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From the Dean

Educating Lawyers, Then and Now

A square portrait photograph of Matthew Diller smiling (Dean and Paul Fuller Professor of Law at Fordham)
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that everything must change, including legal education. This issue explores both the subtle and seismic shifts wrought by the global pandemic; by the racial reckoning brought on, in part, by the murder of George Floyd and others; and by a changing sense of what it means to create a just world, to practice law, and to make a contribution to society.

When I was in law school 35 years ago, the education I received would not be considered sufficient in any American law school today. While my first-year curriculum was recognizable enough—focusing on the case study method, sharpening analytical skills, and teaching the fundamentals of how to write a brief—there is now broad recognition that those skills are far from enough in today’s world.

Legal education was just beginning to transition away from this classic approach when I was a student. Institutions were realizing that law is more than an analytical exercise, and if you look at what we offer at Fordham Law now, particularly in the upper years, the curriculum and experience are far richer. Back when I was in school, clinics were just emerging; now, clinical education has exploded, along with skills courses, advanced legal writing, extracurricular activities, and opportunities
to study abroad. And even our 1Ls have a new required course on legislation and regulation, which reflects a growing acknowledgment that case law is only one source of law.

We delve into the law from many different perspectives. We still teach practical skills like how to write a brief, thanks, in part, to our new powerhouse writing team (“Helping Students Find Their Voice”). But we also want students to focus on broader concerns, such as how lawyers can maximize their impact on society as a whole.

A lawyer isn’t just a bundle of legal skills. Being a good lawyer is also about an attitude.
Dean Matthew Diller

A lawyer isn’t just a bundle of legal skills. Being a good lawyer is also about an attitude. I believe we need to keep broadening the framework of what a legal education is so that our students can thrive personally in the profession, whatever kind of work they end up doing. In “Educating Students for the Law—and for Life,” for instance, we explore how Fordham Law’s educational focus on student wellness, mentoring, and professionalism, as well as our house system, is creating a different experience for our students. We’ve also taken a more deliberate approach to teaching students to work on teams, and to understand that how you treat people matters, in terms of career and personal happiness. While skills such as how to be a good leader or an active listener are not specifically legal in nature, they have a place at Fordham Law. That’s the kind of professionalism we’re transmitting to students, and it’s integral to the important question of what we all want our profession to look like.

To succeed in the 21st century and beyond, lawyers also need to be able to excel in a diverse workplace, and work well on diverse teams. “No Longer the Onlys” explores how Fordham Law, through a variety of programs like IDEAL and the REAL Scholars program, is widening the pipeline to law school to include underserved students and creating an atmosphere where all students feel supported. In part, this is due to the generosity of law firms like Kirkland & Ellis and Jones Day, and alumni like Stephen Cugliari, who is profiled in this issue.

Some things should never change, however. That includes Fordham Law’s long-standing reputation for producing lawyers who are savvy, practical, technically adept, and who can get things done, whether there’s a pandemic underway or not. I don’t take that for granted, which is why we are systematically hard-coding that into the culture and classrooms here, explored in “Practicing Law in a Post-Pandemic World.”

None of this would be possible without our faculty. I am proud to be part of an institution populated by exceptional scholars who are making increasingly influential contributions to our society and world. We spent time connecting with our faculty recently about the big ideas that drive their work and asked them to share with us—and others—the facts to consider, the paths forward, and the impact of their scholarship. In “Big Ideas” you’ll learn more about eight of our professors and can also watch them in action.

Finally, as challenging as the past two years have been for all of us, one idea I find heartening is that any lawyer, through the force of an insight and an argument, can make a difference. At Fordham Law, we want to empower and equip students to do that, wherever they go.

Matthew Diller signature
Matthew Diller
Dean and Paul Fuller Professor of Law