Scholarship with a Point

Dean Gregory Mandel has a lot on his plate. In addition to teaching about intellectual property law, patent law, and how law interfaces with emerging technologies like biotech and nanotechnology, Mandel serves as Dean for the law school and pursues his own rigorous scholarly agenda. It’s all a part of his vision for how legal academics can influence policy-making in the real world – and teach their students to do the same.

Like many lawyers, Dean Mandel did not originally pursue a life in the law. With degrees in physics and astronomy, Mandel first explored opportunities in the sciences, working for a time on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. But, ironically, he found that studying these aspects of the natural world was increasingly far removed from what made life most “real.” “In physics,” Mandel noted, “what you study gets smaller and smaller the farther you advance. In astronomy, it gets farther and farther away. They’re disconnected from real life. But law is all about real life. It gave me the real world connection I was looking for.”

After completing his J.D. at Stanford and clerking for Judge Jerome Farris of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Mandel practiced both corporate law and litigation at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. It was intellectually engaging, demanding work, and it made good use of Mandel’s scientific background since much of the work he pursued had a scientific element to it. But eventually, Mandel’s underlying desire for greater intellectual space re-surfaced, leading him to accept a position at Albany Law School and then, in 2007, to join the faculty at Temple Law.

Why Temple Law? “Temple has a strong tradition of valuing excellence in teaching and the highest quality scholarship. The faculty really demands both, and individual faculty members excel at both,” explains Mandel. “Temple itself is a major research university in a city with an abundance of biotech, pharmaceutical, and other high tech firms – the opportunities for interdisciplinary study and cutting edge IP work are truly exceptional.”

Of course, Dean Mandel has made full use of those opportunities in pursuing his own research. On the interdisciplinary front, Mandel is exploring the intersections between existing IP law and the growing science of creativity – particularly its psychological and neurobiological origins. The work is important because, as Mandel explains, “IP law arose in ignorance of how the mechanism of creativity works. Since the fundamental goal of IP law is to maximize innovation, we need to make sure that we understand how innovation happens in the first place.”

Mandel is also engaged in a related effort, aimed at influencing IP policies based on this fundamental goal. In this project, he is developing best practice protocols for governing new and emerging technologies that present human health or environmental risks – for example, advances in molecular products or genetic medicine. “Our current approach is episodic at best, and is always reactive rather than proactive. I’m looking at what we can do proactively to govern these cutting edge technologies, balancing protection from their risks with space to let them reach their full potential.” While the work has serious implications for untold numbers of people, Mandel has to admit that it’s also “really fun. It’s exciting to be out in front on both issues, the technology and the law, and to work on how they’ll come together.”

Of course, Mandel is also committed to developing the full potential – and the scholarly influence – of the Temple Law faculty in his role as Dean. It’s here that he can really advocate for “scholarship with a point” – work that addresses a specific, real-world question and is focused on shaping the law to arrive at the most beneficial conclusion. “Scholarship should have real world traction,” he explains. “We should ask: what will it improve? How will it be implemented? Who is my target audience and how can I get to them?”

For Dean Gregory Mandel, the path to this point has taken him from the tiniest particles to the most distant stars. In similar fashion, his work in the law has returned him once again to the frontiers of what we can know about our world. But no matter where Mandel’s intellectual travels have taken him, his path has been illuminated by one profound guiding principle: that what we do should matter in the lives of the real people around us. After all, for Dean Gregory Mandel and his colleagues on the Temple Law faculty, improving real lives is always the point.