The plush, upscale Ivy Room at Chicago's Tree Studios, near the famed Magnificent Mile, once played host to the Windy City's top artists. But for one remarkably warm and sunny evening in late May, the locale traded in its paintbrushes and palettes for power suits and pinot noir as it greeted approximately 100 Duke alumni, parents and a smattering of current students for The Duke Idea-a catered reception and discussion with two of Duke's top administrators.

Although the refined atmosphere of an outdoor reception complete with sushi rolls, skirt steak and sparkling water was probably standard fare for attendees-many of them lawyers, businesspeople and other well-off professionals-the event itself is a new entrant onto the alumni networking scene. Nearing the end of its inaugural global tour, The Duke Idea offers the chance to interact with President Richard Brodhead and another VIP-this time, Dean of the School of Law David Levi, a Chicago native-in an informal albeit professional environment. In return, Brodhead and his chosen companion criss-cross the country from New York to Seattle to Chicago (and even across the Atlantic to London) in an effort to keep alumni minds on the University-and maybe their wallets, too.

"We're showing off the intellectual assets of the University," President Richard Brodhead said to me during an hour-long reception that preceded his discussion alongside Levi. "[The Duke Idea] is to give a sense of how we define our educational mission."

The schmoozing segment of the alumni event felt like the biannual job recruitment process all too familiar to juniors and seniors, if the Washington Duke Inn were an enclosed courtyard and everyone was more than a few years older. For many, this event was a three-hour pit stop on the way home from work, a chance to see old friends while listening to the head of their alma mater provide an update on the University and evaluate the challenges ahead for the field of law.

What began as a networking reception soon moved inside to softly-lit banquet room with a-no joke-mock set-up of Brodhead's office, complete with a scenic view of the Duke Chapel plastered to the outside of its faux windows. Duke's ninth president chatted with Levi in Chicago, but previous Duke Idea events featured administrators including Fuqua Dean Blair Sheppard and even a few prominent alumni, like renowned journalist Judy Woodruff , Woman's College '68.

Following a brief "state of the University" address, Brodhead lavished unequivocal praise on his counterpart on stage, calling Levi "one of the most highly regarded judges in America." Although he spent much of his legal career as a prosecutor and judge rather than as an academic, Levi has demonstrated tremendous skill in recruiting top professors and managing Duke's rise as a law school, Brodhead said.

But the night's centerpiece conversation between Brodhead and Levi soon moved beyond the successes of the past to the uncertainties of the future. Both seemed to agree that the future of the legal profession faces a number of challenges, ranging from developing new subfields of law such as environmental law to addressing the perceived disparities between academic law and law as it is practiced. And it doesn't help that big gaps exposed by the global economic downturn regarding risk management and regulation remain unanswered.

But to bring it a little closer to home, Levi used the context of the changing landscape of law to express his desire to better blend clinical practice and academia. Students who develop a holistic understanding of the law are better prepared to deal in a world where the traditional walls between branches of law are crumbling, or so the argument goes.

"My hope is that there will be many opportunities for students to learn about lawyering in the law school," Levi said. "We're trying to combine the world of practice with the intellectual world."

The event seemed to fulfill audience expectations, but the discussion made it clear that one can't know what to expect for the field of law. The audience seemed to project a subdued acceptance that the future of the profession may be substantially different from the past. "There are a lot of wrenching changes going on right now, and nobody knows how things are going to change in the future," said Loren Weil, Trinity '82, Law '85. "Everyone's getting together and saying 'What does the future hold?' and everyone has the same answer, which is, 'I don't know.'"

And although the future of law and many other professions remains in flux during a time of profound economic upheaval, officials with the Duke Alumni Association are confident that they've hit on a winning formula for engaging alumni and parents for the years ahead. After just one year for The Duke Idea, don't expect to see any big changes when the president hits the road again this fall. "What our alums are saying is that they want to hear more about Duke, and they want more intellectual engagement.. [The Duke Idea] is a different type of program that showcases academics and intellectuals," said Sterly Wilder, executive director of alumni affairs, in an interview with TOWERVIEW. "Alums have responded so well to the events.. I don't think we're thinking of any tweaks right now."

But if you're waiting for a full-size replica of Brodhead's office to come to an urban metropolitan area near you, don't hold your breath. Wilder said the office set-up instrumental to conveying the real Duke feel to alumni isn't always part of the president's traveling entourage. And that's unfortunate. Because for those who enjoyed the event-from its shrimp kebabs to its chilled wine to its intellectual exchange-the replica added a little nostalgia for dear old Duke.

"It's cute," said Linda Arnade, Trinity '06. "It's nice. Just trying to bring you back, I guess."