For Northwestern Law dean, inclusive leadership is key to innovation

Hari M. Osofsky, dean of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Myra and James Bradwell Professor of Law, maintains a small mementoes on the bookshelf behind her desk to remind her of who she is and what she values. One is a holiday greeting from a former student, who reminds her of the long-term difference.

“I realized that students with different identities were hearing seemingly neutral advice about clerkships differently,” Osofsky said. “I helped three of my students who were women of color form and support group and successfully apply. This card is a great deal for me because the student remembers that you have no job at all. It reinforces our interventions that have lasting impact beyond that moment. ”

Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson – after her graduation from Yale Law School in 1998. Nelson served as the first female dean of the University of Southern California Law School and one of the first female federal appellate court judges.

Now, Osofsky herself is a leader who has served the dean of two law schools and of the school of international affairs. Her tenure at Northwestern Law began last fall. At the end of her first academic year here, Northwestern

What have you found to be special about the Northwestern Law community?

I have been particularly grateful for the ways our community has come together and supported each other through the challenges of this year. While many schools talk about their sense of community, we have them here.

I am even more excited than when I started, because I think we are not only good at school with tremendous strengths but also a high potential one. Our law school has a longstanding innovation tradition, and this is a moment that could not need more innovation. We have an important opportunity to make an impact as we build our next chapter.

Where do you see this law going in the future?

We are working strategically on the four main aspects of innovation for impact. First, we need to prepare our students to lead in a rapidly changing legal environment and learn from our pivots. I am creating a working group of students, faculty, staff and alumni to explore our next innovation opportunities.

Second, we have the opportunity to build upon our existing strength in interdisciplinarity; over half of our faculty are JD-Ph.Ds and have innovative interdisciplinary programs. We have opportunities to grow our joint appointments across the University and collaborate more in interdisciplinary partnerships that impact both. We have created those connections across the University.

Third, we need to continue to make progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). It’s incredibly important that our work is concrete rather than performative. Finally, we have a longstanding commitment to advancing social justice. Our Bluhm Legal Clinic has an important impact while also training students, and we are thinking strategically about its next steps.

You’ve made progress on DEI a priority. What are some steps you have taken in this area?

On my second day here, we have launched a major HR Initiative in collaboration with the University to ensure that we are consistently approaching promotions, raises and bonuses across the organization. The Law School and engage in best practices. We also need to ensure that all our faculty searches for best practice, including the equity of a representative committee on the search committee and building a strong and diverse pool at each stage.

Another concrete step has been taken in responding to a student’s mental health situation in the Law School. We have worked with the University to ensure that the person would be full time, and that the situation would include a specialist in sexual trauma counseling.

I’m also excited that we’re honoring Professor Joyce Hughes, who has created a new endowed scholarship in her honor; naming and dedicating a faculty corridor of the Law School after her; and holding a symposium on the impact of African American women on legal education. Professor Hughes was the first Black woman to be tenured in any department at Northwestern University and recently retired.

Talk more about how you see the Law School innovating in the social justice space.

We are in the process of developing an initiative to create a national model in Chicago. According to a Legal Services Corporation report, 86% of low-income people receive no or inadequate services. For Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright helps ensure some needed representation, but there are important gaps there, too.

So, we’ve been thinking about the problem in Chicago – in legal services; every major law firm; the offices of the mayor and governor; and major corporations. Our clinic is also one of few that has social workers in it. By using the interdisciplinary approach, leveraging technology and thinking critically about the role of lawyers, we’re aiming to bridge the access to justice gap.

Why is interdisciplinary collaboration more important than ever in legal education?

Addressing the major issues facing society requires interdisciplinary solutions. This is especially important at the law-STEM interface. Science and technology, whether in the context of climate change and energy, health or cybersecurity, because a complete understanding of the legal context.

I have seen this problem directly in my work on climate change and was very grateful to take climate change science as part of my Ph.D. coursework in geography. It helped me to understand the issues of scale and how it was used in the context of multi-level governance.

That’s one of the reasons that our Master of Science in Law program – which is among the first in the country – is so important. By training STEM professionals in a mix of law, business and technology, we can help the society to solve big problems.

What message would you like to leave with graduates?

I have two messages for graduates. First and foremost, I want to say how proud we are of them and how excited we are to celebrate this milestone with them. They’ve had significant challenges during their time in school, and I’m very proud of the support for one another and resilience that they’ve shown. Second, I want them to know that they give me hope for the future. They are going to be our next generation of lawyer leaders, and whatever career path they choose, they have the opportunity and obligation to advance justice and access to justice.

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