Martin Luther King Breakfast with the Barristers’ Association

The Honorable Sheila Woods-Skipper

The Honorable Sheila Woods-Skipper

What a joy it was to attend Monday’s Martin Luther King Breakfast, hosted by the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia. It was an inspiring program, reminding us of the need for all of us to work towards Dr. King’s primary objective: equality for all. I was excited to see so many Temple Law School representatives not just attending but participating in the event. Chancellor Al Dandridge ’78 addressed the group and among other things announced the creation of, and contributed the inaugural check in support of, a scholarship in memory of Brandi Brice’03. Brandi was a former Chair of the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association who lost her battle with cancer last year. Two of our 1L students, Paige Joki and Joseph Sengoba, received scholarships established by United States District Court Judge C. Darnell Jones with excess money collected in support of his Court of Common Pleas portrait. Rachel Keene ‘09 was the Master of Ceremonies. I had the honor of presenting the Association’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Outstanding Service to the Community to the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, on whose Advisory Board I sit. And Court of Common Pleas President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper ‘83, who received the Juanita Kidd Stout Woman of Distinction Award, served as the gathering’s keynote speaker. All this was in addition to the many Temple Law students who were visible as hosts and greeters. It was an honor to be there, but even more than that it was an inspiration to share the morning with so many people who are still working to fulfill the vision – the dream – of Dr. King.

Chancellor’s Reception

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Chancellor Dandridge and Dean Epps

Photo credit: Philadelphia Bar Association

On Tuesday, I joined hundreds of others at the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Chancellor’s Reception, where the Philadelphia legal community celebrated Al Dandridge, class of 1978, the 88th Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association – the nation’s oldest bar association. The room was full of people with Temple Law connections. Way cool to see so many Temple Law School faces.

The Whitford Symposium

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One of the great joys of leading an institution like Temple’s Beasley School of Law is the marked variety of academic and professional gatherings that pepper the calendar each month. October, for example, brought us the Kohn and Kolsby Lectures, an IILPP Roundtable, the Whitford Symposium, and the 15th anniversary of our Rule of Law program in Beijing, from which I have just returned.

The second great joy of my job is having a faculty that works so hard, collectively and individually, to make this the wonderful institution that it is. I was reminded of this at the Whitford Symposium, where I was struck by the collective stature of the speakers gathered for the day. It was clear that something really special was going on, and I was immensely proud to see it happening at Temple, as well as grateful to Professor Jonathan Lipson for his extraordinary efforts in bringing the Symposium together.

I’ve asked Professor Lipson to offer his reflections on the Whitford Symposium here, because I think his perspective on the events of the day has much to offer us. His remarks follow.

Integrity and inclusion.

These were the themes of a special Temple Law Review Symposium held Friday October 24, 2014 at Temple Law School in honor of University of Wisconsin emeritus professor Bill Whitford.

If you read that carefully, you may wonder:  Why would Temple Law School honor the senior member of what is essentially a competitor—another law school?

The answer turns on the integrity and inclusiveness of Whitford’s contribution to teaching and scholarship in his 50-year career as well as the special joint venture forged by Temple and Wisconsin in order to bring the project to fruition.

Professor Whitford is one of nation’s leading writers and teachers on consumer and corporate bankruptcy, contracts and law and society.  He was an early empiricist, producing studies of contracting practices that inspired generations of scholars to look at the “law in action.”  The Bankruptcy Research Database he created with UCLA law professor Lynn LoPucki radically altered the nature of research in corporate failure and bankruptcy.

Attended by nearly 150 lawyers, scholars, and law students, the Symposium was designed to be not just a series of tributes to Bill, as I noted in my introduction, but instead an opportunity for leading scholars from around the world influenced by his work to reflect and build on his scores of articles, book chapters and books.

