Boalt's future after 100 years on cutting edge

By Christopher Edley Jr., San Francisco Chronicle

UC Berkeley School of Law celebrates its centennial this year and its long tradition of leadership in legal education. What sets us apart from other great law schools is our core mission of public service and public engagement. We want to be excellent with a purpose: to address the most difficult problems facing our society.

Boalt has a rich history among its faculty and alumni of drafting legal protections for the wrongfully accused, the disabled and the poor; of protecting our environment, our civil rights and our free speech. Our research centers tackle society's toughest challenges, including climate change, identity theft and patent protection. Some of these issues barely existed at the start of the 20th century. Today, they are full-blown concerns with global impact.

I think about the future in two ways. First, what problems will our lawyers and the law face in the 21st century? In an economy ever more dependent upon technology and global financial markets, lawyers are going to have to understand not only the law but also science, economics and business strategy.

Our teaching can't simply echo the training of the past two centuries. It has to include a broad understanding of a range of disciplines. Second, how can legal training produce better business and government leaders outside of traditional legal practice?

From finance to health care to global poverty, legal training will make a difference. In a global market, the need to protect our civil liberties resonates on a grander scale. Take privacy: A breach could spew huge amounts of our personal data to a worldwide audience. The potential for harm is enormous, yet modern privacy law is still in its infancy. In the digital information age, how do you assess the damage of data breaches, and who pays the penalty?

Our 21st century public mission is not simply serving Californians or even Americans but being global citizens. We need to think about the kind of legal culture and legal problem solving that all of humanity needs. America's future security and prosperity depend upon it.

Every year, lawyers from dozens of countries enroll at our school to study fundamentals of U.S. law. Graduates include a municipal judge in Italy, a bank executive in Singapore, a human rights activist in El Salvador. These international students learn about our constitutional rights and laws and share that knowledge back home. We learn about their legal traditions and cultures, too. Globalization is in part about bringing the world to Berkeley, but it's also about taking Berkeley out to the world.

Whether the issue is the economic development and the role of law in China, reforming our immigration statutes here in the United States or working on human rights in Bangladesh, the result will be to strengthen civil liberties at home and abroad. 2/26/2012