With newly launched $400 million campaign, HLS seeks to modernize its facilities, globalize its programs, and energize its students and faculty
By the time the law school launched its fund-raising campaign last June, most students had unplugged their laptops and headed off campus. But in a way they were still at the center of the event. With a goal of $400 million, the current campaign is the largest in legal education, and at its heart is the renewal of the school’s intellectual and educational program. Based on the faculty’s Strategic Plan, that means improving the student experience, further supporting faculty scholarship, and enhancing the school’s connection to the profession and to the global community. It translates into smaller classes, better dorms, more faculty, more research, and more financial aid and loan forgiveness.
Some of these changes are already under way. The school is in the third year of its revamped 1L program, which instituted sections of seven cohesive “law colleges.” Now that the core classes are half as big, and professors not only learn students’ names but take them apple picking, the Harvard Law School of “The Paper Chase” and “One L” fame is getting further and further away.
“We’re not going to become complacent,” said Dean Elena Kagan ’86. “One of the campaign’s highest priorities is our students–improving both their quality of life and the education they receive.”
Meeta Anand ’05 says she came to law school expecting Armageddon. Now she can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in first-year classes so big she wouldn’t have known who her classmates were or gotten to hear what they had to say.
One of the section leaders, Professor Carol Steiker ’86, says she had no idea what a dramatic difference the smaller class size would make–and not just for the students. “It emerges much more quickly what different perspectives people have,” she said, “so as the teacher, I’m able to craft better interactions.”
In addition to fostering academic connections, faculty leaders have organized activities ranging from a private showing of Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” at the Brattle Theatre, to a discussion with one of the country’s leading capital defense lawyers, to a dinner at a professor’s house for students interested in public interest law.
But at the center of it all is still the classroom, challenging and transforming: “First-year is an intense experience,” said Anand, “but having been through it, I am actually more confident–of my own capabilities and of my ability to chart my own course in life.”
For Professor Todd Rakoff ‘ 75, vice dean for academic programming, this was part of the school’s challenge: “To create an environment where students bond strongly with the institution . . . without giving one inch on intellectual rigor and toughness.”
But the new program comes at a cost. The school wants to create 15 new faculty positions. More 1L sections mean more criminal law, contracts, civ pro, property and torts teachers. Now that they’ve seen the difference the smaller classes made in the 1L sections, many faculty are eager to decrease the size of upper-level classes as well. Permanent faculty are also needed to teach subjects that now are often covered by visiting professors, such as environmental law. And as the legal profession becomes more complicated and more specialized, new areas of law proliferate, and the law school wants to be able to hire faculty to cover them.
In addition to hiring new faculty, the law school needs to further support existing faculty scholarship. “One of the things that makes the classroom so exciting at Harvard,” said Professor Howell Jackson ’82, vice dean for administration and budget, “is that the faculty members are engaged in first-rate research that’s of national and sometimes international significance.” The areas of research are as diverse as the 81 faculty members. But the school is looking for extra funding for work in three areas: public law and service, empirical studies, and international and comparative research.
Beyond the work of individual faculty, the school has 16 research programs and centers, from the Civil Rights Project to the John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business. Aside from contributing scholarship, these centers play a pivotal role in students’ education.
Many students complain, however, that their education is hampered by inadequate facilities–particularly the dorms, the student center and the gym. Student organizations also need better space. (One student journal, for example, has been meeting in a former utility closet.) To accommodate the three new sections, more meeting space and classrooms are needed as well as more office space for additional faculty. A study done by an architectural planning firm before the implementation of the new 1L program showed that the law school needed an additional 114,427 square feet just to adequately house its programs at that time. An announcement issued in October by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers indicated that the law school will not be part of Harvard’s plans for expansion in Allston, leading HLS to address its long-term space needs in Cambridge. One possibility for expansion would involve creating a “Northwest Yard” to be built between the north side of Pound Hall and Everett Street. In the meantime, the school is looking into renovating the student center, the Harkness Commons, which could begin as early as this summer. “Our students deserve a better facility,” said Kagan.
Connecting to the Profession
As the practice of law has transformed itself over the past 30 years, Professor David Wilkins ’80 says law schools have fallen out of touch. But the school’s Program on the Legal Profession, which he heads, is working to change that.
The program supports research on the profession, like the initiative Wilkins and Professor John Coates are involved in, which looks at how corporations buy legal services, or the program’s study of the role of in-house ethics advisers in law firms. Wilkins is also interested in new ways of teaching about the profession, such as introducing business school-style case studies on practice-related issues. Beyond focusing on the large law firm and the corporate sector, the program has also been working with Jeanne Charn ‘ 70, head of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, on new approaches to delivering legal services.
The law school’s newly implemented 40-hour pro bono requirement, and the program that supports it, is another product of the Strategic Plan. It’s meant to encourage all students to think about how their careers can contribute to the public good. It also serves as another bridge between academic life and career choices on the other side.
