Skip to main content

Michigan Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack on the Transformative Possibilities of this Moment

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack

Law 2030 Podcast - Season 2 | Episode 5

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack Bridget Mary McCormack is Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and is a leading voice on modernizing court systems to expand access to justice and deepen public confidence in legal systems.

On this episode, she joins us to share her thoughts on how courts can learn from the experiences COVID-19 has created to better serve the public in a post-pandemic world. She also shares her views on how regulatory reform can transform legal services and why improving legal systems matters for the entire American experiment.

Episode Mentions:

Michigan Supreme Court IAALS US Justice Needs SurveyThe National Center for State Courts (NCSC)

Our Key Takeaways From This Episode

We need to use innovation in the legal system to restore and build faith in government and the rule of law.

If we don’t adopt that mindset around innovation, we simply can’t sustain the health of our democracy.

It’s important that our profession confront the shameful fact that 80% of us who need legal help are unrepresented.

Regulatory reform is one of many solutions lawyers should be trying right now to reimagine how we deliver legal services.

Legal educators need to share the state of the profession with incoming law students and challenge them to join us in designing solutions.

This generation of students approaches problems differently, are more adept with technology, are impassioned to make change, and aren’t indoctrinated in the way we’ve always done things. They can work with the leaders in our profession to transform everything.

Follow us on social media!

Facebook logo Find us on Facebook Twitter Find us on Twitter YouTube Find us on YouTube


Full Episode Transcript

Jennifer: Chief Justice McCormack, what makes you optimistic about the future of the profession?

Chief Justice McCormack: Honestly, the thing that makes me most optimistic are the generation of people in law school right now. They just have a different perspective, I think because they’ve just grown up in such a different world on how to solve problems. And I think they might be poised to break the dam in our profession and usher in a new normal, they really don’t see a lot of things the way those of us did, even those of us who thought we were looking to make changes to make the system better. They really have a different perspective and I’m here for it. It makes me happy.

Jennifer: Hi everyone. I’m Jennifer Leonard, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Pennsylvania, Carey Law School. As an alum of the law school who practiced law for a decade in private sector and government practices, I realized there are so many ways we lawyers can better serve our clients. And now through the Future of the Profession Initiative, my colleagues and I focus all our energy on thinking about how to do just that. Our profession is full of bright, engaged lawyers working at the highest levels, but we frustrate many of those we want to serve because of the way we structured the practice of law in our legal systems. And students coming to law school today need new skills that turbocharge their legal education so that they can navigate the dynamic landscape that lies ahead.

To develop fresh approaches to the way we educate lawyers and serve our clients, we need to open up the conversation. So, on this podcast, we’ll hear from experts working to change the legal profession and leaders who’ve developed creative solutions to complex problems in other fields. We’ll also discuss how the law school is producing the next generation of lawyers, a generation that will create new ways to put the people they serve at the center of everything they do. There’s so much to do, so let’s get started.

Jennifer: Today, I’m excited to welcome Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack of the Michigan Supreme Court. Chief Justice McCormack is a leading voice on modernizing court systems to expand access to justice and deepen public confidence in legal systems. She joins us today to share her thoughts on how courts can learn from the experiences COVID-19 has created to better serve the public in a post-pandemic world. We’ll also explore how regulatory reform can transform legal services and why improving legal systems matters for the entire American experiment. Here is my conversation with Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack.

Jennifer: Chief Justice McCormack, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Chief Justice McCormack: Thanks for having me, Jen. I’m really excited about this conversation.

Jennifer: Before we jump into the discussion, which I’m very excited about as well, we wanted to get to know you a little bit better. Of course, you have a very esteemed and impressive legal career, you’ve taught at Yale and Michigan Law Schools, you have overseen a Pediatric Advocacy Clinic, you’ve practiced as a lawyer, and now of course, you have been serving on the Michigan Supreme Court for the last decade as Chief Justice for the last few years. But you have never really been surrounded by lawyers growing up, and in fact, your family is much more connected to the entertainment world. Isn’t that true?

