In this edition, host Jonathan Amarilio and co-host Kernisha Padilla are joined by Dean Hari Osofsky of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea of DePaul University College of Law for a roundtable discussion about the current state of legal education. The group discusses many hot button topics, including the pandemic’s impact on legal education, law school enrollment and employment trends, the cost of tuition and its relationship to the student debt crisis, the increasing focus on diversity in the legal profession and more.
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Jonathan Amarilio: Hello everyone and welcome to CBA’s @theBar Podcast where we have unscripted conversations with our guests about legal news topics, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy. I’m your host Jon Amarilio of Taft Law and joining me for her first time in the co-host chair is Kernisha Padilla of Blank Rome and the CBA’s Young Lawyer Section. Hey, Kernisha.
Kernisha Padilla: Hi Jon, thanks for having me.
Jonathan Amarilio: It’s entirely my pleasure. So Kernisha, joining us on the pod today is Hari Osofsky, dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She received a PhD in geography from the University of Oregon and a JD from Yale Law School. As Dean, she’s deeply committed to building the legal education for a changing society through inclusive collaboration. Her leadership focuses on preparing students to lead in changing society and profession advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, social, and racial justice learning from the COVID-19 pivots and innovating through interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder and international partnerships. Dean Hari, welcome to @theBar. Thank you for joining us.
Hari Osofsky: Thanks so much for having me.
Jonathan Amarilio: We also have Jennifer Rosato Perea Dean of DePaul University’s College of Law. Dean Perea is known for her scholarship in areas as diverse as family law, bioethics, legal ethics, civil procedure and education. She received her BS from Cornell before earning a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. This is her third deanship, I should add; and her 14th year serving as a dean. Dean Jen, welcome to @theBar.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.
Jonathan Amarilio: So, Deans Hari, Jen, there are a lot of directions we could take this conversation today and it seems only natural to start with the topic that’s been at the forefront of everybody’s mind for the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than focus on what’s already happened, I’d like to start with where your law schools are now, where your students are now, and where you think your institutions will be heading in the near future in light of the experiences of the last year and a half. Hari, let’s start with Northwestern. Are your students back in the classroom? Are they remote? Are they hybrid?
Hari Osofsky: Our students are back in the classroom. And I have to tell; you in my two decades in legal education, I have never seen more excited students. There was such joy in being back in the building at our first orientation and just being able to welcome everybody back.
Jonathan Amarilio: That’s great. And Jen, is the same true at DePaul?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Yeah, agreed. I mean, there’s just so much pent-up need to be together and to be a community that it’s been wonderful. We are pretty much all in person as well, there’s about 20% online, but not because of COVID, but we’re all in the classroom, masked up, vaccinated, but next to each other and learning together and everybody’s really thrilled to be there.
Jonathan Amarilio: So, you anticipated my second question there which is, are Northwestern and DePaul requiring vaccinations for their students? And if not, why not?
Hari Osofsky:So, Northwestern Pritzker Law is of course in line with the rest of our university, which has mandatory vaccination for faculty staff and students, which it is enforcing rigorously with very limited exceptions. And so, our vaccination rates are very high in our community. We also have, in line with state and local regulation, mandatory masking policy in our building. And people who fall within the very limited exception and are not vaccinated, in addition of being in a mask in the building, they also have mandatory testing requirements. So it’s a pretty rigorous system to protect health and safety of our community as we come back together.
Jonathan Amarilio: Jen, is the same true at DePaul?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Yeah, same for DePaul and as everybody knows, trying to come back, everybody has different sensibilities. Some folks really haven’t left their house or not much in the last 18 months, want to make sure that the community is safe, and the other thing that we’ve done and I’m sure Hari’s done it at her school, lot of back-up plans because we do anticipate there will be infections. So, we have backup plans for when students have to be out, when a faculty have to be out and that’s something — in a lot more like a flex in hybrid, backup plans to make sure that folks can keep learning together so we don’t have to be out of the classroom for very long.
Jonathan Amarilio: You know, speaking of that, one of the things I’ve noticed among our associates here at Taft is understandable reluctance to return to the office, especially at those law firms in the city that have not yet required vaccinations for some inexplicable reason. But at the same time they’re concerned that their absence is making the miss out on mentorship and learning experiences. Hari, you mentioned that the students at Northwestern were really excited to be back in the classroom. Do you think that’s why? What’s the driving force behind that? It seems like a lot of people especially in the job market these days, are preferring to stay home.
Hari Osofsky: I think Jen captured well that people are coming from a lot of different places right now, right?
