II. Modern Legal Education at the Interface of Law, Business, and Technology

Modern Legal Education at the Interface of Law, Business, and Technology

The future of lawyering is one in which clients will expect their lawyers to be fully conversant with modern business practices and also with the essentials of technology and its connection to business performance and strategy. Our Law School will help students understand the tools and techniques that those in the corporate boardroom and in policymaking settings use every day to develop and analyze data, and use information to plan and strategize. Lawyers will need to know basic accounting; they will need to be able to read and understand a spreadsheet; they will need to know enough about the scientific method to understand arguments in which science is implicated. And they will also need to understand, at least at a general level, what the “big data” revolution means for the practice of law and the performance of business in our twenty-first century wired world.

Yes, we are making a wager on what the future of legal practice will look like. Modern developments augur changes along two related dimensions. First, lawyers of all types need to have foundational business skills. This goes beyond a rich education in business law (though this, too, is important). It includes the complement of skills that enables lawyers to better understand and service clients; it also enables lawyers to work together with their colleagues in team settings. Second, lawyers need to have a more sophisticated understanding of technology, both how technology assists in the performance of basic and advanced legal strategies and also how law facilitates, and often manages, technological innovation and administration. We believe that the information readily at hand — information about the particular shifts already taking place in the legal profession and, as well, the substantial changes underway in the private and public sector — point to a world in which those who have meaningful skills in science and technology will thrive. We are living increasingly in a STEM-centered world, one in which professionals who either have a background in one or more of these related areas or, at the very least, are committed to learning enough about technology and the scientific method to converse knowledgeably about these issues with clients and colleagues, will have a comparative advantage.

Armed with this informed prediction about the future of legal practice, Northwestern Law will commit itself to tangible projects and, where appropriate, curricular and programmatic reforms, in order to train our law students for this exciting future. We will develop in our students a set of skills that are tied directly to these new modalities of practice, to this world in which law, business, and technology is deeply and inextricably linked. Moreover, we will look at ways of building a unique cohort of professionals who are not preparing themselves to be attorneys, but who need to learn foundational and applied legal skills to enable them to thrive in their careers as managers, regulators, and entrepreneurs.

There will be six basic elements to our efforts.

1. Admissions

In assembling a highly credentialed, diverse, and interesting class in our core JD program, we will look actively at students with business and STEM backgrounds and experience. Building on our longstanding commitment to admitting students with post-collegiate work experience, we will redouble our efforts to recruit students who have specific, salient experience in the business world, especially in environments at the intersection of law, business, and technology. Moreover, we will broaden our applicant pool through targeted outreach to individuals with undergraduate and graduate degrees in these fields; and we will look to the colleges and universities who produce exceptional graduates with an interdisciplinary, and particularly a STEM focus, graduates who can be persuaded that legal education and a legal career is exciting and fruitful. Like every other law school, we want the best and the brightest. At Northwestern Law in particular, however, we also want the scientists, the inventors, the entrepreneurs. Our student recruitment strategies will reflect these aspirations.

In short, our goal is to develop a curriculum that is tied in meaningful ways to the law, business, and technology interface and, next, to persuade high-quality applicants that Northwestern Pritzker School of Law will best prepare them for this multidisciplinary world.

2. Curriculum

We will continue to enrich our curricular offerings in the business area. A key theme of our curricular philosophy is that law is deeply related to business and vice versa. Law students must be exposed to critical business skills and, further, they ought to learn techniques that are central to business performance and managerial strategy. Northwestern Law has long been on the cutting edge of this skill building, with our renowned JD-MBA program, our cross-listed courses with Kellogg, and a business-focused curriculum in the second and third year. And in our emphasis on teamwork and collaborative learning, we have further strengthened the bonds between law and business, and thus between the central work of lawyers and clients. We will continue to augment this curriculum to expose our students to modern business skills.

Yet, what will be truly innovative in our curricular planning is our emphasis on knowledge and skills which integrate law, business, and technology. We will develop the finest multidisciplinary law school curriculum in the United States with a focus on skill-building in the law-business-technology interface. We are likewise committed to developing the most comprehensive, integrated, and innovative curriculum in what we call the Law-STEM space.

Here we mean courses and extracurricular opportunities that draw upon science and technology foundations to enrich legal thinking and advocacy; and, to look at this the other way around, law-centered courses that assist lawyers in serving clients who work directly, or at least peripherally, in the technology space. By Law-STEM, we do not mean simply developing fluency in science and technology (although this is an important objective in its own right). We mean developing coherent, multidisciplinary skills to enable our graduates to use what they have learned in their law training to develop strategies for improving the well-being of the business and technology sector — that, too, being a means for advancing society’s essential goal of mobilizing technology for social and economic improvement.

Rapid technological innovation, and the disruptions it yields, requires the focus and competencies of lawyers in managing difficult situations. Lawyers are needed to construct rational strategies for managing risk (certainly included in what we mean by the hoary idea of “thinking like a lawyer”); and they are needed to ensure that civil rights and liberties, and the underlying edifice of the rule of law, is maintained in the face of these myriad uses and abuses of new technologies and big data science.

At Northwestern Law, we will be at the forefront of a curriculum that enables students to think strategically and creatively about how best to use law as a constructive tool and, likewise, how best to use modern technology and science to improve the legal system and the social, political, and economic environment in which this legal system operates.

