Dean-Designate Rodriguez Hosts Q&A With Alumni

October 18, 2011

On Friday afternoon, October 14th as part of the Law School’s 2011 Reunion weekend festivities, Dean-designate Daniel B. Rodriguez held an open conversation and Q&A session for Northwestern Law alumni.  After a warm, somewhat playful, and detailed introduction by Professor and Dean Search Committee chair Shari Diamond, Dean Rodriguez shared his initial thoughts about the Law School’s future and the myriad challenges ahead.  An engaged audience of more than 100 alumni attended the gathering in RB140.

During the hour-long session, Dean Rodriguez fielded questions covering a broad spectrum of issues.  Topics included Northwestern Law’s role with respect to the Law School Transparency movement – both within the legal education community and in partnership with the ABA; the Law School’s unique admissions program and practice of enrolling students with work experience; assistance for students wishing to pursue academic careers; possible curricular changes; internationalization of the student body and requisite support systems; budgetary considerations and marketing priorities; the Law School’s US News ranking and its recognition for employment success by the Princeton Review; and harnessing the cross-section of law and technology in the present information age.

A highlight of the session and in response to a question about his most immediate priorities, Dean Rodriguez offered a glimpse into his overarching vision for Northwestern Law.  He stressed that “the Law School must build on what already has been done.”   Citing, in particular, the School’s 3-year JD-MBA program which is now being emulated by several other top schools, Dan asserted that “we must continue our legacy of developing innovative programs, institutes, and centers and maintain our leadership role in steering the future direction of legal education.”  He further emphasized that these new initiatives “must be tied to the needs presented by the changing legal marketplace.”

By the end, Dean Rodriguez had touched on a wide array of subjects and he left the alumni with a strong sense of his philosophy, priorities, and outlook for Northwestern Law’s future. 

The following are some snapshots of Dean Rodriquez’ remarks during the session.

On Northwestern Law’s role within the transparency movement as it relates to employment reporting:  “Certainly, we must take a leadership role.  It is an enormously growing movement that has arisen from the dire prospects in traditional legal jobs for many students of several law schools throughout the country.  It is receiving extraordinary attention from many stakeholders as well as newspapers, blogs, and even senators and quite rightly so.” 

On enrolling students with work experience:  “Will I plan to continue this practice?  Yes, with one caveat.  There are two things we do that no one else emulates – enrolling students with work experience and interviewing nearly everyone who applies.  These combine to yield a student body desired by employers and a level of maturity that enriches our students’ experience in the classroom as well as their overall job prospects.  The one caveat is that I don’t go so far as saying it is a requirement in that we need to consider the college senior who has excelled and is ready for law school.”  Dean Rodriguez then related his undergraduate experience in which he worked throughout his college years and the 5-year program he undertook.

On providing support for students pursuing academic careers:  “Absolutely.  There ought to be a critical mass of students pursuing less traditional paths, ranging from public interest careers to academia.”  Dan then described his admiration for the Law School’s Senior Research Program, explaining that “no other law school in the country provides this type of intensive research experience usually culminating in co-authorship of a journal article with a professor.”

On possible curricular changes:  “This largely depends on what the various stakeholders are willing to change.  The key question for deans is “Does our curriculum match the needs and exigencies of the marketplace?  Taking this into account, there has to be growth in the quantity and quality of experiential legal training.  At the same time law schools have become much more interdisciplinary.”  After recounting Northwestern Law’s leadership in this area and the importance of considering the way in which the law interacts with society, including sociology, philosophy, economics, etc., Dean Rodriguez emphasized that the curriculum ultimately has to be “built on both pillars.”

On language support for international students:  “The Law School must be committed to their success and we must make sure that any student here has the support necessary to succeed, including extra instruction in writing and language.  The difficult question is how tough to scrutinize for language ability in admissions.”

On budget priorities and marketing:  “I don’t yet have specific proposals related to the budget; however, the legal marketplace and the employment landscape require that all law schools, including Northwestern, take a good, hard look at the current model and ask whether or not it is sustainable.”  Dean Rodriguez then affirmed the attention he must give to the issues of rising tuition and the growing debt of law school graduates.  “We must answer the tough questions such as: are we the right size, the right price, and the right length?”  Dan then turned to the importance of the Law School’s future marketing efforts.  “The Law School needs to do significantly more in marketing and public relations.  We must always be selling and taking on the road our message in order to make sure that everyone understands our differences and what we are doing here.” 

On the dichotomy between Northwestern Law’s ranking and the Law School’s recent recognition as the “best law school for career prospects”:  “Our Career Strategy Center has done and must continue to do a tremendous amount of analysis on the employment patterns and success of our graduates.  What is keeping us from the top of the US News rankings is that our academic reputation rankings and peer reviews among lawyers and judges are not yet where they ought to be.  This partly relates to my earlier point about marketing.”

On the interaction between law and technology:  “I have very strong feelings about the nexus between law and technology and law and engineering.  Northwestern Law must be at the forefront in these areas.”