Strategic Plan Introduction
Northwestern Pritzker School of Law is educating lawyers for a profession that is undergoing enormous change. The twin impacts of technology and globalization have had significant impact on how clients and lawyers do their work. These developments have been “disruptive” in that they displace or fundamentally alter existing business models and practices and they do this in ways that demand attention and adaptation from key stakeholders in the relevant marketplace. At the same time, all law schools, including Northwestern Law, face the challenge of providing top-quality education without further burdening students who often take on enormous debt to attend law school.
Lying under the surface of these increasingly familiar facts, law schools face a more existential crisis. What are our fundamental educational aspirations? Are we principally about giving students foundational skills and substantive information — the classic idea of training students to “think like a lawyer”? Or do we need to focus on practical skills and experiential learning so that we can produce “practice-ready” graduates? Are we about theory or about practice, book learning or street learning? And is our basic model of a six-semester program taught principally by full-time faculty in traditional classrooms a sound one in our fast-paced, “wired” environment? These are matters calling into question whether we are doing the right thing, pursuing the right approach.
A strategic planning committee of faculty and administrators, with input from students, alumni, and practitioners, has been hard at work developing strategies to meet these challenges. This resulting plan, Leading Law, summarizes our response. Here, we lay out our bold ambitions, each aimed at advancing Northwestern Pritzker School of Law as the innovative law school for the changing world.
We are focused resolutely and strategically on tackling the challenges noted above and on addressing this existential crisis with creative thinking and purposive action. We accept the changing, dynamic profession not with resignation, but with excitement. Northwestern Law is ideally poised to reimagine what legal education is about and what it makes possible for our students and our graduates. We will be at the forefront of this fascinating future.
This is an opportunity for us to separate from the pack, to leverage our competitive advantages, to expand our impact and our reputation.
And what are these competitive advantages?
- First, Northwestern Law is a place of innovation. We have a history of successfully adapting to changing educational and economic conditions. We have led change. Northwestern Law has established a reputation as THE innovative law school, the school that “gets it,” that understands how adapting to a changing marketplace fosters and fuels educational success for our students and graduates.
- Second, Northwestern Law is student-centered. What we affectionately label the “Northwestern Law Difference” describes a myriad of programs and services that emerge from a core philosophy that our students are adults, pre-professionals, who work in partnership with administrators and faculty on their academic objectives. More than at other law schools, students at Northwestern are responsible for principal elements of their educational choices; policies and practices are centered around our students and their well-being. Moreover, our Law School emphasizes teamwork and collaborative learning and nurtures an environment in which ambitious law students can work seriously on their studies and their professional objectives while not taking themselves too seriously.
- Third, Northwestern Law is interdisciplinary. We have the highest percentage of faculty members with doctoral degrees among all law schools in the country, and we have significant curricular initiatives that build on these faculty strengths in a range of fields, including economics, psychology, political science, and sociology. We look at law as a coherent substantive field enriched by insights from many disciplines and we look at legal education as a fundamentally multidisciplinary enterprise. We strike an important balance between theory and practice, between substantive legal instruction and experiential learning.
We face our future with an enthusiastic resolve to meet current challenges and to provide a comprehensive, interdisciplinary education that is second to none. In a world of great law schools, we will be the law school that is engaged uniquely in the process of reinventing legal education and reconfiguring our program and our processes to lead change and create future leaders.
We will do so in five critical respects.
I. First, we will enhance our learning infrastructure in key ways to foster student well-being — to continue to nurture the Northwestern Law Difference — and to further our fundamental objectives of top-quality, innovative legal education in a collaborative environment. This will entail enhancements in our curriculum, our physical space, our technology, and our faculty.
II. Second, we will shape our educational core and our internal and external initiatives around the central insight that legal education in the twenty-first century must educate lawyers who will work at the interface of law, business, and technology. We will escape the stranglehold of the idea that law is intrinsically separate from business and from technological innovation and that what lawyers do is a far instance from what managers, entrepreneurs, and regulators do. Lawyers not only assist clients with discrete legal problems, they also invent, manage, work on strategy and performance, and govern. The future of lawyering is one in which silos dissolve and in which governance and economic performance include the good work of multidisciplinary, business, and tech-savvy lawyers. We will take the lead at training this next generation of lawyer-leaders.
III. Third, we will address squarely the predicament of student debt and the high costs of legal education. We will steward our resources and manage our business model to keep costs to a reasonable level. More constructively, we will develop and deploy resources to tackle student debt directly, through imaginative uses of financial aid (both need-based and merit-based) and assistance to students during law school and after graduation. Northwestern Law has a covenant with our students and graduates to facilitate their economic objectives and this must and will include addressing their economic circumstances. Novel approaches to financial support will be a key element of our strategic endeavors in the coming years.
IV. Fourth, we will leverage our great existing programs, such as the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and develop new programs to make sure that Northwestern Law makes an impact in our society. This impact will be felt at the local, national, and international level. At Northwestern, we are in the justice business. That entails not only improving the administration of justice in the courts and agencies of our state and country, but also the promotion of justice and of the rule-of-law in our communities and in our civil society. A first-rate legal education must model justice-pursuing behavior in numerous ways; it is our responsibility to do justice and improve society through creative legal strategies and cross-disciplinary endeavors.
V. Finally, we will engage our community of alumni in distinct, constructive ways. We know that we do well when our graduates do well. We thus see as a key responsibility our work on behalf of Northwestern alumni — work that includes lifelong career support, lifelong learning, alumni networking, and integration of alumni into the life of the Law School. We will rethink our basic structure of alumni relations and engagement to enhance our mutually beneficial relationship with our graduates. We will strive to make Northwestern Law truly a law school for life.