WhitfordSymposiumWrapup

Panelists included Douglas Baird (University of Chicago), Jean Braucher (University of Arizona, who organized the Symposium with me), Robert Hillman (Cornell), Robert Lawless (University of Illinois), Angie Littwin (University of Texas), Lynn LoPucki (UCLA), Melissa Jacoby (University of North Carolina), Stewart Macaulay (University of Wisconsin), Katie Porter (UC-Irvine), Iain Ramsay (University of Kent-UK), David Skeel (University of Pennsylvania), and Jay Westbrook (University of Texas).  In addition, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), formerly a professor of contracts and bankruptcy, recorded a 6-minute video about Whitford’s impact on her teaching and scholarship.

The Symposium covered three major aspects of Whitford’s work: (1) corporate reorganization, in particular the work he and LoPucki did in developing the Bankruptcy Research Database, and the enormous body of scholarship that grew from that database; (2) consumer bankruptcy and protection, in particular efforts to identify meaningful system reforms that go beyond the courtroom; and (3) comparative law and methodologies, with an emphasis on Whitford’s role in creating the field of comparative consumer bankruptcy, a subject of growing importance as household debt increasingly influences social welfare and economic growth.

The prestige of the panelists, and the depth and breadth of Whitford’s contribution drew the attention of both national media (the event was covered by Reuters (subscription required)) as well as the National Bankruptcy Archives, which will house video footage of the Symposium (the video is also available now on Temple Law School’s Whitford Symposium event page).

Although these scholars covered a wide range of topics, many focused on Whitford’s commitment to integrity in the legal process, in scholarship and in the classroom, where Whitford not only taught thousands of students over the years, but developed one of the earliest and most successful, broad-based diversity programs in a law school, one that has been emulated by other schools, including Temple.

Whitford’s commitment to inclusion was recognized at the Symposium not only through his commitment to diversity, but in the very structure of the program itself.  Joint ventures among law schools are rare.  This one—between Temple, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Arizona—reflected the essence of Whitford’s ability to reach across many different types of scholars, in many different fields, all of whom share his basic commitments to principled scholarship, access to justice and opportunities for those often ignored by the legal system.

Advocacy and the Rule of Law

As you know if you follow this blog, I have been in Beijing marking the 15th anniversary of the Beasley School of Law’s Rule of Law program in China. I’ve posted some thoughts about that event here, and even though the commencement exercises have concluded I find myself still thinking about some of the ideas they have inspired.  In particular, I find my thoughts returning to the rule of law as the organizing principle for our American system of values, and to the role of advocacy in making that system work.

I think that the best way to illuminate how advocacy makes our system work is to look at those times when the system has failed us. Take, for example, the era of Jim Crow in the American South. In last month’s Kolsby Lecture, Chilton Davis Varner shared some powerful reflections on how the law became a tool for dehumanization and political oppression during that time. Sanctioned inequality under the guise of “separate but equal” delegitimized the rule of law itself. One result, according to Varner, was a breach of trust in a justice system that had clearly failed not just the people it oppressed, but all of us.

What dismantled Jim Crow and began to restore trust in the rule of law was the passion and perseverance of a handful of lawyers and judges who became, in Varner’s words, “problem-solvers” who were “born to do the most unpleasant jobs for all of us.” We might also call them advocates. This small group of men and women understood that in order to restore trust in the rule of law, they had to successfully defend not just their clients’ interests, but their clients’ humanity, to a majority whose prosperity and comfort depended on denying it. But even that was not the end of their labors, for they also had to rehabilitate the system itself and regain the trust of those who had been injured by it. They used the tools of their profession – procedure, logic, persuasion and, ultimately, passion – to repair a broken system and to restore faith in its ability to serve us all.

One of the best parts of Varner’s remarks, for me at least, was that so many of our students had (and took) the opportunity to hear them. The need for advocates is no less pressing today than it was a half century ago. Not every lawyer can do civil rights work, to be sure: but every lawyer can work so that her actions have not just consequences, but meaning. The rule of law depends on lawyers who are, in Varner’s words, the “keepers of their own professionalism” – who see themselves as advocates in this fundamental sense.

I believe that the rule of law as an idea and as a system of values is one of the best, most powerful tools we have for creating and sustaining just, prosperous societies. I believe also that for it to remain so, those of us privileged to serve in this profession must be prepared to be advocates not just for our clients, but for the rule of law itself. Whether in Beijing, Philadelphia, or points in between, advocacy in service to this ideal is one of our best hopes for creating a more perfect world.