And I think that as leaders, we have to have sensitivity to the fact that the crisis of the last year and a half have not hit our community equally. The pandemic itself, the racial justice reckoning, the polarization in our society, I mean everybody’s impacted, but it’s not all the same. So, I think it’s really important that we work with our community and be as responsive as we can. In terms of why people are so excited, I don’t — I mean, yes, of course we’re very, very committed to supporting our students launching their career, but honestly, I think, the excitement was more about being together in community. And I think that our law school did the absolute best we could under challenging circumstances to have a really good educational experience for our students as we had to pivot remote. But part of the excitement I’ve seen is just that there are things that are valuable about being physically together, that people really feel positively about.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: And I would add, it’s a little bit different if you’re an associate and you’re forced to come in 5 days a week, 12 hours a day, or whatever, versus somebody who’s coming into class and especially upper-class students are choosing their classes. So they already have some flex. I think what we’re finding is that the traditional law school experience is actually a good experience overall. Now, we’re going to pick our points to be a little bit more remote, but I think everybody enjoys that experience where you can be in the classroom, you can find your professor after class, you can meet your colleagues before and after class, and I think that’s something that our law students feel like; in the balance, it’s okay. Now what we’re finding is some of our third years, for example, they have been checked-out for a year and a half. Some of them don’t really want to come back. They’re more like the associates who want to be like, “I just want to be at home and do my thing”. But for the most part, it’s the optional stuff. It’s the organizational work, the mentoring, that sort of thing that we’re finding a more of a selectivity. In terms of just going to class and being with professors, they want to do that, it’s kind of the other stuff, that’s the “after hours” that we’re trying to figure out what that engagement is going to be. And for example, whether they’re going to want to engage with their advisors and the alumni after hours and in different spaces. So, we’re still kind of figuring that out, but I think for the most part, the traditional kind of Socratic in the classroom experience with some variation, is kind of where we’re defaulting to; now more by choice and design than because it’s just always how we’ve done it.
Kernisha Padilla: And I appreciate your responses to these questions and your views that you’ve been putting forth. With all the changes that are coming and with technology kind of playing a role in this virtual tech-driven world, do you anticipate there’ll be more long-lasting changes to the way that students actually are consuming legal education?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: You know, I do see that. I think they’re going to want it for convenience, for lifestyle purposes but also I think they realize that there’s ways that they can learn and be better lawyers if they’re more tech-savvy. But I guess I would say, is that we don’t know where the legal profession is going to end up yet. Right? I mean, there is still so much transition. We don’t know when the firms are going to be back, we don’t know when the courts are going to be back. But I know that there’s an appetite for our students to know how to be better lawyers in a deposition, in a hearing, in a negotiation, if they need to be remote. And I think we’re all going to be incorporating a lot more of that into our curriculum, we have to. But it’s going to be helpful to know kind of where the profession’s going to end up because it seems to me, there’s also that, as you were saying Jon, some generational tension about where that’s going to actually end up and how much remoteness we’re going to have in the profession and then as law schools, we’ll be adapting to that as well. But I definitely see it’s long-term and certainly the other programs that we have beyond the JD like our non-JD programs, I think are going to be much more online, remote and that’s going to continue to be a wave of the future.
Hari Osofsky: So, I think it’s important and just to amplify what Jen said, I think it’s important to recognize that the past year and a half is occurring against a backdrop of change. So, when I became a dean for the first time, a little over four years ago, I became a dean in-part because I thought we were at a moment of profound change in which technology and globalization and the need for crosscutting acknowledge and the need for progress in diversity, equity inclusion, these things were changing the practice of law and raising big legal issues and law schools often were really struggling to figure out how to evolve in that environment. I think the past year and a half has only accelerated some of these transitions we’re seeing in the profession as people have had to shift to Zoom and really exacerbate in inequalities. And so, I think we have profound questions to ask for both legal education and for the profession about what things look like moving forward.
Obviously, a big constraint and that was implicit in what Jen was saying about non-JD programs is current ABA regulation of distance learning for JD programs. And so, I think one of the interesting questions that will help to define what the pathways for legal education will look like moving forward isdoes the ABA decide to update those regulations and if so, what does it look like? Because that will really, — there are more innovative things that we could be doing under existing rules, but if the rules change, that also will open up a whole new set of possibilities. I have been convening a group of deans for the last three and a half years thinking about tech and innovation, and almost half the deans in the country are on this list, and we’ve really been thinking throughout this pandemic about what we can learn, where possibilities to collaborate in new ways, where possibilities to innovate. At Northwestern, we’re going to be setting up a working group this fall of students, faculties, staff, and alumni to ask what can we learn from all of these pivots and how does that help us think about our next chapter of innovation at this law school. So, I think these are the conversations we need to be having.One of the predictions I have though based on what I’ve been observing in students both at Penn State and at Northwestern and hearing from other deans, is I think sometimes people focus on remote and actually the place to focus is around hyper flexibility. Because what I hear from our students at Northwestern; what I heard from or students at Penn State, and what I’m hearing from other deans is that it’s not so much that students want to be able to go remote always, it’s that they want a flexibility to move among modalities. And so, this will raise all sorts of interesting questions, not just around ABA accreditation, but university accreditations and sort of how we think about how to produce education in an evolving society.
