Prof. Greg Shill Law School Urbanism AMA/Q & A

Besides a broadly shared vision, what’s something the Hon. Anthony Foxx (17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (longtime congressional leader on transportation) have in common?

They’re all lawyers by training.

In April 2020, Professor Gregory Shill of the University of Iowa College of Law hosted an ask-me-anything/Q & A for folks interested in urbanism and contemplating law school. A lightly edited compilation appears below. Those interested in the topic may enjoy Prof. Shill’s past work on transportation and urbanism, including here, here, and here. All views represent the personal opinions of Prof. Shill only.

Let’s start out by sketching a few domains of careers for those of you wondering if there are careers in legal urbanism (good news, there are!).

On the transportation side, there are a wide range of agencies that have lawyers (some of them big teams of lawyers). The big employers are US Department of Transportation and state DOTs. Some big cities have DOTs too. Then there’s transit agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).

The private sector and nonprofits have law jobs in transportation too. You have car companies obviously, plus rail, shipping, insurance, aviation, and new mobility technologies. The degree of appeal to urbanists is perhaps variable. But there are opportunities.

Cities themselves also have lawyers representing them directly—perhaps tens of thousands nationwide. The New York City Law Department has around 1,000 lawyers. Iowa City, where I live and work as a law professor, has a City Attorney and four assistant City Attorneys.

Public health departments also need lawyers. There’s a growing overlap between public health and urbanism that predated COVID-19, and if you’re finding yourself more interested in public health lately there are opportunities at the intersection with law and urbanism.

Q: What areas of urbanism can a lawyer work in?

A: Housing (public, private, finance, etc.). Transportation (same). Land use. ADA and other laws concerning public spaces and accommodations. Representing cities. Policy and legislation.

Q: What do you mean by urbanism?

A: When I (and many others) use the term “urbanism,” we’re talking about people in places, not just cities. Human geography.

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Is Online Education Likely to Prove a Complement or Substitute for In-Person?

With educational programs from K-12 to graduate school nationwide going online nearly instantly in the midst of a devastating pandemic, a vigorous debate has begun over whether, post-COVID-19, education will go back to being an in-person activity or will remain online, especially at the postgraduate level. My focus here will be on the latter, in particular law schools.

Prof. Josh Blackman writes, “This is the new normal. We are not going back.” Prof. Howard Wasserman believes students hate it and is in general more bearish on total transformation. My views here are very much subject to revision—events are moving fast, and more evidence will become available—but for the time being what I hope to contribute to the discussion is a framing device: the economic distinction between complements and substitutes. Coke and Pepsi are substitutes, keyboards and mice are complements, and bicycles and buses (and bourbon and soda) can be either complements or substitutes, depending on circumstances. We do ourselves a disservice when we assume online teaching and conferences are in competition with their live counterparts—in other words, that they are only, or mostly, substitutes.

Most innovations are complements, not substitutes. Online classes and conferences are, right now by necessity, substitutes for their traditional live counterparts. The extent to which they are perfect substitutes is highly contingent on other factors, on both the creator and consumer side as well as external factors. At some point, the necessity will end (we hope). I am skeptical online will end up being deemed close to the perfect end of the spectrum, but of course that conclusion is debatable.

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