« Legal Ed's Futures: No. 58 (Gordon Smith) | Main | Legal Ed's Futures: No. 60 (Dan Rodriguez) »

Monday, April 09, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 59 (Hari Osofsky)

Pathways Forward

As I begin this final post, I want to thank Dan and Mike for initiating this important dialogue and all of the contributors for sharing their insights.  It has been such a rich discussion that there are so many things I’d love to talk more about.  We need to find other mechanisms for continuing this discussion as this virtual symposium concludes.

In this contribution, I reflect on pathways forward, drawing from the themes of our conversation and adding to them. If we’re going to develop legal education for a changing society together—through the new collaborations that we’ll build within and across our institutions—what are effective mechanisms for doing so and core values that we should maintain?

Piloting Innovation

My closest colleagues at Penn State are well aware that my favorite word is pilot (well, after the words We Are Penn State, creamery ice cream, and THON). That is because pilots are institutional spaces for innovation.

A key theme throughout this virtual symposium has been on how we foster innovation. One of the most crucial elements of creating an innovation culture is providing space for failure.  I talk a lot with our community about the importance of learning leadership.  We all make mistakes, and the key to success is what we learn from them and how resilient we are.

In a pilot, we try something new at a small scale without knowing if it will work.  It is intentionally structured for the learning crucial to innovation.  So, we are piloting modular online courses aimed at nonlawyers, new approaches to joint degrees, our first pop up event for the Legal-Tech Virtual Lab, new educational partnerships in Panama, etc.  Some of these pilots will work well, some will need some tweaking, and some will be disasters. 

But where we end up as a law school will be better because we made room for playful learning.  And if we can learn from one another’s pilots across institutions, all the better. That is how we get to “the next thing after the next thing,” a phrase that I learned from my inspiring colleague Interim Vice Provost for Online Education Renata Engel.

Personalized Legal Education 

There has been much discussion in this virtual symposium on legal education for nonlawyers, including by Dan Rodriguez, Michael Waterstone, Bobby Ahdieh, Megan Carpenter, and Kellye Testy. I have been particularly inspired by the work of Michele Pistone and Michael Horn on Disrupting Law School, https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Disrupting-law-school.pdf and their suggestion that “[o]nline technologies make it possible to modularize the learning process.”

At Penn State Law, we have launched in a pilot in collaboration with World Campus, Penn State’s online campus, to explore what it might mean to create modular online education for nonlawyers.  Unlike in their standard process in which people come to them with a fixed idea of course content, we asked World Campus who needs this knowledge in order to decide which courses to design.  The first of these courses should be ready in the next few months, and it will be interesting to learn who will benefit from them and in what ways, if at all, they should be bundled together.

But this personalized approach to education has implications for our J.D. students as well.  In my first months as dean here, I have put a lot of energy into the question of how we could work with our students more effectively in an individualized way to help them launch into fulfilling careers.  Our students come to University Park from all over the United States and world, and have widely varying goals.

An important part of personalizing legal education at Penn State Law is comprehensive mentoring that starts at admissions, one of my first initiatives as a new dean because I have experienced and seen the transformational power of mentoring. I hired someone whose full-time job is directing this program so that we could do it right; over the past year, we’ve structured an approach that connects students based on their geographic and practice area goals with alumni and peer mentors, and we are also working to build this knowledge into how we pair students with academic advisors. The director of our mentoring program has also been helping us to more effectively support alumni connections for our students in the major geographic areas that they target.  Penn State has over 673,000 alumni all over the United States and world, a number of whom are lawyers, and this program matches our students with alumni who give their time, share their wisdom, and work to support them.

Reterritorializing Law and How It Is Taught

As the only law dean in the United States who is also the dean of a school of international affairs (as far as I know), as well as a geographer, I have particularly appreciated that this symposium included participants beyond the United States and discussion of what effective international partnerships could look like. During one week of this symposium, I was in Panama building new partnerships with the national bar association, leading universities, and governmental and funding agencies.  It was also wonderful to connect with the Panamanian Penn State family, and get to know alumni, parents, and incoming and future students.

The combination of international and transnational partnerships and students with rapidly evolving technology creates new possibilities for reterritorializing law and how it is taught. The internet and online interaction has redefined our sense of “where.” As we interact across borders, many different types of options emerge, especially if we are open to modularity.  We have many international students in our building in University Park, including LLMs, SJDs, Pre-LLMs, and exchange students.  And we are exploring options for how we could serve additional students through our new and established transnational partnerships, which could include pilots that are in more than one place and use of both distance and asynchronous online courses.

There has been some discussion in this symposium about combining LLBs with JDs, and other alternatives. I think we need to be creative in developing programs that provide students with legal knowledge that crosses borders and can support their being more effective lawyers in our changing world.

Serving Society

A final critical theme in this symposium that I will conclude with has been the role of law schools in serving our society.  How do we contribute to solving society’s big problems and to providing access to education and legal assistance to those who need it? As a dean at a land-grant, state-related university with a public mission and strategic plan focused on “our commitment to impact,” I view answering this question as a core part of our law school’s and university’s mission.

Deborah Merritt, Kellye Testy, Megan Carpenter, Dan Rodriguez, Harold Krent, Michele Pistone, and others have powerfully highlighted some of the ways in which our current approach to legal education both undermines access to justice (such as the way law schools distribute scholarships driven by rankings rather than need as tuition rises) and supports it (such as through clinical legal education and emerging technology). I also appreciated Dan Rodriguez’s point about public interest law versus law in the public interest. We need to bridge the access to justice gap, and we need to be creative in doing so. 

As I and others have noted in earlier posts, technology and collaboration play key roles in creating that bridge.  Distance learning technology can serve clients in rural areas that don’t have access to that type of legal expertise—our Entrepreneur Assistance and IP clinics are doing so at Penn State Law.  New apps can help people more effectively navigate legal forms and filings.  I’ve been very excited to see new artificial intelligence research tools, like Ross Intelligence’s new product, EVA, be distributed for free, with intentional focus on access to justice. And by partnering across disciplines, we can solve problems better and serve those in need, as our Veterans and Servicemembers Clinic does by working together with our College of Nursing.

Also crucially important, and interconnected with these issues, is how we provide pipelines to diverse student bodies, faculties, and leadership, and a culture that supports diversity.  We have many initiatives and programs to support diversity at Penn State Law, from admissions partnerships to affinity groups to a Minority Mentoring program to a Diversity Banquet, but as I always say in this context, we have work to do. We need to support and mentor with awareness that positionality matters, and that we process seemingly neutral information differently based on that positionality—from a group of my female law students who chose not to apply for clerkships based on hearing low odds (but who applied once encouraged and all received clerkships) to the many potentially excellent law deans who never apply because they decide they are not qualified. I constantly reinforce to those I mentor that we cannot obtain any job that we don’t apply for. And as I said in my first post, leadership matters and we have an important role to play in fostering our future leaders.

So, what future can we build together? I am an optimist, and view these transformations as an opportunity. There are so many “unknown unknowns,” but if we create a culture of innovation, work together, and hold on to our core values of serving society and creating access to justice, the possibilities for constructive progress abound.  As Amelia Earhart put it, “Ours is the commencement of a flying age, and I am happy to have popped into existence at a period so interesting.” I look forward to where we will fly.

Hari Osofsky (Penn St.--University Park)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 9, 2018 at 12:42 AM | Permalink


The comments to this entry are closed.