Jonathan Amarilio: That brings to mind especially when you mentioned the ABA Hari, I saw an article recently that the ABA recently gave accreditation the nation’s first online-only law program, I think it was Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas which is a school that wasn’t even ranked. And I understand the arguments about technology and hyper flexibility increasing access to legal education. All of which I agree with, but it seems to me that it’s a double-edged sword because it also opens up the possibility that more schools’ particular for-profit schools, will be offering online-only education of a lower quality and decrease of dubious value which obviously leads in the student debt issue which I hope we can touch on later. But do you agree that there’s some danger with some of these moves toward more remote or hyper flexible learning as well?
Hari Osofsky:So, it’s an interesting question and I think you know, my views on remote education are shaped fundamentally by the fact that – so I was dean at Penn State which is why I keep referencing it before I was dean at Northwestern. And that law school had a variance for quite some time, they have a two-campus law school. So, it was doing you know, remote learning. Now, it was really well-done and in fact, I think they may view it as no different from a regular legal customer experience because of the way technology was deployed et-cetera. I think the question that we will have to ask about remote education is, is it well done, right? I mean part of why the ABA has learning outcomes and other sorts of things is I think the key question isn’t what is the modality you’re using to teach people, the key question is what is the quality of your legal education program.And I think you can have a very high-quality legal education program that’s online, but that’s the question underneath that issue is, is making sure that it’s a quality legal education program. We also haven’t yet gotten into another elephant in the room when you have this conversation which is of course the bar exam. And Jen and I have been among many deans who think that you know, — and I won’t speak for Jen, I’ll just speak for myself, but I think we have some serious thought to do about how we approach licensing in our profession. There’s a lot of evidence of sort of the deep inequalities of having an exam that’s structured in a way where people have to take time off to study, that really hurts people who are poor. And —
Jonathan Amarilio: Well, let’s break it down because you know, obviously that’s a big subject. So, I think I hear what you’re saying about the inequalities when it comes to having to take time off to study for a bar exam, but I mean isn’t that true of all education and testing, don’t we need metrics?
Hari Osofsky: Okay, so we certainly need some way to determine if people are competent to practice. But I think there’s two important questions. Number one, are our bar exams actually testing competency to practice, right?
I mean, I passed the California Bar, I never used and practiced anything I studied for the California Bar.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right.
Hari Osofsky: So, you know, I think there’s a real question and particularly there’s been a big conversation this past year around diploma privilege. We don’t see evidence in states that have diploma privilege of any decreasing competency in lawyers. There are states that have tested this and it appears that the mechanisms that they use in conjunction with diploma privilege to make sure there’s competency to practice are working pretty well. So, I think there’s two questions in this, one is about are we testing the right things in the bar exam? Are we setting up this test correctly, I mean, all sorts of questions there.But I think the second set of questions is why do you need to have a test that requires people to study for two months? So, there are all sorts of competency in licensing test that we do in various professions.But ours is set up to create a massive amount of memorization of data that may or may not be relevant to people’s ability to practice and requires them to take substantial time away from work to do that. And so, I think there’s also a set of questions and are connected with are we testing the right things that in particular, is structuring a test in a way that people have to do this the right approach.
Jonathan Amarilio: Jen, where do you come in on that?
Jennifer Rosato Pereta: You know, I guess, — you know, it’s I’ve been around in this rodeo a long time is, I guess I’m a little, — I kind of sit in the middle because I did sit on the Illinois Bar Examiners Board Committee as ex-officio for three years and I really, — I see both sides of it because I know that there needs to be protection of the public and question that Hari asked is it’s not a new question, it’s how do we best assure competence? How do we best assure that the public is protected? I think we’re having those conversations now. I’m not sure diploma privilege is the best, but I think the bar exam itself is moving to a more practical and less of a memorization type exam which I think is a good thing and it needs re-thought.I meanI think the other issue though in the interim as we, — you know, we talked about kind of this larger scale transformations of the bar exam and entry into the profession is how do we make it more affordable? Because I think one of the gaps that we really see particularly for our students of color who are passing the bar in significantly lower rates than their white counterparts, is that time is exceedingly stressful because they have no job, they can’t take out law school loans and they’ve got to study, and so, we’re trying to, I think as law schools and as a profession, really trying to bridge that gap much better than we have in the past because that’s a huge issue. So, if you don’t have a job, and you don’t have no way to pay for your expenses, we’ve got to be able to bridge that gap to get you to the finish line because we owe that to our students to be able to get them to pass the bar or whatever that competency exam is.
Jonathan Amarilio: Let’s take a quick commercial break, we’ll be right back on that topic.
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Kernisha Padilla: We’re back and I wanted to ask you Jen, you mentioned a few alternatives, the exam may become more practical, things like that. You also mentioned that there needs to be kind of a transition it sounds like from law school to taking the bar and people of color, students of color having to take time off et-cetera in the disparities. What are law schools doing to address this? Are there initiatives in place to help bridge that gap?
