When Arizona State University's visionary president, Michael Crow, announced my appointment as Dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, he said that I would "elevate an already great law school into the top echelon of American legal education not by chasing the handful of law schools that represent the old ‘gold standard' but rather by defining what 21st century legal education ought to be." This is a daunting task to be sure, but it is one that we at the College of Law are tackling with enthusiasm and determination.
The need to rethink the law school mission is particularly important for public institutions. Right now, public legal education is at a crucial crossroads because, in an era of increased competition for faculty, students, and prestige, we face the danger that public institutions could become permanent second-class citizens in the law school hierarchy. If that were to happen, not only would it be the death of public legal education in this country, it would be the end of the great American experiment in social opportunity and multicultural democracy. Thus, we need to reconceive what it means to be a public institution, making sure that, as we expand access and opportunity, we do so while constantly rising to new heights of achievement in scholarship, academic excellence, and contributions to the world.
So how do we translate those goals into an updated, 21st century model for legal education? I see four key areas of innovation. First, we need to broaden the scope of legal education itself, so that we think of our teaching mission as encompassing numerous populations beyond the traditional J.D. student. Second, we need to revitalize the law school curriculum in order to better train present and future lawyers, policymakers, activists, and corporate leaders. Third, we need to recruit faculty and create programs that are not just interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary, which requires that we incorporate and collaborate with scientists and scholars from other disciplines, rather than relying solely on today's legal scholars to train the lawyers of tomorrow. And fourth, we need to make sure public legal institutions are deeply embedded in their social context, contributing to local, regional, national, and global policy debates and seeking to address the most pressing challenges facing the world. With these four pillars in place, the public law school of the 21st century can serve its public-spirited mission of expanding access and opportunity, while increasing its commitment to scholarly and academic excellence and recruiting significant scholars from multiple disciplines to work collaboratively in order to solve the pressing social problems of a new generation. I will discuss each of these pillars in turn.
(1) Broadening the Scope of Legal Education
Historically, most law schools have focused almost exclusively on training lawyers to practice professionally through the Juris Doctor degree. But in today's world, there are a wide variety of fields in which legal training is not just useful, but perhaps even a necessity. These include many areas of business, health care, real estate, science, architecture, journalism, and urban planning, to name just a few. Law schools, particularly public ones, need to serve those populations as well, through expanded Master's, certificate, and online programs. Thus, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law—through its nationally celebrated programs in Law, Science, & Technology, in Indian Law, and in Real Estate Planning and Development—is building a series of degree and certificate granting programs for those who are not necessarily interested in practicing law, but who feel they could benefit from legal training. In addition, through a new Institute for Executive Legal Education we are building a comprehensive series of retreats and summit meetings, where CEOs, CFOs, General Counsels, policymakers and scholars from around the world can meet annually to discuss cutting-edge issues of law and policy, such as the personalized, genomic-level medicine, the siting of renewable energy facilities in Indian Country, the newest research on the reliability of scientific evidence, and so on.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The role of law in facilitating commerce and spreading stable institutions for human flourishing remains one of America's most important exports. U.S. legal institutions must aim to serve populations in China, India, Brazil, and other emerging industrial powers with huge population bases and a hunger for law training. Through expanded foreign LL.M. programs, partnerships with foreign universities, the creation of satellite campuses abroad, and a greater emphasis on distance education, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is seeking to serve the broader global public by providing increased access to a U.S.-style legal education.
Finally, there is no reason for a law school that truly wants to be integrated into the fabric of American culture to ignore the role of law in a broader liberal arts framework. I truly believe that all Americans should take at least a few law school classes, not only to get a sense of the legal and political institutions that matter so much to society, but to taste the discourse of the law school classroom, where students are pushed to articulate diverse points of view and seek provisional compromises on fiercely contested social and political issues. At its best, legal training is training in the idea that your point of view is not the only viable one, which is essential training for all people in a multicultural democracy such as ours. Thus, we cannot afford the historical bifurcation whereby liberal arts programs study law from the outside and law schools train lawyers from the inside. Instead, we at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law seek to integrate undergraduates and those seeking a Ph.D. in law-related areas into our law school teaching mission.
Together, these initiatives seek to open up the scope of law school, so that we are not just an exclusive club where lawyers are trained for practice, but a global legal studies center, with students from around the world and from diverse backgrounds receiving a variety of styles of legal education. In that way, we seek to embed law studies into the broader societal landscape.
2) Reshaping the Law School Curriculum
The traditional law school curriculum associated with Christopher Columbus Langdell has long been under attack. Yet, law schools have been reluctant to respond, and have often simply tinkered around the edges, so great are the forces of institutional inertia. We are exploring ways to break through this inertia, by allowing students to design their own legal education and choose among larger conceptual "schools" or tracks within the College of Law. Such a model would be more like the personalized educational tracks that are available to undergraduates. Thus, just as undergraduates choose from various intensive courses of studies (accompanied by varying methodologies), we would create larger conceptual "schools" within the College of Law. The idea is to offer a series of comprehensive paths for students that would include bundles of courses taught in a more thematically coherent way, while distribution requirements would ensure that students are exposed to a variety of approaches.
For example, a clinical/legal skills track could focus on various hands-on aspects of the practice of law. Courses in this track would obviously include clinics (and our law school currently has eight of them, embracing litigation, transactional, and mediation work), as well as non-clinical courses that would incorporate clinical components. In addition, so called traditional courses, such as contracts, could be taught from a skills perspectives, focusing not only on substantive law, but on real-world skills such as contract negotiation and drafting.
