Poised for profound change, the institution already offers vastly different choices than a generation before
When Julie Zeglis left for Harvard Law School two years ago, her father gave her some simple advice: stick to the basics.
He should know. John Zeglis went on to a career as a telecommunications and antitrust litigator after he graduated from HLS in 1972.
But Julie has many more options to choose from at HLS than her father did three decades ago. In all, today’s students can pick from among more than 260 electives, up from under 100 in 1972.
So far, Julie says she loves family law and hopes to take Trial Advocacy Workshop next year. “It’s a different kind of class than sitting there with the Socratic method,” she said. “I do much better in a class with a lot of discussion.”
Come fall, new students will experience some of the most radical changes in Harvard Law’s 1L experience in decades as part of the School’s Strategic Plan. They’ll enter smaller sections, called law colleges, featuring greater contact between faculty and students. Yet more gradual changes have quietly transformed the second- and third-year academic experience for a generation of students. Among them are greater specialization, more international offerings, more hands-on learning, more interdisciplinary studies, and new courses in emerging areas of law ranging from animal rights to environmental law.
Most students still take the same upper-level mix of constitutional law, corporations, tax, administrative law, and evidence. But they now have many more ways to fill out the remainder of their schedules. And even first-year students can join journals tailored to their specific interests or participate in the School’s growing number of specialized research centers and programs. In addition to the Harvard Law Review, there are now ten student journals, including the newest, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review.
Dean Robert Clark ’72 says the growth and differentiation in the curriculum reflect changes in the legal profession itself. For example, Clark says governments regulate more areas of life, and a global economy requires American attorneys to understand foreign legal systems.
“There’s no escaping that we need to explore a wider terrain,” Clark said.
A broader curriculum has changed more than just the size of the course catalog. More classes require a bigger faculty and new office space to house them. Witness the construction of Hauser Hall and recent renovations to Areeda Hall. The number of professors and lecturers at Harvard Law now is more than 140, a 55-percent increase since 1972.
But do more choices translate into a better education than graduates received a generation ago?
“It certainly makes for a more interesting education,” said Todd Rakoff ’75, dean of the J.D. Program. “But whatever you learn in law school, you find in the first few months of practice that there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t know.”
And as his daughter finishes her second year at Harvard Law, Zeglis isn’t convinced either. “This is the one time in your life you’ve got to drill down to the bedrock in the essence of law,” Zeglis said.
Current students say, however, that a broad curriculum allows them to delve deeply into narrow areas of law or branch out into new ones they hadn’t thought about pursuing before. Some new specialized fields simply didn’t exist as organized areas for study a generation ago.
Henry Steiner ’55, director of the Human Rights Program, says there weren’t many ways he could have pursued an interest in human rights when he enrolled at the Law School. But Harvard Law will offer seven human rights courses next year and host about ten visiting human rights fellows. Almost two dozen students spend their summers on Human Rights Program-sponsored internships.
“Human rights has become indelibly a part of our legal, political, and moral landscape,” Steiner said.
Tamar Ezer ’01 didn’t arrive at HLS intent on a career in human rights. But during her first year she joined the student-run Human Rights Journal and took an introductory human rights course. Over the past two summers, she worked for the ACLU of Southern California and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, where she examined policing in New York. Now, she’s wrapping up her term as editor in chief of the Harvard Environmental Law Review and looking for a job as a civil and human rights litigator after finishing up two years of clerkships.
“Human rights combines what I find most meaningful about law,” Ezer said. “It protects people and has an international dimension.”
Other new fields continue to emerge, including Internet law and animal rights, which will return next year as a course for the second time. Greater depth also extends to traditional fields like corporations. Dean Clark says he sometimes wishes he could return today as a student to take advantage of current courses on international finance, mergers and acquisitions, or securities regulation.
“I’d go wild,” Clark said. “It’s a wonderful feast.”
Beyond the Borders
Whether it’s an international finance or comparative law class, more courses are broadening their focus beyond U.S. borders. HLS now offers courses on the laws of China, the European Union, and Japan as well as on international organizations such as the WTO. There are separate research centers on European, Islamic, and East Asian law.
Yet Professor William Alford ’77, director of the East Asian Legal Studies Program, says it’s not just regional specialists who need to understand foreign legal systems.
“The old boundaries in academia have broken down,” he said.
