Wilkins makes the case for educating global lawyers
David Wilkins ’80 delivered a lecture, “Making Global Lawyers: Legal Education, Legal Paradox, and the Paradox of Professional Distinctiveness,” to mark his appointment as the Lester Kissel Professor of Law.
Wilkins began his Oct. 19 lecture by noting that today’s legal world is often seen either as undergoing a fundamental paradigm shift or as “just business as usual.” He cautioned that while it’s too early to tell which of these views is correct, “it’s probably unlikely to be either.”
Wilkins observed, “We’re seeing big trends that have been going on long before the crash of 2008, that were accentuated by the crash and that are likely to have important implications for everything we do.” He provided several examples of these changes, including the globalization of economic activity, the rise of information technology and the blurring together of the categories of knowledge that we have come to rely on at least since the 19th century.
According to Wilkins, the institutionalization of legal practice and its globalization have moved the profession from firms that are sealed off tightly from one another to much more fluid networks, leading to intense competition across global markets.
Despite these changes, he said, it’s important to recognize that most lawyers around the world continue to practice in ways that are very similar to the ways in which lawyers practiced a century ago, through solo or small firm practice.Nevertheless, Wilkins observed that recently, we have seen the rise of large law firms, and the rise of in-house counsel, which has moved from a U.S. to a global phenomenon. He cited India’s Tata Group as an example.
Wilkins also noted that the market for lawyers is changing dramatically. There used to be relatively few lawyers concentrated in bounded geographic areas, and lots of policies that restricted competition. Today, we have what some economists call “winner-take-all competition,” he said, both for clients and for lawyers, and we have seen the “rise of market practices.”
But complexity increases demand, and Wilkins predicted an increased demand for what lawyers do. The bad news for attorneys, he said, is that many people are competing for this work—and they are not all lawyers. Technology will further decrease the need for “bespoke” legal services. And at the same time, the demand for an increasingly mobile legal workforce is emerging.
This raises an array of important questions for legal education, Wilkins said, including whether the purpose of this education is to socialize students into this new world or challenge it. “Should we embrace the market, fight it or try to lead it?” he asked.
How we figure out the answers, said Wilkins, is important not just for us but also for society because of the role lawyers will continue to play in the development of the modern state.
Palfrey proposes a new information environment
In a November lecture marking his appointment as the Henry N. Ess III Professor at Harvard Law School, Professor John G. Palfrey ’01 called for a new legal information system grounded in a set of open data.
Palfrey, who is also the vice dean for library and information resources at HLS, delivered the lecture to a standing-room-only audience in the Caspersen Room in Langdell Hall.
Introducing the lecture, Dean Martha Minow noted that the award of the Ess Professorship to Palfrey “is especially wonderful” because Ess, like Palfrey, was extraordinarily devoted to the collection and preservation of law books. Ess, a 1944 graduate, bestowed his rare book collection, doubling HLS’s collection of legal books printed before 1501 and making Harvard’s the largest trove of early English law books in the world. “If Ess had the persistence and vision to collect special legal materials, John Palfrey has the persistence and vision to reinvent what legal materials will be like and how people will access them in this very exciting and challenging age,” Minow said.
In his lecture, Palfrey proposed a new legal information environment that is predominantly digital in nature, which draws from advances in cloud computing, the digital naming systems and youth media practices, as well as classical modes of librarianship.
He explained how this new digital era grows out of a long history of evolution in the publishing of legal information over more than 900 years: “Now, we are embarking upon an equally ambitious venture to remake the legal information environment for the 21st century, in the digital era. A new legal information environment, drawing comprehensively from contemporary technology, can improve access to justice by the traditionally disadvantaged; enhance democracy; promote innovation and creativity in scholarship and teaching; and promote economic development.”
Palfrey acknowledged that a new information environment also will have unintended and sometimes negative consequences. “This trajectory toward openness is likely to change the way that professionals and the public view the law, and the process of lawmaking hierarchies between those with specialized knowledge and power and those without will continue its erosion.”
He concluded by discussing how, unlike the physical library in Langdell Hall, the structure of the digital information environment has not yet been thoughtfully designed. “Our students just as frequently come in through our virtual front door as our physical front door,” he said. “I think what we need is a design charrette to build this new, thoroughly connected system of legal information for a hybrid age, for a digital-plus era.”