As another option, a "policy incubator" track could engage students to work with faculty from a variety of disciplines to generate solutions to specific policy problems. Thus, for example, the school could offer two to three options within the program each year, dealing with an issue that corresponds to an area of strength in the school, e.g., one focusing on a science policy issue, one an international issue, one an issue of law and psychology, one a criminal justice policy question, one an Indian law issue, one an immigration dispute, and so on. Each policy incubator would run through the year and carry credits equal to multiple traditional courses. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students from other disciplines would participate by application. Instruction would be integrated into the program: as topics became relevant, faculty and students together could create instructional modules, perhaps in the form of supervised readings plus tutorials plus outside speakers. The final product of each track would be a "white paper" that analyzed the policy issue, summarized the relevant academic and policy literature, and proposed a solution in some detail. The policy incubator track would also incorporate an option for students to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., taking courses from faculty, engaging in supervised internships, and engaging in a policy-related project, culminating in a report, congressional testimony, briefing papers, and the like.
A third option could be a law and social theory track that would appeal to those seeking a more theoretical approach to legal education, linking students with the College of Law's strong cadre of legal philosophers as well as others from both within and outside the university who study law through the lens of sociology and anthropology. Here, the emphasis would be to understand law as inextricably linked with the study of culture. Students would be encouraged to be reflective about their legal education, consider a wide variety of alternative approaches to legal problems that arise in other cultures, and to consider the constraining and liberating roles that legal discourse can play in broader societal debates.
We are actively engaging with these sorts of transformative ideas, and I commend our faculty members for their willingness to rethink the core of legal education. How the discussions will turn out I cannot say, but I do think whatever we come up with will embody the innovative idea that students can "design" their own legal education, in collaboration with students from a variety of different disciplines across the university, and that the embeddedness of law within broader societal projects and institutions must always be emphasized. Moreover, whatever the curriculum, it must be taught with a global orientation. One of the great innovations of the Langdellian case method was that it trained lawyers to practice in multiple jurisdictions within the United States. But a properly educated lawyer today must be ready for transnational and international legal practice. So, no matter the method of education, the content of the entire law school curriculum must include a comparative and international orientation.
3) Embracing Transdisciplinary Legal Education
It is no secret that legal education has become increasingly interdisciplinary, as legal scholars have branched out to fields of economics, political science, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and other academic disciplines for insights. This interdisciplinary turn, though salutary, does not go far enough. This is because often interdisciplinarity takes the form of legal scholars dabbling in other areas without sufficiently serious scholarly engagement. Or it simply means that the law school "swallows up" other disciplines by hiring joint J.D./Ph.D. faculty members to teach and conduct research within the school.
At the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, we certainly have an admirably interdisciplinary faculty, with more than a third holding advanced degrees in fields other than law. But, in keeping with the truly electrifying innovation going on across our university, we are going much further than that. Partnering with the new transdisciplinary institutions on campus—the School of Global Studies, the Biodesign Institute, SkySong (ASU's Innovation Center), and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and so on—the College of Law is engaging in scholarship and teaching that sits not within a particular school, but between them.
For example, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is embarking on the creation of the legal academy's first integrated program in law and sustainability. Far more than just a few courses in environmental law, this program will partner with the university's Global Institute of Sustainability to create an alliance of scientists, planners, political scientists, planners, designers, and legal scholars to create a comprehensive Ph.D., LL.M., and Masters level curriculum. Further, this partnership will seek to engage students in working with countries, states, and municipalities around the world to develop sustainability strategies and implement law reforms to implement them. Imagine a gathering of world leaders, scientists, and legal scholars at the state-of-the-art Decision Theater on the ASU campus, modeling long-term consequences of possible science or policy choices made today. Now imagine law students, along with science and planning students, helping to facilitate those sessions, and you have some idea what a transdisciplinary approach to legal education may mean, not just for students, but for the world.
4) Connecting the Law School and the World
Two decades ago, Judge Harry T. Edwards famously wrote about what he viewed as the growing disjunction between law schools and the practice of law. And he was absolutely right that law schools must train students to excel in the practice of law. To that end, we are broadening our curricular offerings, and I have appointed Catherine O'Grady to be Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and the Profession. In this new role, Cathy will be the point person for our connection with the practicing Bar and the whole web of issues relating to pre-professional training, externships, and discipline.
But in addition to training students for practice as it is today, we must look ahead to the law practice of the future. In addition, we must also connect with the broader worlds of policy, science, regional, national, and international planning, cultural and legal pluralism, the global infrastructure of trade, finance, human rights, and so on. The law school of the 21st century, and again particularly a public one, must be embedded within the concentric circles of communities in which it interacts. We must tackle global problems and work to find solutions, whether that means convening policy summits, developing programs to work with industries, planners, and nongovernmental organizations to consider innovative approaches to vexing problems, training students to engage with social policy, or producing scholarship, congressional testimony, white papers and the like that demonstrate a clear commitment to engage in our world.
These four pillars of a 21st century legal education amount to a substantial reshaping of the contemporary law school. Thus, while the challenges that face public legal education are significant, with vision and the willingness to innovate, we can refashion the mission, the approach, the scope, and the impact of our educational programs. We can provide access and opportunity for a wide variety of students, we can stress excellence in all that we do, and we can ensure that the law school has an impact on its local, national, and international communities. Only by doing so will the public law school remain a dominant institution in preparing our society for the globally competitive, multicultural environment facing us in the new century. I very much look forward to discussing these and many other ideas with you over the weeks and months to come.
Please send your comments to me at Paul.Berman@asu.edu.