Greetings from Beijing

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Beijing_DeansBlogGreetings from Beijing, where it’s been my great privilege to attend commencement exercises marking the 15th anniversary of Temple Law School’s Rule of Law program in China.  I could not be more proud of what Temple has accomplished through this program. Since its founding in 1999, the Temple Rule of Law program has educated a total of 1,281 legal professionals.  Nearly two-thirds of these participants have been from the public sector.  That figure includes 384 judges, 163 prosecutors, 115 government officials, 162 law professors, and 46 NGO legal staff.  Temple’s LL.M. Program in Beijing, which was the first foreign cooperative law degree program in China, also remains unique: Many entities operate legal education programs in China, but to date, there is no China-sanctioned degree-granting program similar to Temple Law’s.

All of this came from one idea.  My predecessor, former Dean Bob Reinstein, and former Temple President Peter Liacouras, foresaw the emergence of China as a global force.  Dean Reinstein recognized an opportunity to contribute to the shaping of Chinese legal culture by offering training in American legal principles to Chinese lawyers and judges in positions of influence.  Each time we visit we are gratified to hear of the marked upward trajectory of the careers of our former students, and of the impact of our training on their legal thinking.

Our visit to China follows on President Xi Jinping’s recent Fourth Plenum. President Jinping has made a centerpiece of his presidency respect for and adherence to the rule of law. It is gratifying to see the values of our program reinforced by so respected a voice and on so prominent a stage.  The takeaway from this, to me, is that we must remember every day that our actions have consequences, and if we are fortunate they have meaning.  I think it would be hubris to suggest that our program directly influenced President Jinping’s agenda.  But I do believe that we complement, contribute to, and further China’s embrace of a value America cherishes, and that feels pretty good.

Why Achieving Diversity Remains a Challenge

I recently had the opportunity to gather with colleagues from across Temple University for a popular discussion series called “Can We Talk?”  I chose as my topic the question of why diversity is so difficult to accomplish, and what might make it easier.  Of course, neither question can be answered to anyone’s satisfaction in an hour, no matter how robust and sincere the conversation.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important conversation to begin, and to continue whenever possible.

I think it’s important, though, to offer a few observations up front.  First, I think it is important to recognize that however much it is desired (in theory or in reality), diversity doesn’t come naturally.  While a lot of people  express support for it – and even a desire for it, we’re not  all clear on what “it” even is, let alone how to achieve it.  Second is the matter of vocabulary.  The word itself sometimes gives off the connotation of “forced mixing,” which sounds like work or something even less voluntary.  And third, the work of diversity is not only hard; it also involves personal risk and personal commitment.

Diversity doesn’t come naturally.  More and more scholarship confirms that we all harbor biases that affect our perception of those around us.  They’re part of our cognitive process – how we interpret information and make sense of our world.  Mahzarin Banaji, a researcher at Harvard, has designed the Implicit Association Test as a mechanism for illuminating these biases in each of us.   Take the test:  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

The list of such biases is long and readily available; among those I found most interesting were confirmation bias, which describes how we   selectively see and process information that supports our preconceived notions; anchoring, in which we give too much weight to unsupported knowledge because it is consistent with our assumptions; and actor-observer bias, in which we attribute our own actions to the situation in which they take place but attribute the actions of others to some internal characteristic or personality trait.  When it comes to how we approach diversity, I think that actor-observer bias is particularly worthy of exploration.

The word itself has some issues.  For some, the word “diversity” has acquired a negative connotation.  I think many well-meaning people perceive it as a forced mixing, something we know we “should” do but either don’t want to, or don’t do naturally.  Tackling differences takes us out of our comfort zone, the one filled with people who don’t need us to explain ourselves.  Perhaps a better word to express our desire would be “inclusion,” suggesting that we’re widening our circle rather than visiting an unfamiliar one.