Jennifer RosatoPereta: Yeah. I’m not sure what Hari is doing, I’m sure that Northwestern has some programs. We have not only programs, we call “The Demon Bar”. So, we have all of our students take – are able to take a free course that augments the Barbri or whatever the famous. And we also do bar awards so that students can get a thousand dollars or a bit more just to help them to pay those expenses. And what we do is we have like benchmarks so that once they do a certain amount, you know, they get a stipend, they do some more, they get a stipend. And we also release some more money — this summer, we had you know some students said you know, “We really have some need”, there were like 30, 40 students who said, “I can’t even make my bills”. So, we are trying to do what we can.
There’s also partners like the Diversity Scholarship Foundation, and others that are realizing that this is a time where we need to bridge that gap, and are partnering with the law schools to try to make sure that that is a strong time. Because what we found, and I’m sure that others have found it too at other law schools; if you are working, if you have to work, your chances of passing the bar are decreased. And so, what we’re trying to do is to make sure students or recent graduates don’t have to work.
Jonathan Amarilio: Jen, you’re talking about the bridge there, but let’s go to the first side of the river before we get to the bridge and talk a little bit about the cost of law school. I think the students said to DePaul Law pay about $49,000 a year for full tuition, students at Northwestern pay $69,000 so, you know, they’re graduating if they’re paying the full ride with somewhere between a $150,000 and $207,000, I’m really bad at arithmetic; you know, in student debt. The average student debt across the country is almost $165,000coming out of law school.95% of students take out loans to attend law school, but I know that the average starting salary in Chicago for attorneys is only in the six figures, so, they’re being saddled with that many cases they can really never pay off or if they can payoff, it’s delaying major milestones in their life, like the ability to afford to get married, to buy a home, to start a family, that kind of thing. I want to get what’s driven up the cost of law school in a moment, but continuing kind of the thing that Kernisha asked about before, is there anything that law students are doing to help lower the cost of law school?I understand that they’re offering more scholarships, but that seems to be, to me, to be treating that symptom and not the disease.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Well, you know, I’m not sure about that, because many of the law schools at least in the Chicago area, have about 50% discount rate, so to speak. So, most — many of the students are only paying $20,000 to $25,000 in tuition. So, I think that’s a real significant, I mean, it’s something that there is that “sticker price”, so to speak, but we really do try. So, for example, all of our students coming in get some award, and it can be $1,500 too close to full tuition, and so, that’s huge; and you know, the debt is still large, but that’s not just like a trimming, that’s part of what costs so much in terms of legal education, because we’re also trying to make sure that we’re financing helping to finance, it’s the education along the way.I think the other thing that’s happened, I mean, I think it’s really important also, to look at, — there was the heyday, right? In that heyday, the expenses were going up, the tuition was going up, we’re not in that space anymore, we’ve cut over a third of our staff, we’ve lost over a third of our faculty, over the last five or six years to try to trim down expenses, and at the same time, we have to give more services for the reasons that we’ve been talking about; mental health, advising services, career services, experiential education, all of these are very student-centered, the students want and need and they cost us a lot of money to do. So, we’re trying to balance that to try to make tuition more affordable and then provide the services that the students need. So, we are trying to do all of that but the debt obviously is still high. The other thing that we’re trying to do is, many schools are, is to try to provide paid fellowships and internships either during the summer and during the school year, so that students can be earning money as well as getting their scholarships during the school year.So, I don’t know. Hari, if you have other things that you do, but those are the main things that we try to do, to try to reduce that cost and that debt burden for our students. We also try to advise students along the way, we have counseling sessions and orientation, AccessLex is a great partner for us to counsel students as they go through law school, to make sure that they’re spending smart as they go as well.
Hari Osofsky: I do think that the scholarships at the frontend matter, right? And I think that one of the reasons that we’ve put real priority here in continuing to build scholarships to help our students, and we’ve raised some scholarships in particular that are helping students who come from diverse backgrounds, is because you know, that decreases the debt in the first place, but we also have some innovative programs at Northwestern to help on the back end of law school. And so, I thought I would talk about that as well. So, in addition to having a Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which a lot of law schools have for their public interest-oriented students. We also have something called an Interest Freedom Plan, that’s aimed at our graduates who are earning less than $90,000.00 a year and in the private sector. And so, what we’re trying to do is for graduates who are either in the public sector or the private sector, the idea is that, that we’re sort of helping them around these loan issues, if they’re not in jobs that are going to be paying enough to address the loan. So, I think it’s about thinking creatively and intentionally both about how we give scholarships to students who need them and help them get through law school, but also how we think about supporting our graduates around debt.
Jonathan Amarilio: So the scholarships and the support programs sound great, but the first question that comes to my mind is, where does the money for those come from? Are we taxing some students to help other students?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Well, it’s partly private donations, and yes, it’s partly the revenue of all the students, it comes from the revenue that’s brought in, it helps to fund some of the scholarships for the other students, which diminishes the revenue for the law school overall.
