George Johnson discusses national policy and the future of legal education on North Carolina People with William Friday
In an interview on WUNC-TV's North Carolina People with William Friday, Elon Law dean George Johnson reflected on his educational and professional experiences, evaluated the state of the legal profession, and analyzed a range of public policy issues.
When asked why interest in the legal profession is rising, Johnson said he thought people are seeking to contribute to society in greater numbers and that many see the law as a place to make a difference.
"Law is really - at its core, at its very best - an enterprise of public service," Johnson said, "I think students are looking around and seeing a host of problems that our country faces – and lawyers have been instrumental, really in every phase of our country's development, in helping to solve problems, helping to make the society better – and I think that's what is really motivating a number of people to think about the law as a profession."
Johnson said that law students are increasingly motivated to achieve excellence in the law in service to others.
"I see more and more students who really are committed to trying to change things," Johnson said. "I think there is really a burning desire from a number of students, a kind of idealism that I think we may not have seen since maybe the 60s and 70s … I think there is really a sense that if our society is going to be better, then we need to do something about it. I see that certainly at Elon, and I think it's happening across the country – there's a real desire for citizens to become involved and I think that is animating a number of students that we see every day."
Johnson also described Elon's distinctive program of legal education, noting the school's focus on public service.
"We thought it was important that we emphasize the public service and civic engagement aspects of what lawyers ought to be about … our curriculum is really designed to supplement, if you will, to augment that traditional curriculum with leadership studies," Johnson said.
Asked to evaluate the country's progress on civil rights, Johnson said economic and educational disparities continue to threaten the moral, economic, and security position of the country.
"I don’t think anybody can deny that we have made incredible progress over the last 50 years or so, but there is still incredible work to do," Johnson said. "The economic disparities amongst the races is still very stark. The disparities in educational opportunities, I think it's really sad, almost criminal, the way that minority students particularly are shortchanged, especially in large urban school systems. We've got to do much better on a moral basis, because it's the right thing to do, but also because it's in our economic and security interest to have a really well educated population and that if there are huge gaps, if there are significant groups who don't have access to quality education, I think it really dooms us all and I think we've got to do much more about that."
Click on the E-Cast link to the right of this article to view Johnson's complete interview on North Carolina People with William Friday.
George Johnson, who was named dean of Elon University School of Law on February 3, 2009, has overseen the establishment of the law school's Clinical Law Center, the enhancement of the law school's leadership program, including the addition of a Leadership Fellows program, and the creation of a new national moot court competition at the law school, among other key law school initiatives this year.
Johnson also wrote recently on the need for a greater emphasis on leadership development in legal education. Click here for details.
William Friday served as president of the consolidated University of North Carolina for thirty years, from 1956 to 1986. He has been called one of the most significant North Carolinians of the twentieth century. North Carolina People with William Friday is UNC-TV’s longest-running program. It went on the air in 1971. Click here for details about William Friday and the North Carolina People program on UNC-TV.