Chief Justice McCormack: It’s very true. I don’t have a single other lawyer in my family, even though it’s an enormous family. It’s like a big Irish Catholic family. I have dozens and dozens of first cousins and no lawyers, none that have come before me, or with me, and it seems I won’t have any even in the next generation. None of my kids seem to be interested in going to law school. And both of my siblings and their spouses make their living acting, writing, directing, and producing TV and movies. So, it’s-

Jennifer: Wow.

Chief Justice McCormack : I’m an oddball. My brother won an Oscar this year for a really beautiful animated short, and I feel like I’m the family loser, kind of.

Jennifer: You’ve only ascended to be Chief Justice of one of the most important states in the union. Anything that we might be familiar with that your siblings have worked on in Hollywood?

Chief Justice McCormack: Oh, probably. My sister was on The West Wing for a number of years.

Jennifer: Wow.

Chief Justice McCormack : She was Kate Harper, the National Security Advisor. She brought peace to the Middle East on TV.

Jennifer: Wow, that’s nice.

Chief Justice McCormack: So, there’s that, and lots of movies. My brother’s film that won an Oscar went pretty viral, is called If Anything Happens I Love You. It’s an animated short about a school shooting and it’s a beautiful film with no words. It’s really, really-

Jennifer: Oh, wow.

Chief Justice McCormack: … gorgeous. And lots of other things. My brother’s wife is on a TV show right now that apparently a lot of people watch, I don’t really watch a lot of TV myself, but I try and watch my siblings, but that show called Grown-ish.

Jennifer: So, have you ever been interested in acting yourself?

Chief Justice McCormack: No. I have not. I have always been interested in access to justice, which is weird. It’s a weird thing to be interested in from the time you’re little. I am the oldest of my family so, first of all I’m going to… Of course, it turns out that I’m the one that makes more practical decisions, although theirs have turned out just fine. But I had this great godmother who was a legal aid lawyer in New York City and she had no kids of her own so she was an awesome godmother and she would have me come visit her and bring me to work. And so, I went to law school to work on legal services for people who couldn’t afford lawyers.

Jennifer: Wow. So, you’ve always known that this is what you were destined to do. And we’re very excited today to talk to you about how you are using your role now to advance what you’ve wanted to do since you were a little girl, and you’re doing it in a really interesting way. And one of the ways that you’re thinking about expanding access to justice, making legal systems more accessible to everybody is by reforming the regulations that govern the practice of law and govern lawyers.

And maybe I could back up for a minute and talk about the scale and the scope of what you and your colleagues are trying to address. And I know there was a recent report from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System about this issue. But could you just try to contextualize for the listeners how enormous this issue is, access to legal systems?

Chief Justice McCormack: Yeah, absolutely. The regulatory reform solution is just one of many that I feel like we need to be working on all at the same time and I think we are working on in Michigan all at the same time to address what has been an access to justice crisis that we all, I guess just got comfortable with and have been living with for decades, and decades, and decades. There have been a number of pretty important national studies to try and measure the access to justice gap but the recent study by IAALS is pretty impressive, and I think the most comprehensive in 20 years or so.

And not surprising in what it found, eight out of 10 people approximately have legal problems that they can’t afford the help of lawyers to resolve them and that’s been about the number we’ve all been talking about since I became a lawyer and long before. And even though there have been lots of different solutions around the edges, increased pro bono, lots of well-meaning contributions to organizations that provide legal resources to low income communities. We’ve done not much besides nibble around the edges at the fundamental enormity of this problem. There’s just a huge market failure in our industry.

In what other industry would we tolerate 80% of people with needs not able to get service, I mean, it would have been disrupted long, long ago, but for lots of interesting cultural, normative legal reasons, lawyers and judges have been really successful at avoiding change and regulatory reform is in my view one of a number of solutions we need to be taking really seriously right now and trying on.

Jennifer: The numbers are stunning and should be shocking and should alarm all lawyers and animate all lawyers, I would think, to want to improve systems. But to unpack it for a minute Chief Justice, which regulations are we actually talking about reforming? Which ones do you think have the most capacity to change the way that people access legal systems?