Jonathan Amarilio: Same at Northwestern?
Hari Osofsky: Yeah, same at Northwestern, and we provide various kinds of programs to support our students. I mean there are other — as she mentioned, in addition to these debt related things, I mean I think at Northwestern, and I know at other law schools, there also have been real efforts to deal with emergency needs that students have financially during law school and the crisis of the past year-and-a-half has really exacerbated that. So we also have an Emergency Alumni Relief Fund that’s helping students with emergency expenses during law school. But yeah, so it’s a mix of things that are supported by donations and then commitments that we make to our students.
Jonathan Amarilio: What about efforts to drive down the overall cost? If you hear some skepticism in my voice, I apologize for that. I come from the generation that Jen referenced before, where the student loan officers were taking vacations and dinners from financial institutions who they recommended their students to. So pretty much everyone in my geriatric Millennial range is pretty bitter about this issue, because we’re all still living with the debt decades after we graduated.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Yeah, I will push back a little bit on that.
Jonathan Amarilio: Yeah, I am hoping to hear some suggestions for structural changes like making tenured professors teach more than three classes a week.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Well, we have already done that. Our tenured professors teach four courses a year and have no summer stipends anymore. They have their base salaries. Again, we have staff; we have halved that staff in the last 10 years. So I will tell you that those staff members that had one job before, now are doing two jobs. So we’re stacking all these. So we’re trying to reduce.
There is not a lot of excess, at least I can tell you at DePaul, is that we’re really doing what we need to to serve the students, so if I have a position that opens up, it’s not like a position that, I don’t know, I think there was a lot of talk with law school transparency and other forces that came forward to make us be more accountable that there were kind of jobs that were just kind of empty administrative jobs and that sort of thing. That’s not true at this point. We have really gone down and we have been very lean. We are actually deficits, at least at DePaul, deficit colleges, meaning that our universities have to help support us to pay the services that they provide for us across the university.
When I fill a position, if I can even fill it, it’s almost always a student facing position, so it’s to help you get a job, it’s to help you figure out how you are going to do courses, it’s going to help you to pass the bar. Almost every position that I have authorized in the last couple of years has been only a front-facing position that’s going to help the students. And that’s how I think about what — for your reason, it’s like, what are we using student’s tuition money for, I want to make sure it’s being used to help the students succeed. That’s our mission and we try to do that as best as possible.
But the faculty, for example, they don’t get to choose the courses that they teach, again, that was one of those memes that was going around, they get to choose the law of this or that; our teachers have to teach those bread and butter courses. We have cut out a lot of those specialized niche courses, because we can’t afford to offer them anymore. And those niche courses are often offered by adjunct professors, who are practitioners, whom the students want, but they get paid not very much in order to pay those.
So for example, we have like 35 full-time faculty and 100 adjuncts. So the proportion is really not the way it was like 10 years ago or 15 years ago when you might have gone to school. That has really transformed in the time that I have been a dean.
Kernisha Padilla: With that being said, there is a survey that came out by the ABA in 2020 that talked about law school grads feeling like their education wasn’t worth the cost, and that only about 20% had said prepared them for post-law school life. So given the law schools now, it sounds, they are trying to do more student-focused things, front-facing things for them, and yet we still have so many, a majority who feel unprepared for a post law school life. Hari, would you like to speak on that?
Hari Osofsky: I would love to speak on that. And I should say on the prior question, I mean we have been intentional at Northwestern over the last few years and in looking at our budget and making sure that we are focusing the things we’re spending on, and exactly what you just asked about, which is how do we prepare our students for evolving legal practice, right?
And so I think there are things that are worth spending money on because they are really helping to prepare our students. So one of the things I have been hearing from practitioners over the last several years is that students don’t graduate law school prepared; and when I ask them what they mean by that, they aren’t talking about doctrinal knowledge; they’re talking about problem solving skills. And so what we’ve really been trying to do at Northwestern Pritzker Law is think about what does it actually mean to prepare our students for the practice environment in which they are entering.
Part of how we are doing that is through our extensive experiential education offering. So the Bluhm Legal Clinic is not only providing such important service to its clients and society, just as I was coming into Northwestern, for example, Governor Pritzker was here signing a law that our clinic collaborated to help move forward so that police can no longer lie to juveniles during interrogation. It was a first in the country law, right? So there is important things that are happening through the clinic, but it’s also a really important way in which we are exposing our students to legal practice.
