Law and Social Innovation: Lawyering in the Conceptual Age

75 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2016 Last revised: 5 Mar 2018

Date Written: August 23, 2016


A range of forces are arrayed against the institutions of the American legal profession and stand to undermine their foundations and challenge their continued existence, at least in their current form. These include technological innovation, outsourcing, automation, globalization and rising economic inequality. These threats are emanating from both domestic and transnational sources and require the legal profession in general and law schools in particular to respond to the new reality of the contemporary age and adapt to it, without losing sight of the core social justice principles upon which the profession should be based: access to justice, protection of civil and political rights, and preservation of the rule of law. The threats to the legal profession and law schools require an assessment of what lawyers do best and how they can continue to fulfill a critical role in society. At the heart of lawyering is problem solving, and for lawyers, and law schools, ensuring that the legal profession can continue to deliver strategic, meaningful, and effective problem-solving services in the 21st century will help preserve and shape the role of the profession and law schools well into the future.

Most importantly, to remain relevant and to fulfill a critical role in society, lawyers must utilize the problem-solving skills they possess to address the pressing social problems of the day. And the 21st century is in no short supply of problems, which mirror, in amy ways, the challenges the legal profession itself faces: e.g., rising economic inequality, climate change, rapid urbanization and de-industrialization, threats to the rule of law, and social changes wrought by advances in technology that are creating an interconnected world.

To address these problems in a rapidly evolving world, what are the problem-solving skills that the legal profession must possess and that law schools must instill in their students given the forces that are impacting the practice of law and society at large? Just over ten years ago, Author Dan Pink published the prescient A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. In it, Pink explores the ways that phenomena such as automation and the ability to outsource a great deal of work traditionally performed by knowledge workers has posed challenges for those in many industries to remain relevant and viable in the contemporary age. While these forces are affecting many different sectors, the legal profession, and the law schools that educate its members, are feeling these threats acutely. Pink offers strategies for thriving in this environment, arguing that this new era, what he calls the Conceptual Age, requires a new set of skills and aptitudes that he posits are those that tend to be dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain, such as the ability to think conceptually and metaphorically, to empathize with others, to see and recognize patterns, and to appreciate and communicate compelling narratives. These skills, which he calls the aptitudes of the Conceptual Age, include design, empathy, story, symphony, play, and meaning. Such skills, he argues, are necessary to thrive in the contemporary environment and deliver value to communities and markets.

This Article explores how these aptitudes can be taught in a law school setting, focusing on one problem-solving course that I help to lead through which students engage in real-world problem solving in ways that invoke the aptitudes of Pink’s Conceptual Age. The problems the students in this course face include urban blight, economic inequality, and the ongoing effects of de-industrialization and the recent financial crisis on cities. This Article explores the potential, exhibited in this class, for interdisciplinary collaboration and “town-gown” cooperation to engage in open innovation and community problem solving to address the needs of post-industrial cities facing compounding economic, social, and even existential threats. Following this exploration, it also considers the importance of teaching the aptitudes necessary for law student and law graduate success in the contemporary age and the role these aptitudes may play in both the legal profession in general and law schools in particular.

Keywords: Social Innovation, Law Schools

JEL Classification: 035, 031, 018, K00, 030, 038, I25

Suggested Citation

Brescia, Raymond H., Law and Social Innovation: Lawyering in the Conceptual Age (August 23, 2016). Albany Law Review, Vol. 80, Forthcoming, Albany Law School Research Paper No. 7 for 2016-2017, Available at SSRN: or

Raymond H. Brescia (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

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