Chief Justice McCormack: We now have enough data to know that people besides lawyers can help people with justice system needs, right. And if you can think about what kind of help people need with different kinds of problems, not all legal problems are created equally. There are some really complex legal problems where the stakes are so enormous that perhaps nothing other than a lawyer who is licensed to practice should be addressing that. But there are a bunch of other legal needs people have that can be answered by people other than lawyers, other than people who have had to pay for three years of law school and get license to practice.

In fact, we know from some pretty good data out of Britain and other places that sometimes a non-legal specialist can provide better information and better assistance to somebody than a lawyer who is a generalist, which really isn’t that surprising, right? Imagine in some of our high docket areas where people mostly themselves in Michigan, like most states, that’s eviction cases, debt collection cases, a lot of family law. Imagine training someone who didn’t have to spend three years going to law school in being able to provide the kind of information, counseling, assistance with processes, assistance with forms, to be able to make a tremendous difference for so many people who right now either try to manage on their own or give up, they never try.

Even if they can identify the problem that is incredibly significant to them, it might mean losing their home, it might mean permanently changing their family, they might not always identify it as a legal problem, but they know it’s a problem. And we can figure out how to give them significant help short of a bespoke lawyer. Lawyers are, as Becky Sandefur says, they’re really hard to scale and lawyers are not enough given the scope and the scale of problems that have a legal dimension for many of our neighbors.

Jennifer: Another element of regulatory reform I know is the idea of allowing people who are not lawyers to have equity ownership in legal services organizations. Have you thought about that at all in Michigan and certainly with your work in collaboration with other Chief Justices?

Chief Justice McCormack: Yes. Both. I personally think it’s time to let that innovation happen. I wish lawyers could solve all problems alone and collaborating and partnering with other disciplines just wasn’t needed because we were nailing it already and we were all set. But I think that the innovation and ability to scale a lot of what lawyers do is pretty tied to opening up the profession and the ownership of businesses within the profession more generally. I think we’re at a moment where going big is the right answer. I personally feel like we have this window right now into really trying big new things, and I think we should be trying big new things. I think that small new things have not worked.

Jennifer: I’m really curious about this moment in particular Chief Justice, I’ve seen leadership across the profession of people like you, people like Justice Himonas in Utah, Chief Justice Hecht in Texas, and dozens of other people who’ve been working in these areas forever. But it does seem like the last two years have created a new opportunity to really re-imagine everything that we do.

And I know that another project that you’ve been working on is designed to capture what has been happening in state courts over the last 18 months, which are challenging because they’re so disconnected, they’re so disparate, they serve so many different types of communities. But capturing what’s happened, how they’ve used technology, what the outcomes have been, and then using that information to try to learn and iterate and reform what we do in state courts, could you tell us a little bit about the nature of that project and where it stands right now?

Chief Justice McCormack: Yes. Absolutely. Let me say first that we’re both doing that, in Michigan, we’re trying to make sure that we keep all of the good that we’ve learned and then iterate from it, learn how to actually build on it instead of backtracking from it. And I can talk about that for a while but I’m also as you know, working on this nationally with the National Center for State Courts. The National Center for State Courts had a rapid response team throughout the pandemic to try and give state courts resources and tools to do the dynamic, quick changes that we had to do to continue to allow people to access justice and keep them safe. I chaired and still do chair the, what did we call it?

The Post-Pandemic Planning Technology Committee, mouthful, with the formerly very talented chief court administrator David Slayton from Texas. He now works for the National Center full-time, which was very smart of the National Center and very sad for Chief Justice Hecht in Texas. But David and I really felt like we had to make sure that we had some research and data about all of the changes that we’ve seen and the benefits that we’ve seen as a result of them, because it seemed to us that it would be extremely easy for courts in particular, and I think lawyers less so. I think lawyers are more ready for change but judges are frankly the most stubborn about the way things used to be.

