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New Law School dean shares his plans for the next 100 years

link to: Chicago JournalAs the Law School nears its 2002 centennial, Dean Daniel Fischel, JD'77, has begun a strategic planning process to assess the current state of the school and its future needs. Fischel, the Lee and Brena Freeman professor of law and business, became dean in January 1999, succeeding Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow distinguished service professor of law. A former partner in Lexecon, a Chicago-based law and economics consulting firm, Fischel joined the U of C faculty in 1984 and specializes in corporate law and the regulation of financial markets. The Magazine asked Fischel about his first year as the Law School's leader and his plans for the coming years.

image: Daniel Fishel, JD'77 (photo by Michelle Litvin)Why did you agree to be dean of the Law School?
I love the Law School. I've been at the Law School virtually my entire adult life, from the time I was a student. It gave me a great education and created opportunities for me beyond what I ever could have imagined. I have a real appreciation for its contributions, not just to the education of our students but to the world of ideas. When I was given the opportunity, I thought it was a privilege to be able to do it.

It's a historic time to be dean--we're approaching our centennial anniversary in 2002. We will have some events and celebrations, perhaps some special publications, such as a book with a series of essays on the history of the Law School. There isn't a single volume that really captures what the Law School has been.

What goals have you set for the school?
My number one priority is to ensure that the Law School's second 100 years are as great, if not greater than, its first 100 years. There are subpriorities: first and foremost, to continue what has made the Law School great in the past--the rigor, the challenge, the interdisciplinary tradition, and the commitment to quality.

At the same time, we need to adapt those traditions to the future in light of the changing economic climate and the richness and diversity of the Law School's people and programs. This requires everything from modernizing and expanding the physical plant to developing areas of study that have become extremely important, but have historically not been a major part of the Law School curriculum, and in some cases didn't exist. And at the same time to preserve the timeless quality of education that has nothing to do with the fields that are hot at the moment.

We're very much trying to build closer links to other parts of the University. We're exploring the creation of new joint-degree programs with the public policy school, the business school, and the medical school. We are also trying to upgrade our joint-degree programs with the economics department and the history department--really, with all of the departments in the University. In addition, we want to integrate ourselves more with the city of Chicago, as well as the area immediately around the Law School. The Law School has always viewed itself as more of an enclave than I think is desirable.

How are alumni involved in the planning process?
A lot of different alumni and faculty committees have been formed. In addition, we're meeting with alumni in different cities, asking people what they want to preserve about the Law School, what they want to change, what are our strengths, what are the ways we could improve the school. To get all those voices has been incredibly valuable for us in planning what our future is going to be.

What are some ways in which the curriculum might change?
I don't pretend to suggest that we're going to turn the place upside down. Having said that, we are trying to be much more imaginative with programming than we have been. We have a whole new set of courses on entrepreneurship, for example. A lot of our students are going to do things other than practice law. Familiarity with entrepreneurial skills, I think, would help all of our students, even those pursuing the most traditional career paths.

We're trying to really build up the courses in health-care law, Internet and technology law, and international law and policy.

We're also trying to have a lot more legal history, ethics, religious studies, and moral philosophy in the curriculum, to make the Law School not only a place to train students in law but also a liberal-arts graduate school. What we want to do is to teach more students how to think, how to be creative, and how to relate the study of law to other disciplines. When our students get out, they will have a framework in which to place what they're doing, what their roles in society are. And when difficult personal or ethical issues come up, they will have a set of analytical tools to use to address the problems that occur in every life and every career.

The extent to which the Law School--primarily through its clinical programs--has become more involved in the community is another development that we want to continue. This is partly through the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, but also through the new Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, added last fall.

How has globalization altered the Law School's outlook?
We don't have the scale to establish a Law School overseas. We don't want to spread ourselves thin. But I think we can accomplish a lot by expanding our one-year L.L.M. program, whose students typically come from Europe or the Orient or South America or Mexico. The market for legal services has become increasingly global, and one of our core functions is to have an impact on the world in which we live. One good way to do that is to have a lot of ambassadors going to different parts of the world and using the University of Chicago education in different places, doing different things.

The increasing reality is that a lot of the big firms are opening offices all over the world. Many of our American graduates will wind up spending part of their career in different places around the world. Now we're trying to establish some international alumni structures, to have more of a presence internationally, starting with Europe.

What other issues are affecting law education and the legal profession?
The market for people with legal backgrounds has changed dramatically, and it's continuing to change dramatically, from what it was just a few years ago. Now the biggest employers of lawyers are not law firms but accounting firms. Particularly in Europe, the lines between accounting firms, consulting firms, law firms, and other types of financial-service providers are blurring. A lot of people think the same thing is going to happen in the United States.

It's much more true now than it was ever before that the typical student does multiple things in his or her career. They may take all different types of law-related jobs, or they may practice law, or they may go back and forth between the practice of law and other types of careers. We want to be at the cutting edge of legal training, to prepare our students for whatever options they want to pursue.

What is your take on negative attitudes toward lawyers and how they affect the Law School?
I don't think it's affected the applicant pool, and I don't think that we have paid too much attention to it. But I do think we should be concerned. We want to give students a sense of the value of what they're doing. Again, we're putting the study of law in a larger social context, not just teaching the different rules and cases and statutes, but giving a perspective on the role of lawyers in society and the importance of the rule of law.

All you have to do is look at the former Soviet Union to appreciate that a country without an operating legal system is in trouble, no matter how many natural resources they have, how highly trained the population is. Whatever other skills they have, without a legal system they're going to be in deep trouble.

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