There’s another issue, though, too; one that I think is harder to address.  It’s the question of what, exactly, we mean by diversity.  I think that for many of us, “diversity” really means “me, slightly different.”  We understand diversity to mean that people from historically marginalized groups – women and racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities – should have the same access to resources and opportunities that others do.  But we assume that those categorized differences are the only ways in which they’re different from us, and when that turns out not to be the case, we get uncomfortable.  So the thing that offends us about a coworker isn’t her race or her religion; it’s how loud her voice seems to us.  It’s the large stud in his ear or the way she’s so formal, even in relaxed settings.  When we realize that real diversity means these things as well, it seems a lot more complicated than we would like, and so the challenge increases.

It’s not just a matter of equality.  Diversity initiatives that focus on equality at the end of the pipeline without addressing the injustices at its beginning will never succeed.  We must ask ourselves why groups fall out – why, if our communities have roughly the same numbers of men and women, do men disproportionately occupy positions of power in government and industry? Why are racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities so dramatically absent from those roles?  Where – and why – do those who are “different” fall out along the way?  There are some obvious places to start looking for the leaks:  the state of public education and entrenched socioeconomic inequality (itself often a proxy for race) come immediately to mind.  How can we reach our potential without access to a quality education, or safe housing, or enough healthy food?  But this is just one place to look; clearly from the examples above it is not the only contributor to the challenge we face.

There are things we can do.  I think there are actions available to us individually and collectively, if we are willing to do some hard things.  On an individual level, I think the real game-changer is trust.  It’s still very risky to talk about hard issues – we don’t want to offend, or appear unknowledgeable, or come across as angry, or alienate someone.  But talking about these things is the only way that we’re ultimately going to change them.  And that requires trust, and a safe space within which we can let ourselves be uncomfortable.  Collectively, I think we need to have some hard conversations in our communities about what we’re willing to change in order to address the injustices that have created leaks in the pipeline.  We need to get clear on what we really mean by “diversity,” and do some soul-searching about how hard we are willing to work for it.  If we can come to some consensus on those things, then I think we will see a path forward.

October 2014 Highlights

It is hard to believe that October is already upon us, but the cooler temperatures and earlier evenings are hard to dispute.  Here on the East Coast, October also brings the glory of fall foliage. I was reminded recently that Pennsylvania’s fall foliage is more varied and longer lasting than anywhere else in the world.  The glorious yellows and oranges are yet another way in which life at Temple has so much to offer – inside and outside our walls.

October brings a law school calendar full of exciting events – social gatherings like the BLSA faculty-student brunch, the WLC wine and cheese reception, and the D.C. Alumni reception as well as a host of guest lectures, debates, and symposia.  We will have the pleasure of learning from three outstanding scholars at this month’s Faculty Colloquia:  David Law from Washington University, John Coffee from Columbia, and our own Craig Green.  Click here to see some of the other highlights of the month.

I want to draw your attention in particular to three events- the Kohn Lecture on October 9th, the Kolsby Lecture on October 14th, and the Whitford Symposium on October 24th.  The Kohn Lecture will be delivered this year by the Honorable Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court.  Chief Justice Strine is among the nation’s preeminent jurists, widely recognized as a leading authority on matters of corporate law as well as larger questions of governance in complex environments.  The lecture will be a celebration of the memory of Harold E. Kohn, whose 100th birthday would have come this month.

The following week we will have the pleasure of hearing from Chilton Davis Varner, a senior partner at King & Spalding and one of the top female litigators in the country, as she delivers the 2014 Kolsby Lecture.  Long a highlight of the advocacy program at Temple Law, the Kolsby lecture is always a favorite with students, faculty, and members of the Philadelphia trial bar.

At the end of the month Temple Law will play host to the leading authorities in the fields of corporate or consumer bankruptcy and consumer contracts and protection as they gather to examine the work of Bill Whitford, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, who has for decades been one the nation’s leading scholars in these fields. This event is being organized by Jonathan Lipson, Harold E. Kohn Professor of Law, and will include former Temple Law colleagues David Skeel and Melissa Jacoby.

It’s going to be an exciting month at Temple Law.  I look forward to seeing some of you as your schedules permit and hope for each of you the best that autumn has to offer.