And the backtracking was scary to us and we saw that there might’ve been light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. I’m no longer sure if that’s true but it seemed that way in early summer. So, we matched a bunch of state court leaders with researchers around the country and we gave researchers access to any data we had, which was slightly more than we used to have because of some of the changes that we all went through very quickly during the pandemic, to try and give us something to work with going forward, both to convince stakeholders, and funders, and our colleagues. So, we have a number of courts and researchers connected and working on that right now.

And so, that work is ongoing, but in the meantime, I know there are a lot of states that are already doing the same thing that we’re doing in Michigan which is, we kept our pandemic orders that allowed so many remote proceedings as well as other innovations, we unleashed innovation in a really interesting way by giving people permission to just try and we basically had like 18 months of, I don’t know if that’ll work, try it, run the experiment. Which is not something courts usually do and lawyers usually do but we did like a whole… We acted like a tech company. We’re running experiments left and right and some of them worked really well. And now we’re taking input… Oh, sorry.

Jennifer: No. I’m just curious what some of the innovations were, I mean, the remote hearing is the thing you always hear about but it sounds like there are other really interesting things happening.

Chief Justice McCormack: I think everybody did remote hearings, although maybe not everybody but most of us did and many of them. But we basically… I feel like we had an advantage in Michigan because our judges already had Zoom licenses before we had a pandemic. So, we were ready to go and we still had to stand up some training and support and we did, we stood up an awesome virtual directory of the whole state where you could literally click on any county and see which judge was live in a virtual courtroom and watch what’s happening in the virtual courtroom-

Jennifer: Wow.

Chief Justice McCormack: … which was fun. But we unleashed local innovation. We told people who had… I had a court administrator from a court in East Lansing, Michigan, call in and say, she had a great idea about a virtual help desk and we said, “That sounds great, stand it up.” So, she stood, she took one of her Zoom rooms, one license and stood up a virtual help desk. And so, people who are at work and really need to find out if they owe on that payment or missed a court date, or… Can show up at this Zoom help desk and like you and I right here, speak live to a person who can then look up what pending matters are there, share screen and show the person what is going on. And it’s just this incredibly easy little service that has made an incredible difference in her community.

Another Judge in, Magistrate I think actually, in Ann Arbor, Michigan knew that a lot of folks who are without homes in Ann Arbor were probably not understanding how to login to Zoom courtrooms and take care of their court business and especially warrants so, she worked with a local police officer who took an iPad to a homeless shelter and a park where people regularly gather and would do… Anybody who wants to clear a warrant on the iPad, they would do it right there in the park. And she would explain to them what was expected of them going forward, if anything, and just basically took court and brought it out to the public. And there were just so many of those that showed up during the pandemic and will now continue going forward because they’re good service, those are just some of the smaller examples.

Jennifer: I love those examples though for a couple reasons, one, because as we know, innovation requires experimentation and I think lawyers, there’s the cultural resistance to change, we’re very risk averse, we’re based on precedent, all of that kind of thing. But I also think there’s something in our training that makes us well equipped to make arguments for why things shouldn’t happen or what the dangers are, right? It’s the issue spotting tendency and pre-pandemic, a lot of the conversation about using technology to access courts was about the digital divide and it would be even more inequitable to provide remote hearings.

But what you’re describing is really seeing that that is an issue and then coming up with a solution to respond to that issue, not just throwing it all, throwing the baby out with the bathwater and saying, we can’t even try to do it because we think this will be the outcome.

Chief Justice McCormack: It’s such a shortsighted view, we can’t even try this innovation that every other industry has worked into how it does business because some people might not have access. It’s so cynical because, I mean, you think that childcare issues, work issues, transportation issues, mental health issues didn’t cause many people to not be able to access courthouses, of course it did. We just apparently were comfortable with those barriers right?

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chief Justice McCormack: I don’t know. It’s a pretty unrealistic view of what we were doing before to say we can’t try this new thing because some people have no access to the technology. We can solve that problem.

