Midyear Meeting

Harvard Professor Announces Launch of Project to Study Impact of Emerging Economies on Lawyers


David B. Wilkins, one of the nation’s leading thinkers on where the legal profession is headed, received the outstanding scholar award Saturday from the fellows of the American Bar Foundation. But the Harvard Law School professor is hardly about to rest on his laurels.

Instead, Wilkins used the occasion of the ABF’s 55th annual Fellows Awards banquet to announce the launch of a major research initiative to study the growing market for legal services in developing economies, including those of Brazil, India and China. The foundation is the research affiliate of the ABA, which is holding its 2011 midyear meeting through Monday in Atlanta.

Wilkins serves as vice dean for global initiatives on the legal profession at Harvard Law. He also serves as faculty director of the Program on the Legal Profession at the school’s Center for Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry.

The research project is titled Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies—or GLEE, Wilkins said. “We thought that was very clever,” he said, making a reference to the popular television series. But everything else about the initiative sounded dead serious.

“Globalization dominates our world,” Wilkins said in his keynote address to the gathering. “Burgeoning economies are going to challenge the economies of the United States and other G6 countries.” New political movements are giving added impetus to these changes, he noted. Nodding to the ancient Egyptian motif of the ballroom at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre where the banquet was being held, Wilkins said: “We can’t help but think about what we’ve been through during the past 18 days” of upheaval in that country.

Wilkins said the project will look at four key dimensions of change that are affecting the legal profession in the United States and around the world.

• First, the role of government in opening economic markets and fostering legal innovation in those markets. “The state is very involved in rising economies,” he said, and “legal innovation is increasingly linked to state-run policies.”

• Second, the changing market for legal services. “Law is increasingly being practiced by large entities,” Wilkins said, but little is known about how such entities—both private and state-supported—operate in the BRIC countries and other developing economies. “Our program will try to look inside the black box of those firms,” he said. The project also will consider the impact of diversity on legal services providers. He noted that women make up about 55 percent of the U.S. law student population, but in some countries, that percentage is close to 70 percent.

• Third, legal education. “Legal education is changing everywhere,” Wilkins said. “Education is becoming globalized—not just in its content, but in its physical location.”

• Fourth, the public responsibility of lawyers. Right now, rule of law issues are at the forefront, Wilkins said, but “what will be the traditions of public service for lawyers in burgeoning economies?”

Wilkins said the new research project will be a collaborative effort between Harvard; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and law schools in Brazil and China. He said efforts are being made to add a law school in India to the effort.

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