The 2014 MacArthur Awards

I happened to notice while scanning the list of MacArthur Award recipients that three of the 21 honorees were lawyers – Mary Bonauto, a civil rights lawyer credited with building the case against DOMA; Sarah Deer, a law professor working on legislation that empowers tribal nations to protect women from domestic and sexual violence; and Jonathan Rapping, a criminal lawyer whose organization, Gideon’s Promise, provides coaching, training, and professional development to public defenders in an effort to address the problem of inadequate representation for indigent defendants.

I offer this observation because as we continue to wrestle with the challenges facing both legal education and the profession, it’s important to remember that two things remain true: first, that we will always need talented, passionate lawyers; and second, that a good legal education delivers an extraordinary opportunity to creative, passionate people who want to change the world.

Welcoming

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I love this time of year.  For most of my professional life, it’s been a time of welcoming – welcoming new students to the school and the profession I love; welcoming returning students as well as friends and colleagues among the faculty; and welcoming a new academic year, full of potential for both challenge and opportunity.

If the first few weeks  of this academic year are any indication, it’s going to be an exciting one.  Our incoming class is packed with creative, talented people whose focus and commitment have been impressive.  As we do every year, we capped off orientation week with our traditional pledge ceremony, in which the incoming class affirms the privilege of service that is ours as lawyers, and commits to seeking equal justice for all.  I believe that this class has the potential to do amazing things, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for us.  Teaching one of the first-year courses, Litigation Basics, I feel particularly privileged to teach – and thus get to know – some our first-year students.  From even this early stage in their career, I feel comforted that our profession will be in good hands.

This year, I found myself thinking back to the pledge as I listened while the legendary Morris Dees, civil rights champion and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, addressed an auditorium packed with Temple Law students and faculty.  Mr. Dees was here to help celebrate the opening of the National Trial Lawyers’ Hall of Fame, itself an exciting new addition to the law school community and an affirmation of Temple Law’s ongoing leadership in advocacy training.  His comments on the faces of contemporary tyranny and our role as lawyers in confronting it, drawn as they were from his own life and practice, inspired the entire audience and affirmed both the necessity and the urgency of our work.

In a way, Mr. Dees provided the perfect welcome to every member of the Temple Law community: a welcome not just to law school but to a profession that is privileged to serve as champions in pursuit of equal justice for all.

September at Temple Law

We are just a few short weeks into the semester, and the Law School is a flurry of activity.  Last week, we dedicated the Trial Lawyers’ Hall of Fame, an interactive display featuring some of the nation’s most prominent and powerful advocates.  That the National Trial Lawyers Association selected Temple as the home of its Hall of Fame is strong affirmation of Temple’s continued nationally renowned strength in advocacy training.  We were honored to hear from one of the Hall’s inductees, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Click here to read more about Mr. Dees’ remarks and the challenge he issued to the audience.

This week, our own Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales was joined by her co-authors, Georgetown Professors Andrew Schoenholtz and Philip Schrag, as the three presented to a packed room from their book, Lives in the Balance:  Asylum Adjudication by the Department of Homeland Security.

In Lives in the Balance, the authors analyze a database of 383,000 cases to better understand the effect on grant rates of a host of factors unrelated to the merits of asylum claims. The authors also examine the degree to which decisions were consistent among the eight regional asylum offices and within each of those offices.  The findings are exciting, compelling, and make a strong case for legislative and policy changes to improve the asylum decision-making process.

The 2014-2015 Trial Team selections have been finalized and the team is already hard at work preparing for an intense fall competition schedule that includes the NITA Tournament of Champions, the Peter J. James National Civil Rights Competition, the Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition, and the Buffalo-Niagara Invitational Competition.  Our Moot Court season also gets underway this weekend with the opening rounds of the Samuel Polsky Moot Court Competition, from which we will draw the members of our Moot Court Honor Society for the coming year.

Next week, we welcome to Temple Law Nancy Updike, award-winning producer of the popular NPR show, This American Life.  Nancy has filed stories from around the globe, and brings both an international perspective on current events and an expert touch in crafting a compelling narrative.

The school year is off to an exciting start, and we look forward to more inspiring and informative events.