Whether in business, in public interest and advocacy, technology, or in government, the world needs lawyers who understand the law in its various contexts, and who are able to integrate disparate areas of expertise to solve real-world problems.
In this video feature, voices from across the Penn Law community discuss how the distinctive emphasis on cross-disciplinary education at Penn Law embraces a University-wide ideal of integrating knowledge.
Alumni, students, and faculty including James Sandman L’76, President of Legal Services Corporation; Joshua Cox L’14, JD/ Certificate of Study in Politics at Fels Institute of Government; Jodi Schwartz W’81 L’84 WG’84, partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Tereza Widmar L’15, JD/MA International Studies at the Lauder Institute; and Professor Dorothy Roberts, 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, and the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander ED’18, GR’21, L’27 Professor of Civil Rights, highlight how the Law School’s interdisciplinary focus sets Penn Law apart and prepares its graduates to be practice-ready.
James Sandman L’76: I don’t think there is another law school in the country that can come close to matching Penn in terms of the quality of interdisciplinary opportunity offered. Law today is complicated. It is about more than law, it’s related to many aspects of business and science. Breadth of education is important to a good lawyer.
Joshua Cox L’14: Complex problems require complex solutions and different approaches to solving them. I think the days of being able to look at a problem and approach it from a legal perspective or a business perspective or a social work perspective, I think those days are gone. Problems are so big now they require all of those approaches to be on deck. And so, the value of a cross-discplinary education is that individuals are empowered to be able to view problems from many different perspectives, and incorporate those perspectives and try to come up with solutions.
Sandman: A good cross-disciplinary education distinguishes a graduate of Penn Law School in the job market. It makes you different from graduates of other law schools. It gives you a unique appeal because of the breadth of the educational experience that you have gotten, and because of the exposure you that you have beyond law that is going to make you better at serving clients.
Jodi Schwartz W’81 L’84 WG’84: Diversity. In terms of diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of discipline, it helps your mind think in different ways and approach complicated problems from different angles. You know, the way a med student or a engineer approaches a problem is fundamentally different from how a lawyer approaches a problem, so somebody who has taken a class at the Engineering school or taken an advanced math class, or had the opportunity to study Spanish, or to be an MBA has, I think, been exposed to those different ways of thinking, and that is a huge benefit in a complex and diverse world.
Tereza Widmar L’15: By doing a cross-disciplinary program I think you get the chance to meet people with a very distinct perspective from your own. The way we approach problems and the way we see situations and approach our own studies are very different, and I think it has given me a new perspective. In addition, as future attorneys, we are ultimately in the client service business and these are the people who I am going to be working for.
Sandman: Once of the reasons that Penn’s approach to interdisciplinary education is so successful is because of how it is managed. The Law School’s programs are well integrated with the other schools, and that makes it so much more accessible for law students who are interested in interdisciplinary education.
Dorothy Roberts: One of the main things that attracted me to Penn was the way in which the whole intellectual community at this University is so geared towards interdisciplinary research and engagement. I was able in other universities to create a kind of interdisciplinary home for myself, but it wasn’t a supported by the whole university and as embraced by the whole university as find at Penn.
Widmar: I thought Penn Law made it really easy. There were always a lot of resources and people I could speak to about what would be the advantages, what would be the disadvantages, what that would do to my class schedule, what that would do to my funding. So, it was a very easy process in terms of having a lot of support on any questions I might have and on what would be the advantages of the program.
Sandman: Knowing your client’s business, being able to understand what your client is up to, having your client get the sense that you understand them is important to being successful as a lawyer. The interdisciplinary education that Penn offers qualifies its graduates to do all of those things.
Schwartz: They understand so many more of the issues on so much of a different level. And for me, as an employer I don’t have to give them that piece of education. They come with it, which is amazing.
Widmar: For me personally, in my [job] interviews talking about [Penn’s] Lauder Institute was the best part, or was a great part, something that really allowed me to connect with my interviewer. And I think that is true for all people who do cross-disciplinary programs because they have a unique perspective, something that they can contribute.
Cox: The beauty of a place like Penn is that aside from the JD, you have the opportunity to explore whatever it is you want to explore. And so, I would urge people to think outside of the box and don’t be afraid to do it.
Transcript edited for length.