Jennifer: It’s also I think a good illustration of how lawyers think at this level, at this philosophical, esoteric level that maybe we’ve been trained to think at, and when you have real world examples that can shake loose those high-minded arguments that we’ve developed that prevent us, and I remember I watched a webinar, I think with you and Judge Timmer and Chief Justice Hecht or David Slayton, were talking about truckers in Texas pulling over to the side of the road and logging into hearings or working moms who are on a shift at Walmart going into the break room and logging on from their phones. And to me, those stories are so much more compelling than the arguments lawyers have come up with because of course, somebody who is on a trucking route or working at Walmart cannot get to a courtroom.

But now we’ve had this experience where we can take these voices and these visuals and put them into people’s minds and actually start addressing how we get more access and more education about how to use the technology out to those folks instead of having this circular argument we’ve created.

Jennifer: And moving from the specific examples to the broader point of why we’re lawyers, why we’re engaged in this profession, why all of this matters, certainly the last few years have been alarming across the globe. The rise of anti-democratic leaders, authoritarianism and a real growth in the lack of confidence in government to be able to solve big problems. And so, I’d just love to hear from you Chief Justice about why it’s so important that lawyers start innovating, start thinking differently, and start reaching the people that we are supposed to be serving as part of the broader American democratic experiment?

Chief Justice McCormack: I actually think this is such an important part of why we all need to be taking advantage of this moment and really rebuilding what we do, because we can do it, we can rebuild it. And we have opportunity to really make a difference. And courts, especially state courts in particular interact with more individuals in our communities than the other branches of government in a daily way. In Michigan, every year, our trial courts hear between three and four million cases, you think there are only 9 million people in the state. If you think of all of the people who are impacted by those interactions, this is a real opportunity for government to show that it can be a resource, that it can support people, that it can deliver on the kinds of solutions that people are worried about, whether government can deliver.

Courts have the ability to really grow trust in government, and trial judges in particular, to the extent that I personally have any opportunity, it’s only supporting the trial judges in my state because they’re the ones interacting with people all day long. People who are often suffering and they can really grow trust in government or they can erode it. It’s literally like door a or door b, right? And those numbers, especially when you remember that 80% of our neighbors don’t see the courts as a place they can resolve problems because they can’t afford lawyers, the public confidence costs are really enormous if we don’t figure out how to do better right now when we have the tools and the opportunity to do it.

I mean, I have said over and over again, that when I talk to my legislature about funding the Justice for All initiative or funding my big plan for connecting the court’s technologically, I have lots of ideas, I always tell them, “This is for you, we’re going to be able to really deliver for your constituents on things that really matter to them. And we’re the ones that can do it.” So, I really think that the courts are in a position to rebuild trust in government, rebuild the idea that government can deliver for regular people if we want it to. But leaders in the profession have to step up and they have to step up right now.

Jennifer: I come from a government background, I’m married to a government employee, believe very fervently in the power of government, but it also moves very slowly and it can be challenging to make change for big reasons and for the one person who controls this little area of the government and they won’t change. As corporate technology private, private sector technology accelerates and becomes more intelligent itself, and as we see this gap between the haves and the have-nots continue to grow, right now, all of the entities in the US corporate individuals still have to go through our court systems for resolution of their issues.

Do you see a future if we don’t capture this moment now to actually connect stakeholders, to make real change where those moneyed interests, those organizations and individuals with access to really advanced technology bypass the courts altogether and leave us behind in search of something better and more useful, and then you’re left with just, everybody who has nothing trying to navigate a system that makes no sense.

Chief Justice McCormack: I think it’s an enormous threat and something we all have to be worried about. I mean, honestly, it’s already the case that if you can afford to work around the courts, there are lots of ways in which people are doing that and there are more efficient, more available options for some people to work around the justice system. The real worry is that it’s going to be like everything else where there’s a divide between the haves and the have-nots. The problem is the have-nots is just about everyone. When I said before at the top of the program that 80% of people can’t afford lawyers to resolve their problems, those are not just the poorest in our communities, they’re just about everybody.