We also have other kinds of programs and centers that are particularly aimed at — we have a Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation and technology initiatives that are really trying to prepare students so that they can lead in this changing legal environment. And I think that’s where these two conversations we’ve been having really come together, which is that what we want to do at our law school is provide high value legal education that’s going to prepare our graduates to lead in a changing environment, and part of why we have to ask those questions that we were talking about back in the COVID segment about, what innovation is needed right now, right? We are at a moment in society in which there is a desperate need for innovation and for us to effectively address societal challenges. So I think we in legal education are preparing the next leaders who are going to help with this and we have to get very creative in the way we think about training our students and invest in that as law schools in order to prepare our students to lead.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Can I chime in too and add just a few quick points? One is I think there is an issue of perception, right? I think there is a sense that you are practice ready when you get out of law school. You can’t be practice ready, even if we have 5 or 10 years, you wouldn’t be practice ready. And I think part of the issue and we have talked about it in other context is that what’s happened is not only is legal education — we have tried to do a bit more, but the practice of law hasn’t been able to afford to train lawyers for some time, right? So the expectation is you bill on day one instead of having some sort of apprenticeship period. We can’t afford to do that in the profession, so we have got to get a little bit closer in terms of what law schools do and what the legal profession does.
I also think that there is — when you are interviewing students like right after graduation versus later, there is the After the JD study, which you may be familiar with that the ABA and NALP have done for a number of years, when lawyers get out 7 to 12 years, they do say they are satisfied, their law degree is worth it, they are well-prepared. So I do think there is certainly more we could do, we could bridge the gap, but I think over time the perceptions I think do morph as well and they do feel more satisfied with their law degree.
Jonathan Amarilio: So on that topic, being prepared for practice when you graduate from law school; certainly I think a big part of that Hari as you mentioned is the problem solving skills. But another part of it that I have seen some younger lawyers struggle with aside from the pandemic, which obviously brings its own issues, is the ability of younger lawyers now to deal with stress and confrontation. I mean we are in a profession, we are coming up with a generation now that the NOC, fair or not, is that they are unable to deal with confrontation and they complain about things like micro-aggressions and we are in a profession that is about open aggression, winning and losing competition; high stress in day-to-day environments with little sleep for weeks on end. Are law schools looking at that side of things at all too, essentially, mental toughening?
Hari Osofsky: So I mean I think that we need to prepare our students for the practice environment in which they are entering, and to me that’s not just about mental toughening, but also about cultural competency and working to prepare our lawyers for that. I think that there are all sorts of things that we can do in law schools to help prepare our students to be able to work with others and contribute, and I think this is where things have really been evolving is recognizing that these leadership skills, professionalism, business skills, all those things actually are important to success in practice.
I mean this is something that we are actively doing is thinking about how do you prepare law students to be able to succeed and thrive. And we have been having conversations here at Northwestern about what are the best ways to have hard conversations about challenging topics. And I have had three different sets of students and it’s something we are exploring right now; talk to me for example about peer-to-peer mediation and ways we could develop that in new ways. I think there are all sorts of ways in which we as law schools can constructively support people communicating and talking to each other and developing those skills.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: I think it’s a great question and I struggle with this Jon a lot actually, because I grew up in kind of the old-fashioned feminist; you stay 12 hours in the office, you never told anybody you were married or had a child. It was hardcore. I have come 20, 30 years later to say that’s not necessarily a great thing, right? Putting up with micro-aggression for 25 years, not always a great thing, right?
So I do think we need to prepare our students and I think our experiential learning and other places, we have a lot of alumni mentoring programs and things like that, I think they help to do that. But I think what this generation is going to do is to kind of put some of this — really challenge us in ways. Listen, we are stressed out, we need mental health days. We need some mental health counseling. That should be okay, and we need to kind of bring down the volume a little bit of our profession and how do we do that. And I do think this generation is going to challenge all of us to maybe bring it to a different level in terms of professionalism.
And I agree with you, we have got to prepare them for it, but I also think they are super resilient in ways, they are just more expressive about when they don’t feel so good about stuff. And so I think that’s partly accepting that and taking their resilience and embracing it.
Hari Osofsky: If I can add one more thing; this is actually part of why I am such a big believer in inclusive leadership, because what I have found in my time as a dean is that student leaders actually are wonderful partners in working through the problems of the law school, and in that partnership it’s also modeling what they are going to be doing in teams and practice, right?
So when I was at Penn State and we were talking about changing our grading policy, our students were deeply involved at every stage in the process and giving input that really helped our faculty think about that better when we created Concrete Action and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, it wasn’t just that it was grounded in student listening; student leaders were key collaborators in crafting the steps we took in our implementation process. And so I think it’s also engaging students, recognizing we have adult students in law school and lawyers are leaders and our law students can be partners with us in working through some of the challenges that we need to work through together.
Kernisha Padilla: Speaking of diversity and inclusion, women have outnumbered men in law schools since 2016. There has also been an increase in minority enrollment. You both mentioned we have challenging topics. We have students starting to speak up who aren’t kind of just sitting back anymore. We have micro-aggressions that need to be addressed. What are the law schools doing to for — more of a, not just a long game approach, but in the immediate basis to set the stage for women and minority grads entering and navigating our profession successfully. I hear from both of you that there is kind of talks in the background, and I love the idea that there is inclusivity with student leaders, but what are we doing beyond that?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: I think law schools have really stepped up, especially in the last couple of years. While we have been handling the pandemic, we have been really I think really doing a lot of proactive work in this area, in the short and the long game, so to speak, For example, our students learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion in orientation in first year. It’s now going to be part of the core curriculum to include racial justice issues, so that it is something that all — so all students feel like they belong, that they are history, that the challenges to the legal profession are all going to be there. We have got mentoring programs from day one.
