From the Dean
OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS
WHEN CONFRONTED WITH THE WORST financial crisis in decades, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, advised his new boss: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Cartoon buffoon Homer Simpson invented his own word — “crisitunity”— to suggest that times of crisis may also present opportunities.
The financial turmoil of the past few years has presented significant challenges, in some cases of crisis proportion, for practicing attorneys and law firms … and for law schools as well. Although the long-term impact of the financial downturn on law firms and the structure of legal practice remains unclear, a recent survey of law firms found that more than three-quarters of the firms surveyed expected that greater focus on efficiency and productivity, driven by client demands, will be permanent changes in how law firms operate. The precise contours of the post-Great-Recession model for delivering legal services have yet to emerge. But waiting to act until they are clearly visible would be as perilous for a law school as it is for a law firm. As dean, I agree with Greg Jordan, ’84. In this issue’s lead profile, he quotes Jack Welch: “Stagnation is not a good option.” Trends relating to globalization, advances in technology, and escalating demands for productivity and accountability are affecting legal education along with the rest of the profession.
How to find the advantage and opportunity in this crisis and take advantage of it is the question that my colleagues at Pitt Law and I have been focused on these past few years. We have developed curricula and programs that help our students develop a strong business sensibility and appreciation of innovation, while continuing to emphasize the core skills and values of the profession. Options for specialized study help students develop a depth of expertise in areas — like international law, IP and technology, health, and the environment — that we believe will be the economic growth areas of the coming decades. In each of these areas and others, we provide students with hands-on experience and the chance to work with professionals from other disciplines or cultures to solve problems.
In all our efforts we seek to produce graduates equipped to succeed even in periods of change and challenge. This goal is central both to the Law School’s commitment to expanding the opportunities available to its graduates and to its ambitions to be recognized as a truly great, national law school. We are making good progress: Even as the employment market for new graduates has been bleak, the percentage of new Pitt Law graduates whose first job is outside of Pennsylvania remains at its highest level, close to 40 percent.
And there are encouraging signs that prospective students recognize the value of how Pitt Law is responding to challenging times. After an admissions cycle in which our applications increased by 27 percent, a group of 1Ls hailing from 26 states, two foreign countries, and 141 undergraduate institutions joined us this fall. In my opinion, they comprise one of the most qualified and diverse classes the School has enrolled to date. We look forward to providing these “future Pitt Law alums” with the best professional preparation we can, and by doing so to helping them be ready to find opportunities in the challenges they will no doubt encounter in their professional lives.