Dean’s Distinguished Lecturer Harvard Professor David Wilkins entertained, informed students

Group photo of Professor David Wilkins, Professor Kami Simmons, Dean Suzanne Reynolds, and Provost Rogan Kersh

Group photo of Professor (Left) David Wilkins, Professor Kami Simmons, Dean Suzanne Reynolds, and Provost Rogan Kersh

Wake Forest Law welcomed Harvard University Professor David Wilkins to deliver the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on March 1, 2017. With charisma and enthusiasm, Professor Wilkins entertained and informed students, faculty and staff members during his presentation “Legal Careers in the Global Age of More for Less: What You Need to Know to Survive and Thrive in Legal Profession 3.0.”

“The right connections, timing and luck coalesced so that we could bring someone we really wanted to have here today,” said Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD ‘77). “I could not be more pleased to have Professor Wilkins as our distinguished lecturer.”

As the Lester Kissel Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Center of the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, Professor Wilkins studies lawyers and legal careers. As the economy continues to thrive since the 2001 global financial crisis, the legal community questions whether we are witnessing a paradigm shift or just a temporary correction.

“You don’t know you’re in the paradigm shift while it’s happening,” Wilkins said. “We are seeing the accentuation of macro forces that began before the recent crash. Collectively, these forces are fundamentally reshaping the global market for legal services. The legal profession and you, as law students, will need to figure out how to adapt.”

Structural Changes

Increasingly sophisticated technology blurs boundaries of traditional categories like global and local, business and law, and organization and knowledge, Wilkins said. “This is reshaping our economy because intelligent buyers are demanding the unbundling of goods and services.”

Through disruptive innovation, Wilkins added companies radically transform their organization and hierarchy to adapt to economic change.

“Law is ripe for disruption,” he says. “Due to its conservative discipline and heavy regulations, innovation is difficult.

“In the common law world, you can’t say anything new unless you prove definitely that someone already said it before. It’s called precedence.”

Even still, disruptive innovation in the legal profession has begun, according to Wilkins. Sophisticated clients desire access to more information and more transparent lawyers. This forces efficient unbundling and repackaging of services.

“This is going to change everything about the way we do business, and you have to change with it,” he said. “But it (also) creates opportunities.”


Wilkins urged law students to master three key components for successful career progression: skills and competencies; relationships and networks; and credibility and image.

“You are not the only one transitioning,” Wilkins said. “This is not the death of big law, but it will be the end of some law firms and legal jobs.”

Law firms’ structural changes coincide with law students’ personal transformations. Demanding resources for success, like networking and mentoring, and asking for clear signals from employers will help manage the transition, Wilkins advised.

“Listen, the basic structure of legal education resembles the basic structure in the 1870s. The fact of the matter is we need to be helping these great students think about the future and see what else is out there.”

Wilkins also encouraged law students to use time wisely by getting the most out of an experience and building leadership and substantive skills. Most importantly, though, he says to have fun.