrounds into lawyers. Rather, graduates of the MSL program will be better prepared to do what they do best and focus on the business of innovation and entrepreneurship. The difference is that they will do so with a solid understanding of how law and regulation affects opportunities, constraints, and perspectives on business goals and strategies, both locally and globally.

The MSL classes are entirely new and are specifically designed for STEM professionals. Classes will be taught by renowned Northwestern Law residential faculty and also industry experts from law, business and government, using a creative mix of teaching techniques

“Technical people increasingly have seats at the business table, and more and more of them are being called upon to lead — to sit at the head of the table,” said Emerson Tiller, senior associate dean of academic initiatives at Northwestern’s law school. “The MSL program will give these individuals the skill sets to communicate, direct and lead more effectively across the combined business, legal and regulatory specialties involved in technology-based initiatives.”

The entrepreneurship lab — a hallmark of the program — will expose students to all stages of the innovation process. They will come up with an idea for a business, design a prototype or model of their idea, draft a business plan, address issues of entity selection and intellectual property protection and launch a new business. The entrepreneurship lab will draw upon the law school’s participation in the University’s highly successful NUvention program, which brings together students from all over campus to engage in the entrepreneurship process and to learn from industry leaders and others about the process of design and innovation.

Students will have great flexibility in mapping a course of study in the MSL program, which can be completed in two semesters or part-time in up to eight semesters. They may mix and match from all areas of the curriculum or focus on one of the program’s three concentrations: patent/intellectual property, business law and entrepreneurship or regulatory analysis and strategy.

“In an increasingly interconnected world, where law and regulation is profoundly important, top law schools cannot think of legal training as solely for lawyers,” said Northwestern University School of Law Dean Daniel Rodriguez. “This program illustrates the law school’s ambitious effort to address a growing industry need to build meaningful, practical bridges across the fields of law, business and technology.”



Dean David Van Zandt portrait unveiling

dvzPlease join us for the portrait unveiling commemorating the long service and great contributions of my predecessor as dean, David Van Zandt.  The event will be held next Friday, November 15, from 4 pm to 6 pm in Lowden Hall in the Levy-Mayer building of the Law School.  David’s fifteen-year service as dean, ending in December of 2011, as he moved to New York City to lead The New School as president, was marked by extraordinary innovations and substantial progress.  Many of the ambitious plans underway at the Law School, including the improving of our law and business programs, facilitating interdisciplinary teaching and research, and supporting unique programs such as our Accelerated JD and 3-year JD-MBA, build directly on creative foundations established during the period of David’s deanship.


NU Law strategic planning process enters Phase II!

We have put together five valuable working groups to develop initiatives and to map up our objectives, metrics, and implementation steps in order to develop a comprehensive, ambitious strategic plan.  Many years we have been saying that we are building the great law school for a changing world, and we have been taking concrete steps to do exactly that.  This strategic planning endeavor will give us the foundation and the collective enthusiasm to truly realize these bold goals.

The working groups are:  Curriculum, Academic Programs and Initiatives, Student Life, Outreach, and Economics.  In the coming weeks, leaders of these groups will be reaching out to myriad stakeholders, including alumni, for input and feedback about the direction of our thinking.  Meanwhile, I welcome your views directly.  E-mail me with your thoughts.

Our vision is a broad and deep one.  We have specific, meaningful goals, both with respect to providing  world-class training for our law students and with respect to developing strategies of legal education and public service which contribute to the well-being of the economy and of society.  Our strategic plan will be built coherently around the twin goals of educating great lawyers and contributing to the world through our manifest commitments to justice, creative, interdisciplinary research at the highest levels, and the building of bridges across the too-often separate spaces of law, business, and technology.  We will leverage existing resources and strengths to build upon our tradition of distinction.  And we will also create and innovate.  Big plans, focused strategies, hard work, all in the direction of improving our great law school.


Law school hierarchy from the perspective of the boardroom

With all the usual caveats about the (dis)utilities of rankings, here is an interesting take from the vantage point of corporate directors and officers.  That Northwestern Law does well in this ranking (#10) jibes with what we aspire to do and be with respect to the law-business interface.