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Making a Difference in Legal Education

Center forum looks at how legal academy should adapt to changing market place

  • Legal consumers, providers and instructors to discuss what legal academy should look like
  • Focus on best ways to prepare lawyers for today’s legal marketplace
  • Small working groups to generate ideas for curriculum innovation
  • Solutions and opportunities will move from practice into the academy

CHICAGO --- A new Northwestern University School of Law center intent upon making a real difference in legal education will for the first time bring together diverse voices in the legal community in a robust exchange of ideas meant to translate -- sooner rather than later -- into innovation.

Hosted by The School of Law’s Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation (CPEI), the event will bring together leaders in the private practice of law, general counsel offices, nonprofit legal services, attorney talent development professionals and alternative legal service platform innovators. This diverse group of stakeholders will meet first in working groups and then engage in lively discussions meant to ultimately shape curricula at the School of Law and across the academy. 

How legal education should address and influence the delivery of legal services in today’s rapidly changing, digitally-driven world will be the animating question at the forum from 1 to 6 p.m., Monday, Sept. 21, at the law school, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

“We will break people into groups with representatives from the different sectors to discuss specific topics, bring them back, debrief and translate their thoughts into specific ideas for innovation,” said CPEI director James Lupo

Launched last year, the Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation serves as an incubator of ideas and solutions that draws on the vast and varied experiences of the legal services triangle -- consumers, providers and instructors. Ideas from the legal marketplace and related businesses and institutions will be central to exploring the best ways for law students to develop the critical judgment, strategy and leadership skills needed to succeed today. 

The center will follow a design model in which diverse perspectives on various legal education challenges and opportunities will be presented, followed relatively quickly by proposed solutions and decisions about implementation. 

“We want lawyers in practice, counsel for their clients, professionals in attorney talent development, attorneys working in nonprofit and government jobs and those innovating alternative service platforms to tell us what skills our students must have to better serve their clients,” Lupo said.

CPEI grew out of the Law School’s most recent strategic planning process, in recognition of how significantly the legal services sector has changed in the last several years. Primary changes include the reorganization of relationships between lawyers and clients, the increased availability of technology in providing legal services and alternative legal service platforms, such as legal process outsourcing firms.

Lupo and James Speta, senior associate dean for academic affairs and international initiatives and director of executive LLM programs at Northwestern Law, were charged with looking at how the changing delivery of legal services affects the careers of Northwestern Law students upon graduation and throughout their careers.

“A primary focus of our strategic planning process was to investigate how best to serve our students, our community and our profession not only for today but also for tomorrow,” said Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Law. “We created CPEI to build connections between the Law School and the practice community, to facilitate a two-way conversation about how we prepare our students so that they are ready to effectively engage in and eventually lead the profession.”

While other law schools that are addressing the changing legal landscape often provide important research from the academy about the legal academy, their work largely fails to actively engage key players in the legal community to provide solutions, Lupo said.

Solutions for legal education ultimately must come from practice into the academy, rather than only from the reverse, he stressed.

“For the legal academy there are three sets of players that have always been in coordination, even if not explicitly: law schools, law firms and consumers of legal services,” Lupo said. 

“The center will bring consumers of legal services, providers of legal services and educators together to exchange and develop ideas and produce actionable intelligence in the form of recommendations for programmatic and curricular innovations that will best serve our students today and throughout their careers.”

The Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation also will organize annual debriefings for summer associates and recent graduates about what the new lawyers learned on the job and how those experiences might inform educational changes at the Law School. 

“The primary goal is to deliver actionable intelligence around which we can enhance our programs and curriculum,” Lupo said. “We will listen to all ideas, propose innovation and implement meaningful change.”

For more information, visit the CPEI website or contact James Lupo at j-lupo2@law.northwestern.edu.

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