Jeremy Paul, the School of Law’s new dean, is a highly accomplished legal scholar with extensive experience in the practice setting and a strong proponent of legal education that integrates theory and practice. Here, he explains how Northeastern can build on its longstanding commitment to experiential education and social justice.
What attracted you to Northeastern?
I am proud to assume leadership at a law school where students are enlisted from their first day in the project of determining how they will fit into the rapidly changing legal profession.
Experiential education is discussed at many law schools, but Northeastern’s School of Law has championed experiential learning since 1968. You can’t teach someone to be a professional usingnothing but paper and pencil tests. The idea of three full years reading appellate cases in large classrooms is wholly obsolete. We have to move on from the way we learned in the past and find new ways of teaching students.
I was also drawn by Northeastern’s leadership in using law to serve the public interest, a goal I have shared throughout my career. I have served on the board of Planned Parenthood, for example, on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut and on Connecticut’s Access to Justice Commission.
The School of Law is best known for its excellence in preparing students for careers in public-interest law. What else would you like the school to be known for?
Many public interest lawyers work for nonprofit organizations, which themselves have generated a complex area of law. Nonprofits face complicated governance rules, complicated tax rules and complicated conflict of interest rules—all of which I think are things that Northeastern ought to teach and get stronger in.
I’d also like to see Northeastern lawyers known for being very skilled at bringing technology to bear. Beyond that, I’m very excited about the university’s three research themes: health, security and sustainability. We should be strong partners in all three of those areas.
President Aoun has noted that the legal profession currently faces “unprecedented challenges.” What are some of those challenges, and where do the remedies lie?
There aren’t enough jobs for young lawyers who are graduating. Some may say there are too many lawyers, but look at the percentage of family-law cases now going to court in which people are representing themselves because they can’t afford a lawyer. Judges nationwide are sounding alarm bells because they can’t handle the number of cases coming in on a pro se basis. So, on the one hand, we have many graduating lawyers unable to find jobs, and on the other hand, we have many people desperately in need of lawyers but unable to afford them.
It is also crucial that any law school that expects to thrive over the next 20 years has a greater international focus. I’d like to see more, if not all, of our students do one of their four co-ops overseas.