Dear UC Hastings Community,
When I decided to go to law school in the early 1980s, it never occurred to me to question the nobility of the legal profession and the need for lawyers. Lawyers championed justice and the rules of law that ensured that justice be done. I was not so naïve to think that all lawyers shared this objective or that justice always prevailed. But without lawyers and the rule of law – I believed then and continue to hold dear now – justice will not prevail.
I majored in history in college and studied with enthusiasm the founding of the American Republic. My zeal for that era and, in particular, the events in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, likely helped set my course as an eventual teacher of constitutional law. While not all the founders were lawyers – though most were – they were all law-makers. They believed in the rule of law and established a Republic based on the principle that no person is above the law.
Yet, part of my job as dean now is to engage with groups and institutions that increasingly question the need for lawyers or, at least, question whether we need any “more lawyers.” When I visit and testify in Sacramento, for example, legislators inevitably raise this issue. “Don’t we have too many lawyers already?” The short answer is an emphatic NO!
Although there are many locations and practice areas in which there is no shortage of highly-paid attorneys, there remains a considerable justice gap in parts of California and the country more generally. Indeed, research conducted by the National Center for State Courts supports the conclusion that we need more, not fewer, lawyers. For example, the Center reports that up until the 1970s, less than 1% of civil cases had a party not represented by counsel in the respective matter. By 2015, this figure had ballooned to 65%. Moreover, entire areas of practice, including in particular housing and family courts, have rates exceeding 90% in which a party appears without counsel. On the criminal side, public defender offices throughout the country are understaffed, under-resourced, and overwhelmed. And a person facing deportation or other immigration matter routinely confronts his or her fate without a lawyer.
As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, a time when we celebrate the victory of law over tyranny, it is worth contemplating the role of the modern law school. Fundamentally, the basic objective of the law school has not changed. We are dedicated to producing excellent lawyers – counselors at law. But what does that really mean? First and foremost, it means a continued devotion to basic principles of justice. A new video, This Is Why We Work For Justice, captures this elusive concept in the words of UC Hastings students, staff and faculty.
But the lawyer of today and tomorrow is not serving justice as he or she once did. What it means to be a lawyer is changing, as technology increasingly assumes responsibility for what were once lawyerly tasks. This began with eDiscovery but will soon explode with big-data analytics and artificial intelligence. There will always be the need for the human component of lawyering, but that work will increasingly be built on a technological foundation. Integrating the technical with the human is the next great challenge in the art of lawyering, and thus a fundamental challenge for educating lawyers.
We understand these challenges and are moving forward to meet them. We, of course, have the inherent advantage of our location in San Francisco, the center of the universe of innovation and entrepreneurship. We plan to leverage our location to maximum benefit. This includes building on existing partnerships with tech companies and law firms at the leading edge of technology. It includes building an “academic village” in the center of San Francisco, in which we expand our supply of subsidized student housing and collaborate with universities – including campuses of the University of California and other nationally prominent universities – that are interested in having a presence in San Francisco and a partnership with a preeminent law school.
We are committed to the future, but one based on the foundational premises on which our Republic and its legal institutions were created. Whatever the technological legal world looks like in the decades ahead, its success will continue to be measured by whether it advances justice for those it serves.
I wish you all a very happy Fourth of July holiday and a rewarding and enjoyable summer.
David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law