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Law School As Community

I’m excited to join everyone in this intriguing conversation about law schools.  Thanks to Deven, Mike, and all the other participants.  As a member of the inaugural faculty of a new law school, I often have the joy – and headache – of contemplating the question of what Drexel Law ought to be.  I think that Nancy is absolutely right that there is no single answer; each law school has its own particular identity, and its constituents – students, faculty, and staff – all have their own individualized visions.  I think that I’d start with one ambition shared by everyone at Drexel: we want our law school to be an engaged, smart, welcoming, and dynamic community.  We want to feel a pulse each day, whether we recognize it during office hours, faculty meetings, or hallway political debates. 

It’s hard to disagree with Erwin’s aspiration of building a law school grounded in experiential education and interdisciplinarity.  That has certainly been our mantra at Drexel and for both substantive and market reasons.  Large numbers of prospective students want experiential training because they believe it will better prepare them for practice.  They may well be right.  Their instincts are supported by the MacCrate and Carnegie reports, and Jerome Frank was making this case back in 1933.    Similarly, if you want to do great hiring and build a strong reputation, an interdisciplinary commitment makes a lot of sense.  A good portion of entry level teaching candidates – and many of the senior legal scholars who are dominant opinion-makers - have a taste for interdisciplinary work.  And that preference is reasonably well  grounded.  Notwithstanding legitimate critiques of some interdisciplinary work (e.g., “lousy coverage of the coordinate discipline” and “flawed methodologies”),  the shift has opened up much more real estate for law professors eager to size up law from a variety of angles.  While there is bad interdisciplinary work, I’m not sure it’s any more common than bad intradisciplinary scholarship.

But when I think about what makes for a great institution, at least from the point of view of insiders, I (like Nancy) come back to community. Do we challenge, respect, empower, and enjoy each other every day?  Do we arrive, each morning, to a place where people like to teach and learn?  Do we push each other to identify our own personal metrics for success, and having done so, to become better on our own terms?    If we do, I think we’ll discover that every constituent is investing more – and hopefully we’ll discover that the payoff is that the institution grows every year along every metric.