3. Multidisciplinary faculty

In our curriculum, in our faculty, in our student experience, and in the ways in which we project ourselves in the world, we are purposively multidisciplinary. Our lawyers are men and women who draw upon a wide body of knowledge and skills from a variety of disciplines. Our faculty is made up of highly trained, experienced lawyers, but also teacher-scholars who are trained in a myriad of other disciplines, including economics, history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and engineering. Indeed, Northwestern Law has been on the cutting edge of the multidisciplinary turn in legal education, with the highest percentage of JD-PhD holders of any law school in the country. We will continue to leverage this emphasis and this strategy by recruiting exceptional faculty members who have training in fields outside law — this while we also attend to the need to hire and develop faculty who are deeply grounded in the legal profession, through their practice experience, teaching focus, and research agenda. We are confident in striking the right balance between deeply practical teaching approaches within our diverse faculty and a commitment to looking at law — and, again, at the intersection among law, business and technology — through the lens of cognate disciplines.

We expect, in the future, to augment this interdisciplinary faculty with individuals trained in STEM fields, to enrich the opportunities for our students to pursue meaningful careers where such skills will be important and perhaps even essential. We are confident in our ability to do this because of our resolute experience in, and reputation for, multidisciplinary legal education. Quite simply, it is part of our DNA.

4. Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center and related initiatives

A key pillar of our law-business-technology strategies is the work of our renowned Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center (DPELC). Through its work, law students assist small business owners and entrepreneurs with their legal needs and problems. We expect to broaden the work of the DPELC to include several cross-functional areas in which entrepreneurship is central to legal practice and business strategy. We will look to develop a concentrated focus on entrepreneurship for our law students; and we will likewise look at building more bridges with the entrepreneurship community in the Chicagoland area and beyond. The core objective of our strategies is not limited to shaping the skills of would-be entrepreneurs as they graduate from Northwestern Law, but includes a curricular and extracurricular focus on how the skills that entrepreneurs need and learn can enrich the skills of lawyers more generally — and, related squarely to the theme of this part of the strategic plan, how these entrepreneurial skills can model the dynamic developments of law, business, and technology.

Related to the work of the DPELC and its evolving programs is the remarkable cross-campus initiative, NUvention. This is essentially a platform for a series of courses in which law students work alongside students from the medical, management, and engineering schools to create new inventions and undertake the complex work of scientific and technology development and business and legal strategy. Thus far, the most comprehensive part of this NUvention project has been the year-long course on medical devices. Law students have already benefited greatly from the work of this course and, in particular, for the experience of working collaboratively with colleagues in business, science, and engineering. While the NUvention project continues unabated, we will look at ways of leveraging this project to develop new curricular initiatives that foster interdisciplinary collaboration and these fundamentally entrepreneurial ways of thinking and doing.  

5. Outreach

Northwestern Law will leverage these Law-STEM commitments to connect with organizations in the business and technology sectors. We will get the message out that Northwestern Law is the law school that understands the essential interface among law, business, and technology, and that we are committed to working with individuals and institutions in both the public and private sectors to configure innovative strategies to improve the practice of law and the performance of business. Some of our specific objectives will include:

  • Developing new employment opportunities for our students, including opportunities in business settings, not limited to in-house counsel, but also including managerial positions where Law-STEM skills will be especially valuable to business strategy and performance;
  • Programs, including conferences and continuing legal education, focused on the projects and priorities of businesses in the high technology sector;
  • Working with high tech incubators, such as Chicago’s 1871 and MATTER, to leverage the resources and expertise of the Law School for the well-being of an ambitious group of entrepreneurs.

6. Programs

Northwestern Law will leverage its strengths in the law, business, and technology space to develop new and innovative programs. We will look at certificate and post-graduate programs; and we will look at fashioning requirements, where appropriate, to ensure that essential courses are shaped and implemented into our core curriculum. Moreover, and as we describe elsewhere in this plan, we will create programs for Northwestern Law graduates that help our graduates develop new skills — or even retool in a more fundamental way — at the interface of law, business, and technology. And, consistent with our aspirations to be an incubator of leading research in the burgeoning fields in which law, business, and technology as an integrated phenomenon is pertinent, we will look for opportunities to develop programs, including conferences, symposia, and even mini “think thanks” to foster creative, novel thinking and scholarship in this important area.

In addition to the focus on lawyers and law students, we will initiate programs, big and small, to help educate non-lawyers who work (or at least aspire to work) at the interface of law, business, and technology. One example of such a program is our new Master of Science in Law program for scientists, engineers, and medical professionals. This program, the first and only one of its kind in an American law school, aims to teach practice, business-focused legal skills to STEM-trained individuals who, while not aspiring to become lawyers, benefit from these skills in their performance as business leaders, as public officials, as assistants to lawyers, and as entrepreneurs. We will build upon the successes of the MSL program to help train individuals in a myriad of business areas in fundamental, interdisciplinary law. Individuals in the health care and compliance areas, and scientists working in government and in non-governmental organizations will benefit from the focused, carefully designed programs we will develop at Northwestern Law.

It is important to see this part of the plan as a collaborative objective, one which we hope and expect to undertake in partnership with colleagues throughout the Northwestern University campus. While we have the capacity and resolve to develop innovative programs within the Law School, the best versions of these kinds of programs will be those that draw in faculty from the Kellogg School of Management, the McCormick School of Engineering, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Progress on Law, Business, and Technology Initiatives