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Monday, March 19, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 24 (Hari Osofsky)

Moving Forward Together

 I have very much appreciated the rich interchanges in this virtual symposium thus far.  This post builds on that discussion by focusing on the key role that collaboration plays in achieving needed progress.  It argues that establishing cultures and patterns to encourage and celebrate needed innovation – ones in which it’s ok to try things that might not work – is deeply intertwined with effective approaches to collaboration.

A number of the posts have implied a somewhat atomistic view of innovation in which a limited set of people advance innovation and strategies must work around those who stand in its way. For example, posts have discussed the headwinds created by those who oppose change and called for hiring new types of faculty.

Similarly, posts have highlighted individual innovative initiatives at particular institutions without much focus on those ways those institutions currently do, or should in the future, collaborate. Although I agree with Mark Tushnet that institutional pluralism is needed, I worry that we often reinvent wheels separately without learning from one another.

This post makes the case for moving forward together.  It argues that multiple forms of effective collaboration are needed to help create legal education for a changing society. Although I acknowledge that barriers to change are real and that collaboration can be difficult, we will make more progress through prioritizing interconnection.  The post highlights four areas in which I think fostering collaboration is crucial.

  • Collaborative Faculty Governance

Collaborative faculty governance has not gotten much mention in this symposium thus far. But in my view, strong collaborative faculty governance cultures and processes are critical to accomplishing effective change. Having taught on the tenure track at four quite different law schools, and now as dean of another, I have become convinced that transparency, inclusiveness, fairhandedness, and opportunities for meaningful input and discussion are not simply positive values; they contribute in practical ways to progress. 

In my experience, in a healthy faculty culture, talking through disagreements is a crucial component of getting to an approach that the faculty is broadly comfortable with. Collaborative governance processes should provide iterative mechanisms for hearing legitimate concerns and thinking through how they might be addressed. Moreover, all key constituencies should be consulted, which depending on the initiative, may include lead staff, students, school advisors, university partners and leaders, externals partners, etc. These conversations are not always easy and consensus is not always possible, but what emerges from such a process is generally a better approach and a less controversial one.

In my view, collaborative processes are especially important in the innovation space. Substantial scholarly literature supports the idea that successful innovation is often built on repeated failures.  Having a culture in which in which we support trying things without being sure they will succeed is therefore crucial.

Some of the ways in which I personally try to foster this culture as a leader include articulating a philosophy of learning leadership, highlighting when I make mistakes and how I plan to learn from them, and valuing pilot projects.  But my support is made substantially more effective and powerful if it’s grounded in a shared understanding of our goals and why we are trying particular things. Collective discussion of new experiments, and what that means in practical terms at that institution, helps to make needed innovation possible. A resulting shift in the action plan to address a concern or reflect an understanding of an experiment’s parameters can help to create broader support.

  • Interdisciplinary and Other Collaborations Within Universities

I have been delighted to see a number of other posts, such as Dan Filler’s, emphasize the key role of interdisciplinary collaboration in moving forward.  I want to highlight here the many forms that helpful collaboration can take within a university.

Interdisciplinary partnerships can occur at an individual course or project level; between units in a variety of ways; and on university-level cross-cutting initiatives.  We have each of those at Penn State and they operate synergistically.  For example, our entrepreneur assistance and IP clinics are embedded in the university’s “LaunchBox” incubators, and our veterans and servicemembers clinic partners with the College of Nursing to integrate health assistance with legal assistance.  We are developing a comprehensive partnership with the College of Engineering and the School of International Affairs in Law, Policy, and Engineering which will include multiple academic programs and research opportunities, and at the same time are making our first cohire with the College of Medicine to help us develop innovative new partnerships.  And we are playing leadership roles in the new Center for Security Research and Education and Center for Energy Law and Policy.

But we need to think beyond just interdisciplinarity to achieve the full collaborative possibilities within universities. For example, Penn State has 24 campuses, many of which are in rural communities. Our collaborations with the campuses are crucial to our efforts to help address the access to justice gap – our entrepreneur assistance clinic uses distance learning technology to serve clients in those communities; we are working with campuses to ensure that their students receive effective advising on legal education and careers; and campuses are partnering with us on a number of our interdisciplinary initiatives, such as the Center for Energy Law and Policy. Or to give another type of example, World Campus (Penn State’s online campus), university-level IT and educational technology, and Global Programs are all important partners in our technology and other initiatives. And in yet another variation, I have been encouraging us to think in trans-substantive terms; for example, parallel issues arise in many of the Law-STEM areas such as health, energy, IP, cyber, but those scholars and practitioners often don’t talk with one another.

  • Collaborations Among Universities

One of my great frustrations over the years has been watching the amount of resources we waste creating parallel programs with limited collaboration at multiple law schools. For example, in my field of energy/climate change/environment, we often have programs tracking similar data or making similar policy interventions in parallel.  While certainly these types of collaborations sometimes happen and there are often good reasons why individual schools need separate programs, we could do a lot more to combine resources and work together.

Consider for example law schools’ efforts to understand and prepare their graduates for fast-moving technology. Posts by Dan Hunter, Andy Perlman, and Frank Pasquale highlight some of the innovations taking place and needed in this space, and there are many technologies and innovative programs continuing to emerge as we write that these posts don’t capture (this space is moving fast!). We need to make sure that these programs learn from one another and work together when possible. I created a new associate dean role focused on technology and innovation at Penn State Law to both shepherd our technology initiative and make sure we ground our efforts to develop legal education for a changing society in an understanding of the most innovative things that law schools are doing.

I think we need more exploration among deans and other key administrators and among faculty and staff of innovative ways of collaborating in new and existing initiatives. This will save resources and create better programs. Please consider this an open invitation to dialogue about such new collaborations with Penn State Law in University Park.

  • Collaborations with Legal Practitioners, Businesses, Governments, and Non-Profits

The kinds of needed innovation we are discussing require strong collaboration with the bench and bar, businesses, governments, and non-profits. Law schools need to make decisions grounded in the reality of evolving needs for legal services and information and serve their communities. Like with the previous three types of collaboration, we can maximize positive impact through working together.

These collaborations can take a lot of different forms. For example, our clinics at Penn State Law and other law schools already work with a range of organizational clients in addition to individual ones.  We are working to build partnerships with legal-tech companies to help us tailor our technology initiative to evolving realities and provide our students with access to the technology they are developing.

Working together can be as simple as receiving advice. On the topic of legal education for non-lawyers that Michael Waterstone was raising, we are working to develop online courses for non-lawyers based on advice we are receiving from them on what they need to know about law.  Our interdisciplinary efforts, such as in Law, Policy, and Engineering, are being created through listening to lawyers and engineers (and people who are both) about what the synergies do and should look like.

Bottom line: collaboration is not just a positive way of interacting, but a practical strategic tool.  The more we can work together, learn from each other, and take steps forward informed by varying perspectives, the better we will serve our students and society. This approach is not always easy, but the future of legal education depends on it.

Hari Osofsky (Penn St.--University Park)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 19, 2018 at 08:16 AM | Permalink


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