Imagine that you’ve come to law school knowing that you want to be a great public interest lawyer or an inventive entrepreneur or a savvy trial lawyer. Or you want to focus consciously on what it takes to be an effective public- or private-sector leader. Or perhaps you don’t yet know exactly what you want to do but you’re curious about the options the world holds for you. Through a sweeping array of new, innovative, hands-on courses, Harvard Law School’s new January Experiential Term gives 1L students a chance, early in their time on campus, to learn by doing, to work in teams, and to explore—or discover—what inspires their passion in the law.
For Armani J. Madison ’21, the new JET offerings did just that. Madison arrived at Harvard Law School with the goal of working for the public interest, possibly with a civil rights law firm that represents lower-income clients. For his J-term course, Madison chose “Lawyering for Justice in the United States,” one of eight courses developed for the new JET curriculum designed to give students time to develop practical lawyering skills, to reflect on their studies and careers, and to connect with each other.
Lawyering for Social Justice explores how lawyers can contribute to broader movements for social change through such means as impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, transactional work, and community lawyering. Team-taught by four clinical professors—Esme Caramello ’99, faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau; Tyler Giannini, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic; Michael Gregory ’04, clinical professor, Education Law Clinic; and Dehlia Umunna, faculty deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute—Lawyering for Justice focused on a different social justice problem each day. Covering areas as diverse as criminal justice, education, human rights, immigration, predatory lending, and more, this unique course enabled students to practice core competencies required for effective systemic advocacy including diagnosing problems, identifying stakeholders, and designing remedies. Working in teams, students also engaged in exercises such as participating in a mock bail argument on behalf of a client they’d just met, and counseling clients on whether to take a settlement. The course culminated with a day-long “hackathon,” in which student teams developed a plan of action to address a specific social justice lawyering challenge.
Madison, who calls the course “amazing,” says he valued the opportunity to see what actual lawyering is like; the mock bail hearings, for example, had a significant impact on his understanding of the criminal justice system. “We not only had the opportunity to argue our points and rebut the other side, but we were in front of someone playing a judge with all the characteristics [a real judge] might have,” he says.
Viroopa Volla J.D./M.B.A. ’21, who worked for McKinsey & Company and then Wal-Mart before matriculating at HLS, chose “Financial Analysis & Business Valuation” as her J-term course. Working in three-person teams, students learned the basics of accounting with a focus on valuation of companies. As a final project, they were given four hours to value a real company and then advocate for their position. While “intense,” the course “made me more excited about” pursuing a career at the intersection of business and law, Volla says.
John Coates, the John F. Cogan, Jr. Professor of Law and Economics and the vice dean for Finance and Strategic Initiatives at HLS, who also teaches at the Harvard Business School, created the JET course because he believes that all law students need basic literacy in accounting and financial skills; indeed, it’s something that employers have urged law schools to put more emphasis on, he notes. At least two-thirds of the class had no significant exposure to accounting before, yet by the end of the first week they were able to “throw around phrases like capital expenditure and expensing, and were using the language real-time in a very energetic way,” Coates says. A key goal “was to make it experiential, hands on, not simply me lecturing or even them discussing but actually doing work with numbers and financial statements.” The course has wide application no matter what career path a student chooses, he adds.
What kind of lawyer do you want to be?
The new Experiential Learning curriculum offered during January term allows first-year students to explore different areas of law and experience what it's like to practice law in different settings. Each of the courses offered in the Experiential Learning curriculum emphasizes teamwork, skills training, and self-reflection. The courses are designed to help students bridge the gap between academic courses and practical lawyering, while making connections across the first-year class.
