David B. Wilkins
Lester Kissel Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession, and Faculty Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School

For the last 18 years, Bill Alford has been raising the bar on graduate and international education at Harvard Law School and around the world. The results have been transformative. The graduate student population is far more diverse and inclusive than ever before, both geographically and economically, with L.L.M.s and S.J.D.s now fully integrated with their J.D. classmates. At the same time, Bill has helped to make the J.D. program far more “international,” by working to raise the number of students with international backgrounds, pushing for the hiring of faculty with significant interest and expertise in international and comparative law, and, most significantly, by working with Martha Minow and others to create a requirement that every student take at least one course in international law.  

But in this brief tribute, I want to highlight a more personal transformation Bill has facilitated – my own.  In the early 2000s, Bill hosted a groundbreaking conference at HLS that brought together leading scholars from around the world and across disciplines to document the unprecedented efforts then underway to recast and expand legal professions in China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In an unprecedented – but for Bill typical – act of generosity and inclusion, Bill invited me to give an important introductory talk for one of the major panels at this event. Unlike every other participant, I was neither an Asia scholar, nor an expert on globalization or law and development. Instead, up until that conference, I had only studied the U.S. legal profession, with a particular emphasis on legal ethics and diversity. Inspired by this event, and Bill’s subsequent book Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia, the transformation of legal professions around the world has become a central focus of my work.

In 2010, I launched the Project on Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies – or GLEE as we like to call it – to study how globalization is reshaping the legal profession in important emerging economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. GLEE has now produced books on India, Brazil, and China, and we have launched the project in Africa and Southeast Asia. And just as he was at the beginning, Bill has been there every step of the way, offering wise counsel and insight, vouching for the Project with funders and important people from his vast array of contacts, encouraging graduate students to get involved, and promoting our results. And he has done it all with his trademark quite modesty, never seeking reward or claiming the credit he deserves.

In his seminal book To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense, Bill eloquently argues that China’s deep cultural norms that ground the legitimacy of present ideas through their connections to the ideas and traditions of the past help to explain why China never developed the kind of Western intellectual property regime in which ideas are “owned” and off limits to others. It is an apt description of how Bill conducts his own intellectual life. Bill has never been concerned with “owning” ideas. Instead, he has dedicated his prodigious talent to building a community of scholars, students, and practitioners who share his unique commitment to both understand and critique the traditions and current practices of the countries of the world – including our own. It is an honor to have been welcomed into this blessed community, to borrow Dr. King’s evocative phrase, and I look forward to  grounding my work in the brilliance of Bill’s ideas and the warmth of his fellowship for many years to come.