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Wilkins on Globalization, Lawyers and Emerging Economies

Professor David Wilkins '80

Professor David Wilkins '80

In September, Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, under the direction of HLS Professor David Wilkins ‘80, launched a major new research initiative in India called “Globalization, Lawyers and Emerging Economies,” or “GLEE.” As part of the launch, the program hosted a conference, “The Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization,” in New Delhi, India, on Sept. 10, which brought together 150 leading lawyers, academics, judges and policy makers to discuss the future of legal education and the future of legal practice. [See sidebar coverage.]

In an interview at HLS, Wilkins, who is faculty head of Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession and vice dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession, discusses the Globalization, Lawyers and Emerging Economies research initiative:

Why was this event important to the work that you’re doing, to GLEE, and to the Program on the Legal Profession?

The purpose of GLEE is to really try to understand the way in which globalization is reshaping the market for legal services with particular emphasis on the important new economies such as India, China and Brazil.  In each of these countries, we are launching empirical research projects to try and understand what’s happening on the ground and what the implications of these developments are for important questions like the development of the rule of law in these countries, the continuing prosperity of their economies, and the world-wide market for legal services. These are critical questions, not just for lawyers in India and China and Brazil, but given the importance of these countries to the world economy, they are also crucial for students here at HLS, and indeed for lawyers everywhere.

The main purpose of GLEE, and the main contribution that academics can make to these important issues, is to produce systematic, unbiased empirical research on the changes that are happening in countries like India. Prior to our main public meeting, on Saturday October 8 we had a smaller academic event where we brought together academics from the US and Brazil with leading Indian scholars to discuss the topics that we intend to study in India over the next several months.  These papers will eventually be published in a book on the Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization. … We think we made great progress on putting together a research team, which will report back on the work that they’ve done at a conference that we will be holding here at Harvard Law School in April.

What is the goal of the work that you’re doing through GLEE and the Program on the Legal Profession?

As I indicated, our most important work as scholars is to generate systematic unbiased empirical research. But we also are intent on doing this work by engaging a multinational and multi-disciplinary research team and facilitating the exchange of ideas across boundaries, not just at the faculty-level, but at the student-level as well. We try to encourage this conversation in many ways, for example, through our PLP speaker series, where we bring in leading practitioners and academics from around the world, by involving students in our research projects, and by having conferences that are open to the entire law school community such as the one that we’re going to have in April.  We even made a point of involving Indian law students in our recent events in that country.   We also try to facilitate student learning through our India internship program.. We are constantly looking for ways in which we can facilitate dialogue and exchange. Because it’s only through dialogue and exchange that we will be able to prepare students here at Harvard and students in India for the new world.

If you were going to tell students at Harvard, and elsewhere, why they need to be interested in what you’re doing in the GLEE project, what would you say?

I would say that whatever kind of law they think they’re going to practice, whether that’s practicing in a large law firm, or in-house legal department, or government regulatory office, or public interest organization, or even in a small-town practice, their world is going to be increasingly global. And countries like India and China and Brazil are going to be more and more important in terms of what the overall careers of lawyers will be.

My favorite statistic that I’ve been using comes from the IMF, which has done projections on world GDP in 2050. Not surprisingly, in 2010 the U.S., the U.K., and Western Europe accounted for something like 48% of all the world’s GDP. By 2050, that number is expected to drop to 18%. All the growth is going to come from Asia, Latin America and increasingly Africa, which will be the fastest growing part of the world economy over the next 40 years. If our students are going to be prepared to live in and compete in a world in which the center of economic activity, and increasingly the center of political, social and cultural activity, will be found outside the United States in these emerging economies, then it behooves us as educators to learn as much as we can, and to help our students engage as much as they can, with this new world, so that they can be prepared for the careers they are going to lead in the 21st Century.

Read an interview with Wilkins, "Lawyers without Borders," which appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of the Harvard Law Bulletin.

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