The new courses are part of a series of initiatives that stem from an effort to rigorously examine and question assumptions about the Law School’s curriculum—all with an eye toward better preparing students for legal practice in the 21st century. One of the first steps Dean John F. Manning ’85 took after beginning his deanship in July 2017 was to constitute a curricular innovations committee, chaired by deputy deans John Goldberg and Kristen Stilt. The committee’s work during its first year included outreach to students, alumni, and other members of the practicing bar through surveys, focus groups, and multiple individual conversations. The aim was to get a firm understanding of what students and practitioners valued and hoped for in the 1L curriculum and how individual courses influenced career paths and professional success. In addition, Manning and the curriculum committee, which includes the deputy deans and Catherine Claypoole, associate dean and dean for academic and faculty affairs, began to hold “curriculum committee open office hours” to create an another venue in which students could share their thoughts about the School’s curriculum, including what was working, what wasn’t, and what courses students would like to see added. Feedback throughout was overwhelmingly in support of rethinking the academic experience for 1Ls students during the January term.
With the agreement of the Law School’s faculty and the support of many HLS staff members, the curriculum committee worked quickly to identify professors interested in developing courses for the new IL January Experiential Term, help facilitate their course plans, and work out logistical hurdles of launching eight new courses in just under six months.
“Harvard Law School has always been in the forefront of transforming legal education, and it is critical that we never stop innovating,” says Manning. “We have outstanding faculty who think hard about what it takes to train and inspire great 21st-century lawyers and leaders. The expansion of our winter term offerings is designed to achieve that end. The new courses also provide students with engaging ways to see and experience law in action, and to reflect on their potential as leaders in the profession and beyond.”
The new curriculum offers a range of courses from which to choose, all with an emphasis on skills training, self-reflection and interaction with real practitioners. Teamwork and collaboration are also emphasized, and many of the courses are team-taught.
Emma Hobbs ’21
I think this class really helped bring me back to that center of why I came to law school, why I care about law, and the power of law.
Michael Moffitt, the Roger D. Fisher Visiting Professor in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, designed the Negotiation Workshop for the 1L January Experiential Term. Closely modeled on the Law School’s highly successful upper-level Negotiation Workshop, it was a particularly intense course among the 1L JET choices, Moffitt says. Each day, students were placed in a series of simulated negotiations so they could practice negotiation skills, and videotaped so they could receive individualized feedback from instructors. Students met from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily to work on negotiation skills-building, then reviewed the videos in the evenings. “I was really, really impressed with the work that they did. It exceeded my expectations,” says Moffitt.
Zekariah McNeal ’21, who worked as an electrical engineer in Oklahoma before law school and hasn’t decided on a legal career path, chose the Negotiation Workshop because it would provide him with useful skills no matter what he ends up doing. “These negotiation skills aren’t just for the boardroom and for sitting across from a business partner, they’re also for everyday life,” McNeal says, adding that the course spurred his interest in a career that involves resolving disputes through collaborative solutions.
Introduction to Trial Advocacy, under the leadership of Ronald Sullivan ’94, the Jesse Climenko Clinical Professor of Law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, offered 1Ls a crash course in effective advocacy including how to interview witnesses and conduct direct and cross examinations. Emma Hobbs ’21 says she found the course “incredible” as she and her classmates learned under the tutelage of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. With its emphasis on learning and practicing litigation skills, the course was “one of the most useful you can take as a 1L” because it was “particularly skill-focused,” says Hobbs, with students reading police reports and witness statements, practicing litigation techniques in front of practitioners, and debating ethical issues faced by criminal defense attorneys.
Like the majority of today’s students, Parisa Sadeghi ’21 arrived at HLS with several years of post-college work experience. Sadeghi, who taught English in Paris for a year before becoming an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan, describes herself as having “a lot of interests and passions.” When it came to reflecting on how to translate her diverse interests into a legal career, the new curriculum turned out to be a game changer for Sadeghi.
In “Pathways to Leadership Workshop for the Public/Non-Profit Sector,” Sadeghi and her classmates learned leadership and team-building skills while being exposed to a variety of career choices. In teams of five or six, they participated in such experiential exercises as a simulated negotiation, in which they took on the role of legal counsel on each side, and a software simulation of climbing Mount Everest, which prioritized team success. They also met with more than a dozen HLS alumni with careers that varied from federal prosecution to politics.
