2017 AALS Annual Meeting Highlights

More than 2,500 law school faculty, deans, and staff attended the 111th Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools from January 3-7, 2017, in San Francisco. The event is the largest worldwide gathering of law deans, faculty, and staff and featured over 1,000 speakers at more than 250 sessions covering a wide range of legal topics.
The meeting’s theme, set last year by AALS President Kellye Y. Testy (Dean, University of Washington School of Law), was “Why Law Matters.” “We need to make the case now for why law matters and the academy’s role in advancing respect for and understanding of the rule of law,” she stated in her address at the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting announcing the theme.
2016 AALS President Kellye Y. Testy

2016 AALS President Kellye Y. Testy

In accordance with that theme a number of sessions at the Annual Meeting addressed the surprising results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and possible effects the incoming administration will have on issues of interest to law schools and the legal profession today.
Several sessions held early on Wednesday morning addressed these issues specifically, including the “AALS President’s Program on Diversity.” One of many timely sessions arranged by President Testy through the AALS President’s Programs, this panel featured a group of legal educators selected from a call for papers who discussed the challenges and benefits of diversifying law school students. The panel included Moderator Blake Morant (Dean, George Washington University Law), Carla Pratt (Penn St. Law), Eboni Nelson (University of South Carolina), Robert Vischer (Dean, University of St. Thomas Law), Arlene Kanter (Syracuse Law), Carol Goforth (University of Arkansas Law), Erin Dallinger-Lain (Drake Law), Jody David Armour (University of Southern California Law), Lawrence Alexander (San Diego Law), and Maimon Schwarzschild (San Diego Law).
AALS President's Program on Diversity

AALS President’s Program on Diversity

Wednesday night’s Opening Reception held in the Exhibit Hall gave attendees the chance to take in the exhibitor booths and connect with sponsors while allowing space for informal networking and sharing ideas among attendees.
The AALS House of Representatives met twice during the course of the Annual Meeting, and successfully elected Wendy Purdue, (Dean, Richmond Law) as President-Elect and Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean, UC Irvine Law) and Camille A. Nelson (Dean, American University Washington College of Law) as new members of the AALS Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee bid farewell to outgoing members Past President Blake D. Morant (Dean, George Washington Law), Devon W. Carbado (UCLA Law) and Vicki Jackson (Harvard Law).
President Testy gave her Presidential Report on 2016 during the first meeting of the House of Representatives, stating, “This year has made me even more confident in the future of our legal academy. I stand in admiration of the way our law schools are responding to a very challenging environment and responding to the type of help that our world desperately needs and craves.”
2017 AALS President Paul Marcus (William & Mary Law School) gave his inaugural address at the second House of Representatives meeting, saying, “In the recent addresses by AALS Presidents, we have heard of the great challenges and changes legal educators are facing… and over the course of the next year, while I will surely look to such matters, I wish to focus on something related, yet different. I plan to encourage all of us in legal education to promote the notion of equal access to justice.”
2017 AALS President Paul Marcus

2017 AALS President Paul Marcus

Professor Marcus announced that the theme of his presidency and of the 2018 Annual Meeting will be “Access to Justice.”
“Our efforts as legal educators in attempting to assure this ideal is a story truly worth telling,” said Professor Marcus. “I intend to tell our story to our colleagues, our students, and to judges, lawyers, and the broader community. It is quite some story.”
Thursday morning kicked off with the presentations of the annual Scholarly Papers competition, awarded to Christopher Walker, Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State Law for his paper “Legislating in the Shadows.” Honorable Mention winner Mila Sohoni (San Diego Law) also presented her paper, “Crackdowns.”
AALS Scholarly Papers Competition winner Christopher Walker (Ohio State) with selection committee chair Michelle Wilde Anderson (Stanford)

AALS Scholarly Papers Competition winner Christopher
Walker (Ohio State Law) with selection committee chair
Michelle Wilde Anderson (Stanford Law).

