Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation Hosts First Fall Forum

September 29, 2015

Launched earlier this year, the Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation (CPEI) is designed as an incubator for ideas about how to help law students develop the critical aptitudes required to succeed in today’s legal marketplace.

Central to the center’s approach is the belief that the varied experiences of people engaged in one or more aspects of the legal services triangle—consumers, providers, and instructors—are essential to this process.

“Solutions for legal education must be informed by ideas coming from practice into the academy,” said James Lupo, professor of practice and the center’s director.

The Engaging Practice: Judgment, Strategy, Leadership forum was designed to do exactly that.

The event brought together leaders from private practice, government attorneys, general counsels, and alternative legal service providers. Attorney talent development professionals and corporate legal operations executives also participated. The varied backgrounds and current points of engaging law practice among the participants resulted in a rich and diverse set of perspectives on the future of the legal professional and the skills new lawyers need to succeed in it. Facilitated by student and faculty leaders, the attendees worked in groups organized around current sector engagement. They collected their ideas and then each group rejoined the forum to debrief and discuss.

“What was important, and fascinating, was how much common ground existed, both as to the kinds of curricular enhancement we should consider and the business dynamics driving the need for integrated innovation,” Lupo said. “The insights and energy conveyed will be a great resource for CPEI and the Law School as we contemplate how best to meet the needs of our students and the profession.”

CPEI grew out of the Law School’s most recent strategic planning process, in recognition of how significantly the legal services sector has changed in the last several years. Lupo described the three main drivers behind those changes: the reorganization of relationships between lawyers and clients, new legal services technologies, and alternative legal service platforms such as legal process outsourcing firms.

Lupo and James Speta, senior associate dean for academic affairs and international initiatives and director of executive LLM programs at Northwestern Law, were charged with looking at how the changing delivery of legal services affects the careers of Northwestern Law students upon graduation and throughout their careers.

“A primary focus of our strategic planning process was to investigate how best to serve our students, our community and our profession not only for today but also for tomorrow,” said Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Law. “We created CPEI to build connections between the Law School and the practice community, to facilitate a two-way conversation about how we prepare our students so that they are ready to effectively engage in and eventually lead the profession.”

Other law schools are studying the changing legal landscape and while they often provide important research, their work largely fails to actively engage the legal community, Lupo said.

“Our ultimate goal,” he continued, “is to produce actionable intelligence in the form of recommendations for programmatic and curricular innovations that will best serve our students today and throughout their careers.”