Harvard Law’s Curricular Reform: 3 Years In

This was recently posted on PrawfsBlog by Glen Cohen.

Several years ago, under the stewardship of then-dean Kagan and then-professor-now-dean Minow, Harvard Law School made a significant change to its first year curriculum. Different portions were phased in at different times, but this will be the third full year of it all being in place, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the reforms. Unlike the Langdellian Socratic method that was also started at Harvard, I have seen less copying of our reforms. That may be that others do not think it a good idea, but I suspect it is more to do with the fact that this was a resource intensive change (adding an additional 21 professors needed to teach 1Ls) that was implemented at a moment where most schools are facing economic woes.

Here is the reform in a nutshell:

The typical Harvard 1st year courses (Civ Pro, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Law) were all dropped from 5 credit hours a week to 4 credit hours.  An additional 4-credit class entitled “Legislation and Regulation,” which largely combines a course in legislation/statutory interpretation with parts of administrative law was added.  In addition, a 4-credit international/comparative law elective was required and added to the first year curriculum. Students choose from a menu of seven classes for 1Ls with foci such as private international, public international law, international humanitarian law, an comparative law (China, for example).  Last, and most recently, we moved our finals into the fall and now give the 1Ls a winter (or J-) term class called “Problem Solving Workshop,” which is taught intensively over 13 week days. Each day the students are given a problem, and in small groups have a day or two to solve it and submit work product as a group. While some of the problems are focused on litigation, others are things like dealing with public relations and media, negotiating, and other skills. The next day the students re-assemble, debrief and consider how different groups dealt with the problem, and start a new problem. The course is pass/fail. Once in the middle of the class and once at the end the students meet with practicing lawyers to test their proposed solutions against the practical realities as the lawyers see it.

Students also take a regular elective in the spring.

Here is my internal sense of how these have been received, but one reason why I want to post about it is to get feedback from those of you in the world out there who have seen our students under the new curriculum and their performance.

Click here for the rest of the article.

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