I mean, the legal services that most lawyers can provide are simply out of reach for a lot of Americans, and that’s really going to cause a problem if we just continue to divide between bespoke legal service and everybody else trying to figure out what to do about it. I think that that kind of concern should motivate, especially the folks who can afford the bespoke legal services, right? Because at the end of the day, the erosion of confidence in the rule of law has much bigger repercussions for them than just, oh, a lot of people are going to get evicted because they can’t figure out how to manage the eviction system.

No, the erosion of the rule of law is really problematic for reasons beyond any individual case. So, it’s I hope one of the reasons why leaders in our profession are going to take advantage of this moment that we’re living in right now, which is pretty unique.

Jennifer: Well, thank you for your leadership and advocacy and relentlessness in trying to get this message out there. I’d love to move into a lightning round if you’re game for a few questions with very short answers.

Chief Justice McCormack: Yeah. You bet.

Jennifer: All right. Chief Justice McCormick, what is one piece of advice you would give to a new law student entering the profession?

Chief Justice McCormack: I think the best advice is, whenever somebody tells you that the way to do something is x way because that’s how we’ve always done it, run screaming from that solution. No longer accept that we’ve always done something a certain way. You’re entering the profession at a time of transition. Go for it.

Jennifer: If you could change one thing and only one thing about our profession, what would it be?

Chief Justice McCormack: I think it would be the insularity in our profession. I mean, the idea that we don’t do everything we can to collaborate with people in other professions is super crazy. So, I would change that.

Jennifer: Which other disciplines, speaking of insularity, do you think has the most to teach legal?

Chief Justice McCormack: That’s such a hard question, I mean, I think that we could learn so much from the applied sciences in terms of, like our approach to risk management. Imagine if we studied like systems failure in medicine or in engineering and we actually wanted to learn from mistakes instead of write them off as a one-off and we’ll turn to the next case. But I also think we have so much to learn from the social sciences, I mean, so many legal problems as we’ve been talking about this whole time have non-legal solutions, right? Or partially legal solutions and bigger non-legal solutions so, I don’t think there’s one discipline I can and settle on.

Jennifer: What keeps you up at night the most out of all the things that we’ve been talking about or others about the legal profession?

Chief Justice McCormack: The thing that keeps me up most at night will not surprise you. It is the worry that even though I believe we are in this most moment where we can see really transformational change, that we won’t do what we have to do to take advantage of it. I think that there is I think inertia and tradition and comfort of people who are doing just fine in the system might keep us from making the kind of change I feel like we have to make right now.

Jennifer: One of the reasons I love working at a law school is I think of all the stakeholders in our profession, there’s no stakeholder that has greater capacity to truly transform the industry than law schools. Every year, we produce an entirely new generation. And if we teach them well and teach them differently, then they will approach problems differently and help us solve these big problems that you’re talking about.

Chief Justice McCormack: And what do you think are the most important things we should be teaching? What competencies or what skills should we be developing to make sure we support them in what I think is already heading in the right direction? What could law schools do?

Jennifer: I think law schools can do a few things. One is I think, just educating law students about this access to justice. Crisis isn’t even the right word, just the state of profession from day one and really getting them engaged in solving the problem. But I think the three other things that law schools can do is, help law students develop a comfort with ambiguity. If you think back to law school exams, sometimes law school exams come with four pages of instructions on how to respond and I don’t think that’s the future of the profession. I think the future is not very much information, not very much time, not very much clarity and the need to think differently and not be afraid to the point of this discussion of making mistakes, but learning from those mistakes. And I think that’s a big lift in law schools culturally because it’s so different from how we’ve tested in the past.

Chief Justice McCormack: I agree with you completely about all of the above, but especially about why we’re not… I don’t understand why we’re not from the first day making sure that all of our really smart, talented with tons of potential law students understand what the state of the profession is. And we have all these tools now, because you could literally in… If you had a bootcamp week to orient people about… I’m not saying you don’t have to then turn to teaching people legal reasoning and blah, blah, blah, yes, it’s all important. I want them to have the tools to be able to provide bespoke legal services in case that’s what they want to do. But I also want them to have the tools to be able to change the world and to…

The most important thing to have to be able to change the world is to know what’s wrong with it, right? And right now, you could Zoom in to arraignments in a criminal court in a city, I promise you, it would shock most people to watch what those look like. You could Zoom in to an eviction docket, I promise you, it would shock most people to see what it looks like. Let’s show them, let’s show them. Let’s make sure they have it because there are people in those classrooms who are going to have better ideas than I have, they are. I want them to-

Jennifer: That’s right.

