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HLS forum examines the impact of globalization on legal education (video)

Vargas and Alford

HLS Professor and Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies William Alford '77 (right), with S.J.D. Association President and opening panel moderator Daniel Vargas

Harvard Law School's S.J.D. program celebrated its 100th anniversary the weekend of March 23–25 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, which was sponsored by Harvard Law School’s S.J.D. Association, addressed these relationships through a variety of panels, ranging from a discussion on specific uses of information technology to more abstract concepts of global law schools and global legal practices.

[L-R] Harvard Law School Professors Gabriella Blum, Janet Halley, and Frank Michelman

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 that lawyers realize that for every global norm and global rule and global organization, that there are local complexities, cultures, regulations, institutions, that are equally important in resolving whatever the issue is.”

View Video (Friday 3/23 panel: Global Legal Education Forum Opening panel): Moderator: Daniel Vargas, S.J.D. candidate, Harvard Law School; William Alford ‘77, Henry L. Stimson Professor of Law, Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and ILS, Harvard Law School; Gabriella BlumLL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03, Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Harvard Law School; Janet Halley, Royall Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Frank Michelman ‘60, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School and David Wilkins ‘80, Lester Kissel Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

HLS Professor Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03, a native of Israel, said that she’s seen a marked difference in the perception of global law since she first arrived at Harvard to pursue her LL.M and S.J.D. degrees 11 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. In one of them, Chang-Fa Lo, a justice of the Taiwan Constitutional Court, said that he has seen the globalization of law as “giving rise to the need for legal education reform or change.”

While the primary focus of law schools must remain preparing lay people to become lawyers, in a globalized world, law schools must teach new kinds of legal skills to law students, he said.

“In my view,” Lo said, “legal skills not only include applied skills of logic and reasoning, but also necessary skills of weighing or balancing various interests.”

McGill University Faculty of Law Doctoral Student and O'Brien Fellow Jing Guan LL.M. '09

Co-panelist John Burgess, co-chair of the International Transactions Group in the Boston office of WilmerHale, where he is a partner, picked up on Lo’s point about the necessity of new and more intangible skillsets 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,” he 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.”

Harvard Law School S.J.D. Candidate Aminu Gamawa LL.M. '10

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 raised the question of 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 tuition continues to escalate sharply.

A major culprit, he said, is the annual “Best Law Schools” ranking by the magazine U.S. News & World Report and the powerful effect it has on law schools striving to achieve high slots on it. 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 criterion 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.”

View Video: "Are Law Schools in Crisis? The New York Times Debate and its Discontents:" Moderator: Heidi Matthews, S.J.D. candidate, Harvard Law School; Bryant Garth, dean, Southwestern Law School; co-editor, Journal of Legal Education; Kyle McEntee, executive director, Law School Transparency; Lauren Kay Robel, president, AALS and interim provost and executive vice president, Indiana University Bloomington; and David Segal, reporter, New York Times

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 the 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 American Association of Law Schools, was of similar mind

The primary reason the cost of tuition has been increasing for years, she said, is because 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.

Garth agreed.

“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.”

—Dick Dahl

Earlier this year, the S.J.D. Association sponsored a series of seminars leading up to the Global Legal Education Forum: “Deans’ Roundtable: Views from Brazil, Canada, China & France” (see related story), which featured deans from law schools around the globe in a panel discussion moderated by HLS Professor Duncan Kennedy; and “Are Law Schools in Crisis? The New York Times Editorial and its Discontents” (see related story), a discussion featuring Harvard Law School Assistant Professor I. Glenn Cohen, co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

The S.J.D. Association also produced a series of short video statements on the subject of legal education reform given by a number of HLS faculty members, and by faculty members and deans from law schools worldwide. This project—the Global Dialogue on the Future of Legal Education—is ongoing. Interested individuals should contact the S.J.D. Association at for more information.

© 2015 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.