Harvard Law School’s S.J.D. Program celebrated its 100th anniversary the weekend of March 23 by hosting a Global Legal Education Forum that drew hundreds of attendees and participants from around the world.
The purpose of the forum was to examine the impact of globalization on legal education and the practice of law. The program addressed these relationships through a variety of panels and discussions, on topics ranging from specific uses of information technology to more abstract concepts of global law schools and global legal practices.
An opening panel took a broad view of globalization, parsing what that term means when it’s applied to law schools and the practice of law.
HLS Professor David Wilkins ’80 said that globalization is making people think in new ways about the legal profession and the role of legal education. But he characterized these connections as unclear and ill-defined.
“It’s not clear what global law is,” he said. “There is no global government, there is no single global sovereign, and the more all the globalization trends we try to identify accelerate, the more lawyers realize that for every global norm and global rule and global organization, there are local complexities, cultures, regulations, institutions, that are equally important in resolving whatever the issue is.”
HLS Professor Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03, a native of Israel, said she’s seen a marked difference in the perception of global law since she first arrived at Harvard to pursue her degrees 12 years ago.
“I was struck by how irrelevant international law was to anything that was going on at the law school,” recalled Blum, who now teaches a required first-year class in international law. “You wouldn’t find international law papers in the Harvard Law Review; it was almost entirely absent from faculty workshops. … As sad as it is to say it, it was 9/11 that changed that. It was 9/11 that kind of demonstrated what globalization could mean in some ways and why international law has become important.”
The ways in which globalization is affecting law schools were addressed repeatedly throughout the forum.
Co-panelist John Burgess ’76, partner and co-chair of the international transactions group in the Boston office of WilmerHale, discussed the necessity of new and more intangible skill sets in international law settings.
“I think there’s greater sensitivity now to those qualities of a lawyer that relate to advising clients—solving problems, communicating issues, advocacy and also persuasion—as part of the practice,” Burgess said. “Those qualities don’t come out of just a rigid reading of appellate decisions.”
Still, he said, the key to success for lawyers practicing globally is to set a solid foundation by first mastering their own substantive area of law.
“I have never known a great global lawyer standing alone,” he said. “What I have known are great competition lawyers or human rights lawyers or mergers and acquisitions lawyers whose practice is international in scope.”
While the primary focus of the forum was global, the program’s final panel had a more parochial theme, addressing a recent New York Times series of articles that questioned whether law schools are in “crisis.”
The panel included Times reporter David Segal, the author of those articles, as well as Kyle McEntee, co-founder and executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit consumer organization devoted to law school reform and reducing costs.
In his articles and in his comments as a panelist, Segal criticized law schools for not being honest in revealing the difficulties graduates are having getting jobs at the same time that tuition continues to escalate sharply.
A major culprit, he said, is the annual “Best Law Schools” ranking by U.S. News & World Report and the powerful effect it has on law schools striving to achieve high slots. For instance, he said, some are “fibbing” on the nine-month post-graduation data that they supply to the American Bar Association and which the magazine uses as a benchmark in its rankings.
“Many of these graduates are working in places like Starbucks and Radio Shack, and they are being counted as employed after graduation,” he said. “More perniciously, there are a number of law schools that are hiring their own students at this magical date.”
However, two other panelists countered that Segal and McEntee were taking too narrow a view of the situation.
“The crisis to me is very simple: a major recession plus increasing competition among law schools,” said Bryant Garth, dean of Southwestern Law School. “Prospective law students have chosen their law schools because of the services they offer—their career services, their academic support, their clinics. They have been shopping largely on the basis, rightly or wrongly, of services, and law schools have responded in a more competitive market by enhancing those services and charging tuition to enhance those services.”
Lauren Kay Robel, president of the Association of American Law Schools, was of similar mind.
The primary reason the cost of tuition has been increasing for years, she said, is that states have “radically disinvested” in public higher education, leaving the burden to students and prospective students—who get the money via federal loans. She also said that escalating tuition is affecting all other forms of higher education.
“There will be increasing competition. There will be winners and there will be losers. There will be change. But I don’t see a radical transformation as part of the immediate prospect.”