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'A national symbol of innovation'

New America's Anne-Marie Slaughter says ASU Law is at the forefront of a changing legal field

A photograph of Anne-Marie Slaughter
May 12, 2016

Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is at the forefront of changing how we think about legal education and an institution earning great respect around the country according to lawyer, diplomat and educator Anne-Marie Slaughter.

“ASU has become a national symbol of innovation,” Slaughter said during her convocation address at ASU Law Wednesday. “You’ve been innovative in your preparing to be lawyers, you’re going to innovate in how you change the practice of law, you’re going to be innovative in how you recover the meaning and the purpose of being a lawyer.”

That meaning and purpose, according to Slaughter, may be difficult to discern, and even more difficult to hold on to.

“Hold on to your ideals when you have every reason to be cynical,” Slaugther said. “Being a lawyer is simultaneously understanding human incentives, understanding the darker side of human nature, and still holding on to the idea and the ideal of the rule of law.”

Slaughter is the president and CEO of New America, a think tank in Washington dedicated to American civic enterprise and renewing prosperity in the digital age. ASU is partnered with New America on multiple programs, including the Center on the Future of War and a project called Future Tense, examining the role of technology in our lives.

Slaughter was the first woman to serve as the director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, was the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, and has served as law faculty at Harvard and the University of Chicago. She is a prolific writer, covering topics from international affairs to thorny issues of work/life balance.

Law is where she got her start, and it has permeated every facet of her professional life. She said she was particularly honored to be speaking at ASU, whose law school is named after the first female Supreme Court justice.

ASU Law offers traditional juris doctor and master of laws degrees, as well as master’s degrees for non-lawyers: through a master of legal studies curriculum and a master of sports law and business.

“We need to reinvent legal education, and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is on the forefront,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of New America and ASU Law's convocation speaker.

This spring, the college graduated 191 students; 29 more will graduate this summer.

And the world is changing, particularly the legal world, said Slaughter, who talked of law firms shifting away from the ‘billable hour,’ and new law firms popping up with no actual office space that benefits working parents or caretakers.

In this time when the practice and purpose of being a lawyer are being renewed and reinvented, she said, ASU students are well-prepared, having received a legal education that is not only one of the top 25 in the nation, but also that they have actual legal practice before going into the world.

“We need to reinvent legal education, and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is on the forefront,” she said.

“You can redefine the purpose of being a lawyer if you think over yourselves not only as the problem solvers for your clients but the citizens most charged with upholding the rule of law.”

She told students that even in this time of political polarization, we can still live our nation’s values through the law. “It’s our best hope for solving problems collaboratively as citizens in a country where right triumphs over might.”

Lawyers once had an ideal of the lawyer-statesman, she said, turning from attorney to public servant. But innovation in law and upholding the values of our nation is not restricted to the public sector. Even those newly minted lawyers with dreams of working as corporate lawyers or in firms, she said, should strive to use their roles as attorneys to reinvent the practice of law.

“Go forth as lawyers and strive for a new ideal: strive to be lawyer-innovators. Strive to be, and go forth as, the lawyer-innovators of the great class of 2016 of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University!

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