Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts, is a premier law school on the forefront of legal education. Law students at Suffolk receive an education that emphasizes real-world practice and experiential learning. Suffolk Law's U.S. News rankings demonstrate the school's success in areas including legal writing, legal technology, dispute resolution, and experiential learning. Clinics, pro bono opportunities, and externships give Suffolk Law students hands-on experience in the practice and application of the law.
At the helm of Suffolk University Law School is Dean Andrew M. Perlman, a "nationally recognized voice on the future of legal education and law practice." His professional work deals significantly with legal technology and innovation: he has served as the vice chair of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, he was appointed by the ABA president to serve as the chair of the governing council of the Center for Innovation, and he was the founding director of Suffolk’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation.
As an innovator in legal education, Dean Perlman had some interesting insights into our questions for our law dean interview series.
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
Law students are facing a rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive legal marketplace, so they need to make sure they have the skills that employers and clients expect and demand. This is a challenge for law students, but it is also a challenge for law schools, which have to ensure that they are delivering the kind of legal education that will put students in the best position to succeed.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
There is no single challenge that I would isolate as the biggest. The cost of a legal education is a critical issue, so I’m spending a lot of time talking with alumni about paying it forward through support for scholarships. The job market has changed dramatically, so I’m also focused on finding ways to give our students the skillset that employers need in a modern world. We can’t pretend that we’re in the same market that young lawyers graduated into in the 80’s and 90’s.
Another important challenge is getting the word out about the quality of a Suffolk Law education, especially in the area of experiential skills and our cutting-edge innovation curriculum. For example, we are the only law school in the nation that, for two years in a row, was ranked by U.S. News & World Report in each of four experiential skills specialties: legal writing (6th), clinics (17th), dispute resolution (17th), and trial advocacy (16th). And with a ranked intellectual property program (27th), we have five ranked programs, placing us among only fourteen law schools in the country with at least as many ranked programs. It is important for me to let people know about impressive and innovative programs, because doing so helps our graduates. But it is sometimes a challenge to make sure a school gets the credit it deserves.
I also want to spread the word about the remarkable accomplishments of our graduates. For instance, one in four judges in Massachusetts graduated from Suffolk Law. Five of the eleven district attorneys in our state went to Suffolk Law. Three state chief justices are graduates, and two of our alumni were appointed to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in the last year alone. It’s not an accident that the school has such an impact on public service in the region; it’s a critical focus for us. I want people to know about our graduates’ achievements and the role that Suffolk Law played in their success. Again, this can be a challenge, which is why I take every opportunity (like this interview) to get out the word.
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?
To some extent, the answer varies by region, but in Boston, due to the large number of innovative companies here, we are seeing growth in intellectual property law. Because of the large number of financial services and healthcare providers, we are also seeing significant growth in compliance opportunities. Industry-wide, I think we are going to see significant growth in the areas of corporate legal operations. I also expect to see increasing emphasis on legal technology and innovation skills that lead to jobs like legal project manager and legal solutions architect.
Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?
Yes. There are differences in pedagogy and substance. In terms of pedagogy, there is a greater emphasis on giving students more formal and informal assessment opportunities throughout the semester. We also use technology to teach law, such as with audience response systems, and we place a lot more emphasis on experiential education (e.g., simulation classes and clinics). Substantively, there is a growing emphasis on interdisciplinary thinking, such as financial literacy and legal process design.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
Technology is impacting criminal defense practice in numerous ways. For example, data science is yielding insights into the work of public defenders as well as bail and sentencing decisions. Basic motions can be automated. And factual investigations in more complex cases will require an understanding of how information is collected from various digital devices.
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
Our society is increasingly skeptical of government, and it is essential for the Supreme Court to stand above the fray and ensure that it retains the public’s confidence as a legitimate arbiter of some of the nation’s most challenging legal issues.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
Helping clients achieve their goals is incredibly fulfilling. I also greatly enjoyed the problem solving that lawyering requires. Fortunately, as a dean, I have found many opportunities to “problem solve,” and I have the great fortune of helping students achieve their goals. In those senses, my current role gives me much of the satisfaction that I received from law practice.
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living or dead, real or fictitious) to a meal, whom would you invite?
I’d like to gather Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Barack Obama. I think it would be fascinating to listen to a thoughtful recent president describe the current state of our nation to two of the country’s founders. I would be especially interested to hear two founders with differing perspectives react to a description of the current political climate from a recent president. I’d also be interested to hear the two founders’ reaction to the election of the nation’s first African-American president.
What is your favorite legal movie?
Anatomy of a Murder is a classic, but I think that “legal television” is even more compelling. My personal favorite was The Practice. That show presented a provocative legal ethics issue nearly every week, and I have regularly used the fact patterns from that series in my professional responsibility course.