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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 8

Legal Education for a Changing Society


I am grateful to Dan Rodriguez for organizing and Mike Madison for inspiring this virtual symposium and including me. The very choice to make this symposium virtual embodies the important issue we will be reflecting on this month—how should legal education and scholarship evolve synergistically with our changing society?

As a first-year dean at a young law school within a public, land-grant Research 1 university (Penn State Law in University Park, PA), I am excited to have a chance to dialogue with this group of thought leaders and other thought leaders who join the conversation about the answers to this question.  I chose to become a dean because I hope to help us make progress on legal education for a changing society at my institution and beyond.

We are at a moment of profound social change in which technology, globalization and the need for cross-cutting knowledge are transforming the practice of law and the nature of legal services and information. It is crucial for law schools to acknowledge that change, and not simply respond, but lead in the face of it. Drawing from the themes of Mike’s posts and those so far, my first post will highlight four issues I would like to explore in more depth (among others) over the course of our conversation.

  • Transforming Legal Job Markets

I often say that as professional schools, law schools have an ethical obligation to prepare our students for their licensing exam and to help them launch fulfilling careers. But as Mike and others have detailed, career paths are rapidly evolving. Law firm jobs have not fully recovered post-recession and public interest jobs have remained a stable percentage. But “JD Advantage” jobs—those for which a law degree is useful but not required—have grown 14% over the last several years and likely will continue to grow.  While some of these jobs may not be positive pathways to fulfilling careers, others are and the preparation for them may look different than for traditional legal practice jobs.

Beyond the curricular implications of this transition that I hope we will discuss over the course of this symposium, I think it also needs to guide an evolving approach to career services.  At Penn State Law, we are examining how we can work more effectively in an individualized way with students to help support multiple kinds of career paths in a wide range of locations. An important piece of that is our initiative to provide comprehensive mentoring that begins at admissions.  I think that mentoring plays a critical role in supporting our students in a changing society.

  • Technology

The pace of technological change and its implications for law are staggering. I knew that before I started as a dean, but my conversations with practitioners and corporate leaders these last few months have reinforced that the pace of change is even faster than I had imagined. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, immersive technology, 3-D printing, blockchain, and technologies I am not even envisioning yet are both transforming legal practice and raising important legal issues that existing frameworks are not prepared to address. Online education and distance learning technology can play important roles in allowing us to innovate pedagogically and in how we support access to justice.

I look forward to learning from all of you about cutting-edge efforts in the legal-tech space. At Penn State Law, we have a major technology initiative that includes creating modular online courses for nonlawyers (with a shout-out to symposium participant Michele Pistone for inspiring this idea); exploring innovative uses of our advanced distance learning technology (externships everywhere, virtual conference, new partnerships); and launching a Legal-Tech Virtual Lab.

  • Interdisciplinary Partnerships

Law schools’ place in their universities (for those that aren’t stand-alone) has long been complex. A dichotomy has often been posed between practical education preparing students for a licensed profession and interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration. However, in my view, building bridges between law and other disciplines is crucial to preparing our students for fulfilling careers and solving the world’s important problems. My conversations with practitioners and business leaders have only reinforced my sense that our next generation needs cross-cutting knowledge to lead, particularly at the interface of law with STEM.

 I am interested in perspectives on how this can be done well. At Penn State Law, one of our great assets is being on Penn State’s University Park campus and having the chance to collaborate across our colleges and campuses. These partnerships are crucial to the Legal-Tech Virtual Lab, major new centers we are launching in energy and security, our innovative approach to experiential education, and our collaborations in health, entrepreneurship, and engineering (just to name a few). I anticipate these partnerships not only producing cutting-edge research, but also practically preparing Penn State students to lead.

  • Leadership

I agree with Mike for the need for bottom-up efforts and believe deeply in collaborative governance. But I also want to reinforce that leadership matters and that we need talented innovators to lean in and lead. I was a reluctant dean candidate not simply because I needed to be convinced that I could contribute as much in this role—I also had decided I was not qualified.

I worry that many potential leaders, particularly women and people of color, opt themselves out for this reason. I have been going around the country sharing my story and encouraging people who are interested in leadership, but worry they are unqualified, to talk confidentially with me. I have been simultaneously heartened and concerned by the strength of the response—excited to talk with these potential new leaders and worried about how many talented leaders we lose. 

I reiterate an open invitation here to anyone (including those who are very junior) who thinks he or she might be interested in being a dean to reach out to me, [email protected].  I am happy to dialogue with you about your ideas and your concerns, and about how to gain the experiences that help prepare you for this role.

Hari Osofsky (Penn St.--University Park)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 7, 2018 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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