And one thing we have tried to do at DePaul, because we have so many first-generation students is that we have tried to level the playing field from day one. So we have, for example, a class called Preparing to Practice, which is about introducing students to the legal fields of practice, teaching them to network, to write a résumé and a cover letter that’s going to be really professional and ready to go. And we have a new Applied Legal Skills class. Remember when we went to law school, what do you do in the first year, outlining? I have no idea how to do that. We are actually teaching all of our students from day one in a credit-bearing course as to how to get it done so that everybody starts from a level playing field.
Plus, we have a lot of bar passage courses too and all of that is lifting everyone up, but particularly lifting our first gen and students of color up. And we have done a lot of that in the last five years and it’s showing some dividends already. And I think other law schools are doing a lot of similar kind of work too.
Hari Osofsky: So I think it’s important that we begin from a starting place of recognizing that we have work to do. And even if we have a lot of really important initiatives that we are moving forward, that we have work to do, and that if our students don’t feel like we have a welcoming and inclusive environment, that needs to be heard and that needs to be part of what we are doing.
So I think when we think about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s important that we think about it both from a pipeline perspective and from a, what’s it like when people get their perspective and then how are we supporting people to success after they are leaving our law schools, right? All of that is a continuum.
We have made significant strides this year in increasing the diversity of our class and that was through making intentional commitments, right? Our ABA percentages, and ABA doesn’t count international students, but we went from 34% students who count as minority to 46% this year in our first year class, and increased the number of Black students from 21 to 45. I mean there’s been big, big gains. And that was through our law school making intentional decisions and how it approached admissions through a whole bunch of different strategies to make that a priority in the way that we approached admissions.
When people then get into law school, like Jen was describing, issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and training around them were a part of our orientation this year. And we have had a variety of different kinds of training of our leadership team and other members of our community here at Northwestern, and have been working on a climate survey and some other things to really understand and hear what are the steps that we need to be taking. So there’s been a lot of different steps that are being taken.
I think it’s also thinking beyond just students in your organization to faculty and staff and alumni as well. I launched in my first week here an initiative where we are really going to make sure that we are being consistent in the way that we approach raises and promotions and bonuses and really — I mean I think it’s important that we have really good processes.
When we go about faculty hiring, it’s important that we engage in best practices around faculty hiring, that includes under Northwestern policies having equity representative on that appointments committee, right?
So I think it’s about all sorts of pieces and then some of the things that Jen was talking about, about how you prepare students for careers, supporting various kinds of programs in conjunction with law firms and other professional organizations to help watch our students into success. I mean I think there is a whole lot that needs to be done.
But I want to end where I started, which is we have work to do. And one of the things that’s crucially important for us to do is to continue to not only listen to our community and hear where we are falling short, but then to take additional concrete action that’s built out of that listening and I think it’s an ongoing process to making progress on these issues.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: And I would just — I don’t want to let the profession off the hook either in a way. I mean that continuum is pipeline to law schools, what law schools can do, but we are bringing in 60% women, 30 plus percent students of color. But when they get through the profession, what’s going on with women and disparities, people of color not becoming partners, leaving the profession, that’s up to all of us. And once they leave our doors, we can’t do anything about that. So we really need to partner with firms and the legal profession to make sure that success continues, because we have really tried to bring up the ranks and really do all this work and I feel like the profession sometimes is not doing what it needs to, for example, to change hiring practices in terms of proxies for privileged, proxies for excellence. And so those are the kinds of things I would love to see more of and have a dialogue about it between the law schools and the legal profession and the lawyers in our community.
Hari Osofsky: And I think Jen and I would both be supported by the way of building new partnerships together to try to make progress on these issues.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right. And I was just going to say that seems perfectly fair. Hari, we are running low on time, but there is one thing that you mentioned that just rang a bell in my mind about admissions, and I know that there is a case up before the Supreme Court right now on the Sur/petition that’s challenging the constitutionality of race-based admissions.
And what’s unique about this case as I understand it is that unlike past challenges that involved White students trying to use the Equal Protection Clause to strike down race-based admissions. Here you have a group of Asian-American students claiming; I think it was Harvard’s admission policy violates Title VI. If the Supreme Court takes that case and given the new stronger conservative majority there, if it strikes down race-based admissions on that basis, what kind of contingencies does Northwestern have in place for dealing with that and how it will impact the diversity and inclusion issues we have been discussing?