“If you want a unique opportunity to engage in some serious introspection about what your values are, what your leadership style is, what you want your career to look like … this is the class for you,” says Sadeghi. The class, which also included a rigorous examination of leadership theory, was developed and taught by Susan Crawford, the John A. Reilly Clinical Professor of Law. Her goal, Crawford says, was to “help these sterling people stand in their greatness and be real leaders” regardless of what career path they ultimately choose.
For those interested in applying leadership skills in a slightly different venue, “Pathways to Leadership: Leading Change in the Legal Profession,” was created for the new curriculum by Scott Westfahl ’88, professor of practice and director of the HLS Executive Education program, where he oversees national and global leadership programs for lawyers. The course emphasized team-building and the psychology of motivation and influence as well as design theory. As a final project, each team presented an innovative idea to change legal education or practice. “I think there is a hunger among our students for programming and training on leadership before they leave the law school,” says Westfahl.
Speakers in Westfahl’s class included novelist Gish Jen (Harvard College ’77) and Ally Coll Steele ’16, president and co-founder of the Purple Campaign, whose mission is to end sexual harassment in the workplace. “I wanted students to understand that you don’t have to be 20 years into your career to start trying to create change if you see a need,” says Westfahl. Alex Pascualy ’21, who deployed to Kuwait as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, says the focus on group work and building bonds with classmates, as well as Westfahl’s teaching skills, made the course “a great contribution” to his HLS experience.
Todd Rakoff ’75, the Byrne Professor of Administrative Law, created “What Kind of a Lawyer Do You Want to Be?” Co-taught with Jamie Wacks ’95, a lecturer on law and former federal prosecutor, the course presented students with simulated problems in different practice settings, such as small-firm attorney or in-house counsel, and had them undertake fundamental skills training such as interviewing or advising a client. Rakoff says he designed the course for students who came to the law school not knowing much about the setting of legal practice and where they would fit in.
In “Advocacy: The Courtroom and Beyond,” students explored the many settings in which advocacy can be a tool, whether in the courtroom, before a legislature, in impact litigation, or in a transactional setting. Designed and co-taught by two practicing attorneys, Ara B. Gershengorn, a lawyer with the General Counsel’s Office at Harvard University, and Erin Walczewski, pro bono counsel at Cooley, the course also taught students how to review complaints, develop advocacy plans, and write speeches and op-eds, among other things. While the homework load was demanding, students told Gershengorn that they embraced their assignments because, in the words of one, “We are actually learning real, practical skills.” Guest speakers included Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, HLS Professor D. James Greiner, an expert in empirical legal research, and Dave Cavell ’91, a speechwriter for President Barack Obama ’91.
“The new J-term experiential curriculum is a chance to give students real practical exposure to what life as someone with a law degree looks like and see what lawyers experience after law school, to learn skills, and to have the chance to try out those skills,” Gershengorn says.
Anna Dorman ’21, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda before law school, said the many practical projects the course required were particularly useful, including the final one, an exercise in which students developed an advocacy plan. Learning to produce a written product as a group was a skill she found challenging but very useful, said Dorman, who also valued that both of the instructors were practicing attorneys “who bring a very different perspective” from academia.
With eight courses in the curriculum and with a new course titled “The Craft of Lawyering in a Technology World” joining the roster next January, students have a range of choices and class sizes are small, says Professor John Goldberg.
“I think, overall, students are really excited about the selection,” says Sadeghi, who “had a really, really difficult time choosing” since each offered training in a different kind of skill set, all of which are valuable. Many of the courses also emphasize self-reflection, something not traditionally required in the first year of law school. Students say this aspect of the new curriculum is particularly helpful as they design their law school coursework as well as their careers.
Goldberg says that students and faculty alike have had positive experience with the new courses. “I just loved it,” says Sadeghi. “I hope that HLS keeps going with having these options and having them as varied as they are … because it was a really valuable experience to me, and I think to most students who were in the other courses too.”