Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, meets with Joe Cunningham ’60 and his wife, Andrea, along with alumni Morris Kramer ’60 (L) and Sam Ingram ’60 (R).
Saturday, June 13
Our Future: A Discussion on Strategic Planning With the Dean
Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, Updates Alumni and Guests on the Future Direction of the Law School and Invites Open Discussion in the Strategic Planning Process
Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, provided a glimpse into the future of Columbia Law School during an interactive dialogue with alumni and guests at Reunion 2015. She stated that Columbia Law School has a long tradition of excellence in educating future leaders, and in supporting faculty and students who apply their scholarship and practice to helping solve some of society’s most intractable problems.
Dean Lester added that the legal landscape is shifting—globalization and technology have changed the practice of law in the U.S. and around the world—and the Law School must continue to innovate.
After an introduction by Blair C. Fensterstock ’75, the dean offered attendees an up-close-and-personal look at the strategic planning process underway at the Law School, laying out the four pillars of intellectual and campus life she has identified as priority focus areas through in-depth conversations with students, faculty, alumni, and administrators:
- curricular innovation,
- global engagement and preeminence,
- a strong and inclusive Law School community,
- and building a greater bond between graduates and the Law School.
Introduction by Blair C. Fensterstock ’75
In less than six months at the helm of the Law School, Dean Lester already has established three faculty task forces to examine these areas and to conduct an analysis of what the Law School can do differently to better fulfill its mission of educating the leaders of the next generation.
“What we seek to produce is society’s most talented, humane, and creative problem solvers,” she said. “We clearly do a wonderful job, but what must we do to continue to lead?”
Dean Lester posed a series of questions about each of the focus areas under consideration, and she also invited alumni to share their thoughts about how the Law School can innovate.
“You know firsthand the skills and competencies our graduates need,” Dean Lester said. “When you think about the people you hire—they were smart, but they also had this ‘plus’ factor. We’re trying to think about what that plus factor is and how to teach it.”
Dean Lester gave a few examples of the outstanding and influential work already being done by the Columbia Law School community on campus and around the world, such as:
- successful efforts by Professor Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, to negotiate a deal with Con Edison in the wake of Superstorm Sandy requiring the utility to implement state-of-the-art measures to plan for and protect its electric, gas, and steam systems from the effects of climate change—a move that is already serving as a model for other utilities around the nation and world;
- a trip Professor Anu Bradford, director of the European Legal Studies Center, took with students to Brussels and Luxembourg for high-level meetings at the EU’s major legal institutions, including one with the EU’s chief negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership;
- an empirical study by Professor Robert J. Jackson Jr. that led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to fix a flaw in its computer system that gave certain investors early access to market-moving information;
- human rights documentation compiled by Professor Sarah Knuckey and students in the Human Rights Clinic, who recently returned from Papua New Guinea where they worked alongside scientists at one of the region’s largest gold mines;
- and a recent move by the Federal Communications Commission to codify the principle of “net neutrality,” a term Professor Tim Wu coined and helped propel into a movement in favor of Internet openness.
“This is just a taste of the public problem solving our faculty are engaging in,” Dean Lester said. “It has been part of the tradition of Columbia Law School to excel in these ways. My job as dean is to say, ‘never rest on our laurels.’ What’s the next step? How can we reach even higher?”
Dean Lester explains the four pillars of intellectual and campus life identified as priority focus areas for the future of Columbia Law School.
Throughout the more than hour-long session, Dean Lester took comments, questions, and suggestions from the audience on a wide range of topics related to the focus areas, including: the advantages life and work experience offer a J.D. student; the importance of international law experience; the cost of law school and student debt; the need to improve the Law School’s physical space to build community and collaboration among students and faculty; the best ways to improve an existing student-mentoring program; and how the Law School can support students who will go on to a broad array of careers around the country and world.
When the discussion ended, Dean Lester told alumni she looked forward to hearing more from them about how the Law School can best fulfill its mission.
“I love these conversations,” she said. “I live and breathe these questions, and the opportunity to have these conversations with you is edifying.”