I. Learning Infrastructure

Learning Infrastructure

Our Law School will continue to enhance our core educational program through creative strategies to strengthen and improve our curriculum, to improve our physical space, and to deploy technology in the service of improved instructional delivery. We will also work to better integrate our students who pursue degrees in our various, and generally unique, programs. Finally, we will develop a new Center, one focused on the dynamics of modern legal practice.

1. A modern, innovative curriculum

We will provide a forward-looking curriculum that prepares our students for success at all stages of their careers, a curriculum that encompasses emerging areas of law, is responsive to the needs and demands of the market, is rich in interdisciplinary training, and incorporates extensive experiential options along with opportunities for development of essential workplace skills and entrepreneurial thinking.

In addition, we will strengthen our interdisciplinary offerings, building on cross-campus relationships and forging new programs and partnerships that will leverage our unique interdisciplinary strengths and those of Northwestern University at large. We have already made great progress with our renowned JD-MBA program; likewise, we have created unique opportunities for business education in our LLM program for foreign lawyers, working with Kellogg to establish a certificate — the “K” part of our LLM-K program. We hope to burnish these relationships with Kellogg. Moreover, we prize our JD-PhD program, a small, academically rigorous program which has attracted first-rate students interested in academic careers. We hope to expand our multidisciplinary objectives by working with our colleagues in the McCormick School of Engineering, the Feinberg School of Medicine, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and other top schools and departments at Northwestern.

2. A physical space that is functional, attractive, and enhances student learning

Thanks to the farsighted choices of University and Law School leaders of the past, we are blessed with a great physical space — buildings, old and new, located in the beating heart of an amazing city. Lincoln Hall is perhaps the single most magnificent classroom space in a law school in the United States. And our more modern classrooms provide our faculty and students with functional, technology-enabled space for learning at the highest level. Space is always at a premium but, again, shrewd choices in recent years have enabled us to furnish our students with good areas to study and to collaborate with one another.

At the same time, space challenges loom close at hand. Our grand old building, Levy-Mayer, is showing the signs of wear that one would expect of a century-old structure; and our newer buildings are no longer new and need to be our focus as we think about configuring space in order to ensure that our students can take maximum advantage of our first-rate academic program.

We will continue to plan actively for new space enhancements. A full-fledged building replacement is not part of this plan, but what is essential in our present and in our intermediate-term future is a plan for capital improvements that maintains what is remarkable and impressive about our current space, while also improving our physical infrastructure to meet the demands of a modern law school.

3. The use of appropriate technology in our educational programs

We will use technology to transform the classroom experience, and we will encourage and train our faculty to adopt new teaching methods appropriate for twenty-first century learning.

Taking full account of the available research and technology, we will implement a comprehensive strategy for the development of new instructional delivery methods and materials that will improve law school pedagogy, including such things as developing more interactive and experiential techniques, incorporating flipped classrooms and other forms of blended learning, creating a repository for digital assets, and developing other learning and teaching techniques. In addition, we will focus on increasing resources that will allow us to integrate technology at all levels to improve pedagogy and assessment.

4. A more integrated student experience

Northwestern Law is extremely proud of its myriad programs and the diversity of its student body. We have students from around the United States and around the world, students with a range of pre-law experiences, eclectic backgrounds, and future objectives.

Our challenge is to ensure that students from these different programs are integrated into our special environment so that they can all benefit from the Northwestern Law Difference and enrich our Law School with their distinct backgrounds and experience. With careful thought and purposive action, we will better integrate these programs, capitalizing on the synergies that exist and can be created with our curriculum and faculty, and we will take steps to better integrate these students into our common purpose and structure.

5. The Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation

The Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation’s principal mission is to build connections between Northwestern Law and all relevant practice communities, to institutionalize the two-way conversation concerning how our Law School prepares lawyers who are ready to engage with practice.  Additionally, the Center will provide a focus for scholarship on the legal profession and legal education.

The common and pervasive response to the changes in the legal marketplace across the academy has been a call to ensure that students, upon completing law school, are “practice ready.” We say a little differently that students should be “prepared to engage with practice” for two reasons. First, law as a profession is one in which practitioners are always learning and developing both new substantive knowledge and new skills. Indeed, we know and encourage our graduates to go on to many careers outside a narrow definition of legal practice. Second, law schools and the legal practice community appropriately divide training tasks, with some types of training most appropriately supplied not in law schools but in the workplace. Our goal is to ensure that Northwestern students are the most prepared to practice, by their combination of substantive knowledge and skills base. But Northwestern students should also have the knowledge, skills, and perspective to engage with practice:  to take ownership of their career development, to work constructively in teams, to exploit training opportunities, to be true entrepreneurs in their own career.

What is needed is an institutional approach to ensuring that Northwestern Law builds deeper and sustained links with legal practice communities. And we mean all practice communities — reflecting not only the diversity of our students’ initial jobs but also the diversity of their life-long career paths. In this sense, the Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation has three related missions:

  • Developing curriculum and other experiences so that students may engage with legal practice;
  • Ensuring that the Law School (faculty, administration, and students) engage with the profession to understand the current professional landscape and the practice communities’ needs;
  • Providing an opportunity for Northwestern Law to engage with the profession to promote and explain the value of its approach to legal education.

Northwestern Law is already engaged with the profession on many levels. Institutionally, Northwestern’s Law Board and its Bluhm Legal Clinic Advisory Board include leading representatives of many practice communities. Clinical professors, adjuncts, and many other faculty have past and present experience. And programming such as the Pope and John Lectures, the Brodsky Lectures, the Dean’s Roundtables, and student/alumni events further bring the school and the practice community together.

The Center for Law Practice Engagement and Innovation will centralize and deepen these efforts, providing a focal point for programming, for ongoing conversation, for research on the profession and legal education, and for innovation in engaged legal education. Particular Center projects may include:

  • A managing partner/recruiting partner forum, for the ongoing discussion of the education that would be most useful to law firms;
  • A corporate counsel forum, to discuss the ways in which businesses would like to see the next generation of lawyers trained, both for in-house positions and as outside counsel;
  • A nonprofit and government forum, to engage with unique practice needs of those important public communities;
  • A legal practice and business incubator, directed at students who may wish to start their own practices or law-related businesses;
  • Practice area advisory groups, to ensure that Northwestern Law’s curricular and co-curricular offerings are current and appropriate for students wishing to target particular practice areas;
  • A curricular innovation incubator, to develop new offerings and to provide faculty resources to develop new offerings that arise from these engagements;
  • A body of research, which depicts and analyses the impact of Law-STEM on the practice of law and business.

Progress on Learning Infrastructure Initiatives