Chief Justice McCormack: And I want those ideas unleashed.

Jennifer: I agree. And I think the other component of what law schools can be doing is cultivating the ability to be creative, and I think lawyers think about creativity in the wrong way. They think it’s in the dramatic arts or you’re going to be painting or dancing or something like that, I mean, creativity can be taught as a framework for problem solving and it starts with curiosity about why things are done the way that they’re done. When I talk to our third-year students about what we were talking about earlier, do you need to go to one building that serves an entire community of people? Does that make sense? Or can you take the services out to the community?

The third year students are embarrassed sometimes that they never thought of about it. But what I say is that most practicing lawyers have never questioned it because we don’t question everything about our systems. We’re taught really well to be curious about the concepts and challenge them, but being more curious about how we function as lawyers, and then I think relatedly, developing a human centered mindset of what it’s like for people who actually engage with us. We talk all about training you to think like a lawyer, but I think we need to spend more time training you just to think like a person who needs help in the legal system and what does that look like?

Chief Justice McCormack: Do you have optimism yourself about law schools right now?

Jennifer: I think what gives me optimism are my colleagues who are really interested in making change and also the students, as you’re saying, I mean, I’ve been in a law school now for almost nine and the students are fundamentally different with respect to what they want to do on the day they get there than they were five years ago, six years ago. And they push back and they question why we do things the way that we do, they’re not like I was where I learned the rule and I applied it and I gave you the exact right answer.

And so, that’s what gives me hope because I really think that they could change the world.

Chief Justice McCormack: Good. I’m glad to hear it.

Jennifer: So, Chief Justice, we are at the end of our time with you sadly, but I am so grateful to you, such a huge fan of what you’re doing. And every time I get the chance to engage with you, I learn something new and we will disseminate all of your messages as broadly as possible to the extent that we can.

Chief Justice McCormack: Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you and I really, really, really appreciate everything you’re doing to bring these issues to light. So, thank you.

Jennifer: Thank you very much, Chief Justice.

Jennifer: What an enlightening conversation with Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. Here are my three key takeaways. First, we need to use innovation in the legal system to restore and build faith in government and the rule of law. As chief justice said, it can’t just be about automating and making legal services more efficient, we need to fundamentally rethink the public’s experience with the legal system. If we don’t adopt that mindset around innovation, we simply can’t sustain the health of our democracy. Next, it’s important that our profession confront the shameful fact that 80% of us who need legal help are unrepresented. Regulatory reform is one of many solutions lawyers should be trying right now to reimagine how we deliver legal services.

And here’s my final point. As someone who works in a law school, I believe that we, legal educators, need to share the state of the profession with incoming law students and challenge them to join us in designing solutions. Because believe me, this generation of students approaches problems differently, are more adept with technology, are impassioned to make change, and they aren’t indoctrinated in the way we’ve always done things. They can work with the leaders in our profession to transform everything. I know this is something our team takes seriously at Penn Law, and I commit to update you on our progress in future episodes.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen. Be sure to leave us a comment and rate the show too. We’ll see you next time on another edition of Law 2030.

Explore More Law 2030 Podcast Episodes

Danielle Conway on Building an Inclusive Culture in Legal Education

Season 2. Episode 4.

Listen Now

Dr. Floor Blindenbach-Driessen on How to Structure Private Sector Legal Innovation

Season 2. Episode 3.

Listen Now

Dr. Larry Richard L’72 on Law Firm Leadership and Lawyer Well-Being in the ‘New’ Normal

Season 2. Episode 2.

Listen Now

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Sign up to receive monthly updates on legal profession news, podcast releases, and more!