Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, North Carolina, prides itself on providing a rigorous and experiential legal education that helps students make professional contacts and build their careers from the moment the step foot on campus. Named among "America's 20 Most Innovative Law Schools" by The National Jurist, Elon Law is recognized for excellence in legal professionalism education and as one of the top law schools for practical training.
Much of Elon Law's recognition comes from a new curriculum unveiled in 2014, when Luke Bierman, a national leader in experiential legal education took the helm as Dean of Elon Law. Dean Bierman's professional history demonstrates a commitment to the legal profession and, in particular, to legal education. He has taught at Albany Law School, North Carolina State University, Northwestern University School of Law, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Trinity College and the University at Albany. Prior to coming to Elon University School of Law, he was associate dean and professor at Northeastern University School of Law.
Dean Bierman is widely published in national law reviews as well as publications including the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and other mainstream publications.
His numerous leadership positions in the legal field show his commitment to the profession and to legal education.
The Law Offices of Adam R Banner is grateful to Dean Bierman for taking the time to answer our questions about the nature of legal education and the challenges it presents to students and educators, and for his discussion of the evolution of the legal profession.
What is the biggest challenge facing new law students?
There are so many that are the biggest… jobs, debt, balance of time. But I think the real biggest challenge for students is navigating the transformations that must permeate the profession if it is to remain relevant. Students today are facing a profession that is only at the beginning of resolving issues that other professions and disciplines already are grappling with. The impacts of technology, of professional stratification, of diversity, of competition, and of things we cannot even yet imagine are the things that will challenge our students. Our students must learn to be adaptable and entrepreneurial in ways that we haven’t really asked law students and lawyers to be in the past. I’m proud that my law school is giving fresh attention to engaged learning with required full-time residencies in practice so that our new students learn exactly what it means to be adaptable and entrepreneurial in real life situations.
What is the single biggest challenge that you face as Dean?
Finding 25 hours in each day is a pretty serious challenge. Recruitment, placement and resources are serious challenges. But the biggest challenge, the one that keeps me up at night, is rethinking the law school business model. Most law schools rely on federal graduate financial aid for almost all of the revenue that supports their activities. Should that system change in any dramatic way, we will be faced with very serious challenges. I am working with our faculty and staff to diversify our revenue base. That is a new way of thinking about what our jobs entail and that is a real challenge. But it is essential if we are to be able to remain relevant and helpful to our students, our profession and our communities.
Which areas of the law do you think will experience the biggest growth over the next few years?
As an old ethics lawyer, definitely ethics. I’m pleased that more and more attention is given to ethics as an integral part of any enterprise as evidenced by the institutionalization of chief ethics officers in corporations and government ethics officers in public entities. Even ALI now has a project on government ethics. Considering the kinds of scandals we continue to see permeating our society, certainly ethics should be a high growth area and timely at that. There also is clearly increasing interest in practice areas like IP and cybersecurity and international law. I suspect the issues surrounding ownership will become ever more complex necessitating greater legal attention as we move to ever more sophisticated enterprises seeking to manage their own and others' information. But what I think without doubt is that technology will, at some point, be transformational in the delivery of legal services in ways that we now can’t imagine. So issues related to tech will be essential and thus are ripe for growth.
Is teaching law now different compared to when you were a law student?
I often tell a story about how my grandfather, who graduated from law school in 1922, would be way too comfortable if he plopped into a classroom today. Once a century we should really reconsider the enterprise. I’m proud that Elon Law has undertaken a very ambitious redesign of our curriculum, identifying the qualities and skills and knowledge we want our graduates to possess and then reverse engineering to create a logically sequenced course of preparation that combines the best of traditional legal education with highly experiential components including full time residencies in practice. This is not my grandfather’s law school. This approach allows us to accelerate professional judgment and maturation while graduating students in 2 ½ years at significant cost reduction. I suspect Elon’s current redesign is modest when compared to what we likely are to see in the future.
How do you think technology will impact criminal defense?
One of my Elon Law colleagues, Mike Rich, is recognized for his writing on this very timely issue. No doubt things like predictive analytics and video reviews and other developing technologies and tools will offer law enforcement many opportunities to think anew about crime and its prevention. With those opportunities come risks that likewise are new and challenging. Society will have to resolve those debates but criminal defense attorneys will be at the core of this assessment and they better be trained in the technologies that no doubt will undergird their practices.
What do you think are the biggest legal challenges facing the Supreme Court?
Getting a 9th Justice. And then filling the next vacancies that are no doubt going to arise in the near future. These are fundamental issues to our republic and if we can’t resolve them outside the realm of the current prevailing partisanship, we the people are in deep trouble.
Are there any aspects of practicing law you miss due to being in education?
What attracts me to a job is an opportunity to solve puzzles or clean up messes – that’s what I tell my students practicing law is really like. It turns out that legal education is just like that as well – law schools are trying to solve a puzzle and clean up some messes that derive from a century old educational system. So I don’t miss much in my current job, at least in that regard.
If you could invite any three legal or governmental identities (living or dead, real or fictitious) to a meal, whom would you invite?
I really enjoy storytellers and people who have done things a bit differently. So people who are trained as a lawyer but took different paths like Will Shortz, who challenges us with The New York Times crossword puzzle every day; Washington Irving, who could spin a yarn; and Margaret Marshall, who has enjoyed an extraordinary journey from South Africa to Harvard to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts where she pioneered judicial recognition for gay equality would be fun to chat with.
What is your favorite legal movie?
I used to teach a Law and Popular Culture class so this is a fun question for me. I like Casablanca and Ragtime, although they are not the usual films that come up in a favorite law movie list. But these films raise serious questions in a very entertaining way about truth and justice and fact and fiction and integrity and ethics that are so crucial to our work as lawyers and to society as a whole.