The conference’s plenary program on Thursday featured a new perspective on legal education from Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, Inc., who gave a talk on “Preparing a Diverse Profession to Serve a Diverse World.”
Smith brought his unique perspective as a tech executive to his address and discussed the role of law schools and lawyers in the United States in an era of global change and innovation. “This is a critical time for the law,” he said, “and therefore it is a vital time for the nation’s law schools…we are in a time when the law itself is evolving amidst rapid technological change.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith

Microsoft President Brad Smith

Smith was joined in the latter half of the plenary session by Lucy Lee Helm (Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of Starbucks Coffee Company), Kellye Testy, and Dan Rodriguez (Dean, Northwestern Pritzker Law) for a panel discussion on the diversifying legal profession.
In addition, the 2016 Teachers of the Year were announced at the start of the plenary session.
The President’s Program, “Great Expectations: The Competences, Skills, and Attributes that Employers Seek in our Graduates,” later on Thursday brought the day’s theme full-circle by discussing a new study by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). The IAALS project is a first-of-its-kind survey designed to discover the qualities that real-world employers seek in law school graduates. Panelists included Alli Gerkman from IAALS, Guillermo Mayer from Public Advocates, and Frederick Rivera from Perkins Coie LLC. The session was moderated by President Testy.
President’s Program “Great Expectations: The Competences, Skills, and Attributes that Employers Seek in our Graduates”

President’s Program, “Great Expectations: The Competences,
Skills, and Attributes that Employers Seek in our Graduates”

The final President’s Program on Thursday was “Why Law Matters: The 2017 U.S. Presidential Transition.” The spirited discussion ranged from Constitutional safeguards challenged by the incoming administration to the wide range of unprecedented changes the American rule of law may face during the Trump presidency. Panelists included Steven Calabresi (Northwestern Law), Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean, UC Irvine Law), Luz Herrera (Texas A&M Law), Moderator Martha Minow (Dean, Harvard Law), James Forman Jr. (Yale Law), and Rachel Moran (UCLA Law).
AALS President’s Program

AALS President’s Program “Why Law Matters: The 2017
U.S. Presidential Transition”

Friday‘s events included the program “Leveraging the Rise of Law in Popular Culture,” an Institutional Advancement session that featured Dean Strang, the defense attorney made famous by the “Making a Murderer” Netflix docuseries on the Steven Avery murder trial in Wisconsin. Strang was also the guest of honor at the Institutional Advancement reception, where he gave a talk on “Systemic Justice and the Law School Curriculum.”
'Making A Murderer' Attorney Dean Strang

‘Making A Murderer’ Attorney Dean Strang

The Annual Meeting hosted a variety of Hot Topic programs throughout the conference, aimed at discussing current and pressing legal and societal issues. These included freedom of the press under the next Presidential Administration, sustainability disclosure in relation to recent Securities and Exchange Commission guidance, declining bar exam scores, federal power over immigration, future court cases related to reproductive rights, and a current legal battle over the impact of climate change.
Hot Topic program on bar exam scores and new ABA pass standards

Hot Topic program on bar exam scores and new
ABA pass standards

The association’s 101 Sections created a large portion of the Annual Meeting’s programming, with topics and sessions appealing to various subjects and perspectives on the law. Several Sections also honored members with awards related to excellence across many disciplines.
For the second year, AALS included Arc of Career programs designed to address the professional development needs of law school faculty members at every stage of their career. These included sessions on post-tenure career paths, blogging, considering a deanship, post-tenure reflections from clinical professors, and preparing to transition to life beyond the academy.
The 111th Annual Meeting wrapped up on Saturday with a Symposium addressing “Why the Decline of Law and Legal Education Matters (And What We Might Do About It?).”
Robin West (Georgetown Law) and Pierre Schlag (Colorado Law) during the AALS Symposium: “Why the Decline of Law and Legal Education Matters (And What We Might Do About It?)”

Robin West (Georgetown Law) and Pierre Schlag
(Colorado Law) during the AALS Symposium: “Why
the Decline of Law and Legal Education Matters (And
What We Might Do About It?)”

Planning is already in progress for the 2018 Annual Meeting, January 3-6 in San Diego, California. We hope to see you there!
Many thanks to the Program Committee for the 2017 Annual Meeting:

Donna Nagy, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Chair
Ben Barros, University of Toledo College of Law
George W. Dent, Jr., Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Rachel Moran, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law
Hilary Sale, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law


For more details on the topics covered during the 2017 AALS Annual Meeting, read the compilation of tweets from #AALS2017.