Jeff Lehman and Harold Koh Talk Law School and Life Experiences

Mar 13 2015

On March 12, 2015, NYU Shanghai students, faculty, and staff packed a room on the first floor for an important conversation with the University Vice Chancellor Jeff Lehman and Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale University Harold Koh.

Koh and Lehman, who both studied law in the 1970s, wanted to address whether law school still "made sense" in this day and age and for whom.

Koh, who was Dean of Yale Law School before serving as the Legal Adviser of the US Department of State under Hillary Clinton, had the audience ask themselves, “Are you a person who likes to solve problems between entities, countries and cultures? If so, then law is still a good deal for you.”

Both Koh and Lehman recommended steering clear from considering law school on a whim or as a half-interested back-up plan.

“You have to have a big emotional range,” said Koh, who remarked that being concerned with issues that are bigger than one person is part of what drove him to pursue law school. His Korean American heritage was another factor that he admitted had helped him bring connection between cultures.

Koh reassured anxious students that there was no need to rush a permanent career path. “Changing jobs is good,” he said. "Life is about proceeding when you're scared."

“You have to spend time nurturing the skills of being effective in a multicultural environment,” said Lehman, formerly Chancellor and Founding Dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law, President of Cornell University, and Dean of the University of Michigan Law School.

Lehman, referring to Koh’s deep commitment to international human rights and his fight to uphold the interests of the powerless, said, “Harold wants first and foremost to be effective and helpful, not a hero.”

The takeaway? Translate idealism into action.

Acknowledging the advance in technology and the rapid change in legal education, Koh reminded the audience that the world is moving away from traditional centers, and the internet can be a powerful tool to facilitate the constructive and destructive activity of individuals. Koh said that these constructive and destructive nuances will guide the future of what law will have to deal with.

Written by Charlotte San Juan

View photos from the talk