Alford says more faculty members take an interest in international affairs and more J.D. students arrive at the School after living or working abroad. About 4 percent of J.D. students are from outside the United States.
Young In ’01 quickly found a use for what she learned while taking a course on Islamic law. In met Malaysia’s attorney general and senate president on the Asia Law Society’s spring break trip this year.
“I was able to ask questions about how their civil and Islamic legal systems overlapped,” In said.
She visited Japan and Thailand on previous law society trips and worked last summer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s Hong Kong office. After graduation, she plans to join a Hong Kong or Singapore law firm, and she eventually hopes to work for the United Nations or another nongovernmental organization.
“I do feel like I came out of law school with a better understanding of lots of legal systems,” In said.
Think of it as Harvard Law’s own teaching hospital. Each year, nearly 300 students take one of more than 30 classes with a clinical component, ranging from a government lawyer placement in the U.S. attorney’s office to practice in the field of disability law. Another 100 do simulated practice experience in the Trial Advocacy Workshop. Before clinical courses were first offered in the mid-1970s, students could get real-life work experience only in organizations such as the Legal Aid Bureau or the Harvard Defenders.
The More Things Change . . .
Classes and professors may change, but some cases live forever.
Quiz a graduate today and one from half a century ago, and they'll both recall a handful of cases that have remained in casebooks for decades.
In torts, it's Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., the 1928 case of a railroad passenger injured in a chain of mishaps that started when a package of fireworks exploded as someone tried to jump onto the train. Assistant Professor David Barron '94 still starts his Property course with Pierson v. Post, the tale of a 19th-century fox hunt. And Civil Procedure students still learn the 1877 case of Pennoyer v. Neff.
Assistant Professor Jonathan Zittrain '95 labeled these cases the "oldies but goodies" that professors just can't seem to part with. Teaching Torts for the first time this year, Zittrain says he made sure to include Palsgraf and his personal favorite, the Flopper case.
"I'd be run out of town if I didn't," Zittrain said.
So another generation of students learned about the Flopper, a Coney Island amusement ride where a thrill-seeker sued after falling and breaking his arm. An unsympathetic Judge Benjamin Cardozo ruled, "The timorous should stay at home."
Zittrain says it's more than nostalgia that keeps these cases alive. "They do illuminate important legal principles," he said. Memorable facts don't hurt either. Like the 1929 "hairy hand" Contracts case, Hawkins v. McGee, where a patient claimed a doctor's treatment left him with unexpected growth.
This spring, Julie Zwibelman ’02 juggled five clients at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. She helped tenants in Dorchester and Roxbury stave off eviction and eliminate hazardous lead paint from their apartments. All that for three credits. Next fall she’s coming back for more. “I just really enjoy what I’m doing,” Zwibelman said. “It gives me the opportunity to work with great lawyers and get a lot of legal experience and exposure.”
Zwibelman did a previous clinical placement at the Harvard Civil Rights Project and plans to return to the housing department of the Hale and Dorr center next year to work on discrimination cases.
Thirteen weeks working in a clinical setting doesn’t transform students into seasoned attorneys, says Legal Services Center Director Jeanne Charn ’70. But she says students can gain confidence, learn how to develop relationships with clients, and figure out how to approach actual legal problems.
“If we’re successful, you have a questioning, critical attitude,” said Charn, who founded the Legal Services Center with her husband, Professor Gary Bellow ’60, in 1979.
Unlike many law students, Zena Yoslov ’01 actually enjoys working with numbers. She majored in economics during
college and now teaches economics to Harvard undergraduates. So Yoslov naturally gravitated toward HLS’s law and economics courses.
“We look at problems not in terms of do we need to solve this or not, but in terms of what are we willing to give up,” Yoslov said. “[Law and economics] approaches things as trade-offs.”
More students and faculty are taking interdisciplinary approaches to law, looking to solve legal questions through the lens of economics and other social sciences, according to Professor Kip Viscusi.
Viscusi himself examines environmental law questions using statistics and teaches a Behavioral Law and Economics seminar that researches how juries decide damage awards.
“It’s a major tool,” said Viscusi, who heads the Empirical Studies Program. “You can actually resolve debates by looking at how the real world works.”
Dean Clark says the School’s Law and Economics Program prepares students for careers in academia or in practice.
After graduation, Yoslov will practice trusts and estates law at Sullivan and Cromwell in New York. “I had a more complete education,” she said. “It gives you a different perspective, a different way of thinking.”
* * *