Hari Osofsky: So at Northwestern and the five law schools I have been dean at or taught at before that takes an approach to admissions that involves a holistic look at each application. So, none of the law schools that I have seen are using kind of quotas or something like that to value diversity. And obviously I can’t speak to exactly what decisions will come down or laws will come down, but I think that the holistic approaches that law schools are taking are completely compliant with law and that you can take a holistic approach to admissions in which you value diversity and you are treating every applicant fairly. And so I think that’s important in how we approach these things.
And by the way, that’s also in the hiring conversation I was having as well, right? The goal is that you have a very good process in which you build robust and diverse pools and you treat applicants fairly and consistent. And so I think that law schools are doing a pretty good job at trying to have really good processes around how you approach admissions, how you approach hiring.
Jonathan Amarilio: That sounds like a good place to take a break. We will be right back with Stranger Than Legal Fiction.
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And we are back. So Deans, welcome to Stranger Than Legal Fiction. Our audience is familiar with the rules. They are pretty simple. Kernisha and I have done some research on the internet. We have found a lot that is real but strange and weird and probably shouldn’t be real for a variety of reasons. We have also made one up. We are going to quiz you and each other to see who can distinguish strange legal fact from fiction. So everybody, ready to play?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Let’s go for it.
Jonathan Amarilio: Kernisha, why don’t you lead us off?
Kernisha Padilla: Okay. In Delaware you cannot have Halloween on Sundays or swearing at sports events is illegal in Texas. Which is legal?
Jonathan Amarilio: Hari, what do you think?
Hari Osofsky: I think it’s the Delaware Halloween Sunday law.
Jonathan Amarilio: That’s real?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: That’s what I think too.
Hari Osofsky: That’s real.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: That’s a real law.
Jonathan Amarilio: All right. Let’s see the law school deans’ minds in action. Why?
Hari Osofsky: Well, beyond the fact that I am a huge sports fan and feel like I have seen fans, maybe they were breaking the law, swearing about sports events in Texas. I would guess that the Delaware law — so there were a lot of laws we have had that have restricted various activities on Sunday. So for example, alcohol sales, etc. and so that law seems like it’s potentially in line with those kinds of laws.
Jonathan Amarilio: Like a Blue law? Okay.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: I grew up in Pennsylvania where there are lots of Blue laws and so I figured the Delaware might have some residual Blue laws too. You don’t want the kids partying or doing anything that would be kind of contrary to maybe God’s day to be having Halloween on a Sunday.
Jonathan Amarilio: That makes a lot of sense and I can’t possibly imagine a Texas high school football game without a lot of swearing, so I am going to agree with the deans. Kernisha, which one?
Kernisha Padilla: You all are right, swearing at sports events is illegal in certain states, but Texas is not one of them.
Jonathan Amarilio: Which ones, I am curious now?
Kernisha Padilla: Massachusetts, Washington and can’t think of the last one, it escapes me, but surprising still.
Jonathan Amarilio: Very.
Jennifer Rosato Perea: So long as it’s not Illinois where we both are.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right. And to anyone who has ever been to a Patriots game, that seems just — or a Red Sox game, I can’t — okay. Well, round two. It turns out that some animals are mailable. According to the US postal code it is permissible to mail live bees, live scorpions and cold-blooded animals. That is option number one.
Option number two; in Vermont it is permissible for neighborhood associations to ban the use of clotheslines for drying clothes.
Jen, which one is real, which one is fake?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: First one is real; second one is fake.
Jonathan Amarilio: Why?
Jennifer Rosato Perea: Because I am pretty sure that there are some animals that you can mail and those make sense to me that you could safely pack them and send them. And Vermont is very individualistic as a state. I wouldn’t imagine that they would be preventing their neighbors from doing lots of things, let alone putting up a clothesline.
Jonathan Amarilio: Okay. Hari.
Hari Osofsky: So I am going to agree with Jen in part because of my lived experience. People who know me well know that I serve people insects upon request. I have this as a standing public interest auction item to cook insect appetizers and I have at times ordered insects by mail, so I am presuming therefore that it’s legal, that companies are being allowed to ship them. So because — and I also agree with Jen’s analysis about kind of Vermont and it’s legal inclinations.
Jonathan Amarilio: Kernisha, you are last up, what do you think?
Kernisha Padilla: I am going to agree with them, it’s sound reasoning.
Jonathan Amarilio: And all of you would be right. Shout out to Debbie Pierce, longtime fan of the pod for sending us that one.
Jen, to your point, in Vermont, the opposite is actually true. In 2009, the Vermont legislature made it illegal for neighborhood associations to ban the use of clotheslines. It turns out there is a right to dry in that state.
And that is going to be our show for today. I want to thank our guests, Dean Hari Osofsky of Northwestern Law and Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea of DePaul Law for this educational and enlightening conversation.
I also want to thank my co-host Kernisha Padilla, our Executive Producer Jen Byrne, Adam Lockwood on sound and everyone at the Legal Talk Network family.
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Until next time from everyone here at the CBA, thank you for joining us and we will see you soon At The Bar.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com