Yet the amount of debt new graduates accrue also affects their choices. When alumni leave HLS with their diplomas, they now take with them on average a debt of nearly $79,000, over and above undergraduate loans. Salaries in private practice or the business world make such debt manageable. But those like Loren Washburn ’02, who choose public service, rely on the school’s Low Income Protection Plan, which pays off portions of their loans.
Washburn, who recently started working at the Justice Department in the criminal enforcement section of the tax division, is “phenomenally excited” about his new job. But he’s also the father of three young children, including twins who were born last spring. Thanks to HLS’s financial aid and loan forgiveness, he and his family manage on a DOJ salary.
At HLS, unlike at some schools, financial aid for J.D. students is completely need-based. Thirty-six percent of students get grants and loans (with another 40 percent getting just loans). But last year, because of reduced endowment payouts, the average grant declined by approximately $1,479, so the loan burden was that much higher. The Strategic Plan calls for more money for grants.
For Washburn, HLS’s financial aid was all about choice. He spent his first two summers working in law firms, and it wasn’t until the end of his law school career, after much course work and consideration, that he decided public service might be for him. “The financial aid program was there when I needed it. I didn’t have to commit to it way in advance and be thinking public sector, public sector all through law school,” he said.
When Amy Copperman ’98 applied to law school, she knew she was headed toward a career in public service, and she’s never looked back. She decided to go to HLS, she said, because “it offered the best loan-forgiveness program. I don’t think I could have done the work that I do had I gone to some of the other choices I had.” Today, she is an attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, where she first interned as a student and now focuses on housing. She says every time she makes a difference, it’s a victory–and a credit to LIPP.
HLS also offers students opportunities to experience public service work before they graduate. In addition to a wide variety of clinical placements, Summer Public Interest Funding offers a noncredit option that literally pays the rent. Last summer, more than 300 students participated in the program, which provides a stipend to cover living expenses for students who work in public service positions.
In addition to bolstering financial aid for J.D.s, the school is also looking to increase support for its graduate students
In addition to bolstering financial aid for J.D.s, the school is also looking to increase support for its graduate students, most of whom are from other countries and so not eligible for federal student loans. Although HLS now provides grant money to the program’s students (over $1 million last year), the school is far from being able to meet the full financial needs of all those it accepts. Professor Bill Alford ‘ 77, vice dean for the graduate program and international legal studies, believes Harvard Law School should do much more.
Nandan Kamath LL.M. ’03, who has law degrees from his native India as well as Oxford, received a significant amount of financial aid to attend HLS. But without the aid, Kamath would have likely chosen another school. “There is a significant risk for many students,” he said. “They have to spend an enormous amount on tuition fees, which when converted to local currency would take a lifetime to repay.” And without financial aid, LL.M.s must gamble on getting a job in the United States after graduation. “I do know quite a few people who had to turn down the opportunity to study at Harvard Law on financial grounds,” said Kamath. “It must be so heartbreaking.”
Applications to the program are on the rise, with many from prospective students in countries in economic and political transition. The number of students applying to the LL.M. program from the People’s Republic of China alone has increased more than 15 fold over the last decade, according to Alford. “There’s a growing need in countries whose legal systems are in formative stages of development for the kind of training that this institution provides,” he said.
Alford believes it is similarly important to increase grants for S.J.D. students, many of whom become teachers. “With major change under way in the very nature of legal education in countries ranging from Japan to India to Germany,” he said, “there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a lasting imprint on legal education throughout the world.”
Kamath imagines that the resources to provide more financial aid for graduate students “would give the school the opportunity to be not just a great law school with international students but a great international law school.”
Beyond strengthening the graduate program, HLS looks to expand its international and comparative focus. As more and more faculty who teach the core subjects are including international or comparative elements in their work and classes, the school needs to help them realize these interests more fully, says Alford. Funding is needed for research and to bring in foreign scholars for collaboration. This spring, for example, Dennis Davis, a judge of the South Africa High Court, is co-teaching a course with Professor Frank Michelman ’60 on comparative constitutionalism, which has recently become a focus of Michelman’s work.
Alford is convinced that all J.D. students should take a course in international or comparative law, whether or not they intend to make this their professional focus. In fact, he says, such a course may be of the most value to those not intending to specialize in foreign affairs, in order to help them understand the assumptions underlying the U.S. legal system.
Crisarla Houston ’04 didn’t come to law school knowing she’d be interested in international law, and she’s not sure what she wants to do when she graduates. But she’s glad to have taken the plunge into international waters. “When you take the bar, you’re going to learn the standard property and contracts and all that, but if you don’t expose yourself to other areas of law, you’ll never know,” she said. “I think it’s helping me to figure out where I fit in the big lawyer pool.”