Founder of Berkeley Law Society in Conversation with Dean Chemerinsky


Good evening Dean Chemerinsky. My name is Aubin, on behalf of the Berkeley
Law Society I would like to thank you for welcoming us to your office in order to have
a conversation about some topics pertinent to the Berkeley Law LL.M. program. Aubin: The first topic is about our group,
the PLL.M. program. The people encompass the beauty of humanity. There are amazing people, not just because
of the diversity or that they are coming from some of the top law firms in the world. When you speak with each one there is something
special, something unique. This diversity of people is amazing. My question is the following: May I say that
Berkeley Law is a special university where there is a combination of academics, strong
personality, and achievement. Erwin: I certainly would agree with that. I think Berkeley is a very special place. It’s what brought me to this law school a
year ago to be the dean. I think you put your finger on what makes
it so special, the academic program is terrific, that’s true for the law school and the greater
campus. It’s really one of the finest universities
in the country and the world. Strong personality would be an accurate description
of both our faculty and students that’s part of what makes it such an exciting place. Berkeley is also a place of great diversity. The LL.M. program brings students from all
over the world to the law school and they so enrich our environment. At the same time, by having the summer LL.M.
students here when there is almost nobody else, we are able to spend a lot more attention
focused on them. Aubin: Yes. There is this picture on the wall of Berkeley
in white and black. In the picture there are German, English,
and French students. Second World War is the date on the picture. At that time, students were able to study
together here at Berkeley, to share intellectual reflection about the abomination of the war. My question is the following: What are your
commitments as a dean to maintain the diverse culture and spirit of Berkeley in the world. Erwin: It is very important the Berkeley remain
diverse. This country is diverse, the world is diverse. We have students here from literally dozens
of different countries who come here to study together. How many places is that possible? One of the great things about this for students
is that it gives them contacts with lawyers and legal systems from all over the world. At the same time, we are diverse in every
way. In terms of race and ethnicity, sex and gender,
sexual orientation, religion. The students learn from one another and the
faculty can learn from the students. This diversity so enriches our environment. Aubin: Yes. My generation is facing issues I’m speaking
about racism, discrimination against minorities, islamaphobia, antisemitism. In Europe and North America, we are a generation
that did not experience the War. But I don’t think that is an excuse to think
like that because we are an educated generation, we know the history. We receive education at a university that
allows us to receive information, analyze it, and to criticize it. So my question is the following: Do you think
that today the Socratic Method is still the best way to provide students with the critical
thinking that will allow them to have a dialogue on a worldwide level. Erwin: I fear I am going to sound like a law
professor when I answer your question with a question. It all depends on what you mean by “What’s
the Socratic Method.” If you mean the Socratic Method to be a method
of teaching that involves a great deal of analytical rigor, that involves questioning
everything, yes, I think at this point and time that is enormously important. If you mean the Socratic Method to be professors
cold calling students no, I don’t believe in that. I’ve been a law professor for 38 years and
I’ve never cold called on a student. Aubin: I’ve been studying in two different
countries in Europe and spent a lot of time in Morocco, so I can compare different systems. What I receive here at Berkeley, when I arrive
in class I have to read and have some knowledge about what we will discuss. Then in class there is this dialogue between
the students and the professor. The professor is a guide. What is wonderful about this program is that
there are people coming from all over the world, so in the dialogue we can compare and
from it comes the course. Erwin: I am biased because it’s how I was
taught and it’s how I’ve been teaching for a long time. But I think that an interactive form of teaching
is much better for students then a pure lecture form of teaching. And so I think the idea that students have
to read the material in advance is very positive because it leads to a more informed conversation. I think the dialogue is useful because if
I can ask challenging questions and then engage in a discussion it will be much more in depth
than if I just lectured to the class. Also, one of the wonderful things about that
form of teaching is that the students have the opportunity to learn from one another. There’s not a class that I teach that I don’t
hear something from students that I’ve never thought of before, and I have a chance to
learn from them. Whereas if it was just me talking, I’m not
learning in the same way, the students aren’t learning in the same way as they can from
each other. Aubin: Berkeley is an amazing place. In California you have innovation, entrepreneurship,
and startups. I have this feeling that this profession,
legal services around the world as we know it now will be impacted by technology, artificial intelligence, digital, outsourcing. How do you see new technology impacting the
legal profession? Erwin: I think you’re absolutely right that
developments in technology are crucial to law and the practice of law. But they don’t change the core of what lawyers
do. Lawyers have to negotiate deals, no artificial
intelligence is going to replace that. When a person is accused of a crime, a lawyer
needs to be there to represent the person, no artificial intelligence is going to be
able to replace that. When it comes time to advise a client on drafting
a will or structuring an estate, artificial intelligence can’t replace that. So the tasks of lawyers, counseling, negotiating,
litigating, are ones that are going to continue. Technology won’t change the core function. Now, technology is certainly creating new
legal issues and can change aspects of the practice of law. But I think it’s important to keep in perspective
the large set of tasks that lawyers do. Aubin: What is your advice for foreign students
when they arrive here? How can they begin to understand American law and legal culture? Erwin: The advice I give to all law students,
whatever their program is to study hard. Really immerse yourself in the law. I don’t think that’s different for J.D. students
or LL.M. students or J.S.D. students. Now the level of understanding may be different,
the issues they focus on may vary, but ultimately there’s no other way to learn
the legal system or about the law other than to immerse yourself in it and work really
hard. Aubin: Einstein says that genius is 90% hard
work. Sometimes you also need a good mentor and
a good university to pass the bar of 90 to 95. Erwin: Absolutely true. Aubin: As an accomplished man, as a dean,
what would be your advice to my generation to have a successful life? Erwin: I think it’s to find your passion and
to follow it. I have four children and what I tell them
is to find something that they love doing. We spend so much of our lives at work it’s
so important to do something that we really care about. I always tell my children how important it
is to treat others with kindness and decency. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have a
wonderful family, a teriffic wife, four children and two grandchildren, as well as a career
that I have loved every minute of, and continue to. Aubin: This program is maybe one of the best
in the U.S. because it allows professionals with an average age of 35 to come here for
two consecutive summers so they can have a family life and continue their careers. Why do you think this program is exceptional
for foreign lawyers? Erwin: I’m so excited about the professional
LL.M. program. It’s unique or close to unique in that it
allows professionals from other countries to come be a part of Berkeley Law and earn
an LL.M. that otherwise probably couldn’t do so because of their careers and family
obligations. By coming for two summers, these professionals
are able to get an advanced degree and be part of our law school community. Also, it’s great because it’s during the summer,
it’s a bit quieter here, and we really can focus the attention of the school and faculty
on the professional LL.M. students. I have so enjoyed getting the chance to meet
some of you and I am a huge fan of this program. Aubin: Thank you again dean for taking the
time to do this first interview on behalf of the Berkeley Law Society. This is a new organization which will allow
people to connect with each other between both summers and after graduation. Erwin: Terrific work. Thank you for taking the time to talk with
me.

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