HLS faculty unanimously approves first-year curricular reform

Post Date: October 6, 2006

The Harvard Law School faculty unanimously adopted a reform of the required first-year curriculum yesterday, after a three-year process of study and consultation with legal academics, faculty from other professional schools, and practicing lawyers.

“This marks a major step forward in our efforts to develop a law school curriculum for the 21st century,” said Dean Elena Kagan. “Over 100 years ago, Harvard Law School invented the basic law school curriculum, and we are now making the most significant revisions to it since that time. Thanks to yesterday’s unanimous faculty vote, we will add new first-year courses in international and comparative law, legislation and regulation, and complex problem solving — areas of great and ever-growing importance in today’s world. I am extraordinarily grateful to the entire faculty for its vision and support of these far-reaching reforms, which I am confident will give our students the best possible training for the leadership positions they will soon occupy.”

Professor Martha Minow, who chaired the process, added: “We believe these changes will better prepare our students to think about and practice in a legal world in which regulations and statutes play an equal or more important role in the creation and elaboration of law as do court decisions; in which transactions and interactions among parties are increasingly global in nature; and in which economic, cultural and technological changes call upon the best lawyers to become skilled in system design, problem solving and creative approaches to issues.”

Specifically, the changes seek to ensure:

To pursue these goals, the law school will add three new course requirements to the first-year curriculum:

These reforms complement a reform of the upper level curriculum adopted by the faculty last spring that promotes concentrated and focused study, and application by developing distinctive Programs of Study, organizing classroom, clinical, research, and work opportunities to help students pursue greater progression and depth before graduation. Initial Programs of Study are: Law and Government; Law and Business; Law, Science and Technology; Law and the International Sphere; and Law and Social Change. The new first-year curriculum provides a foundation to enable any student who wishes to pursue an advanced Program of Study.

For both sets of reforms, there will be a period of transition and phase-in, and also a process of ongoing assessment of the reforms with opportunities to refine and revise the curriculum over time.

In greater detail, here are descriptions of the new courses:

Room for the new first-year courses will be created by devoting fewer class hours to the traditional first-year curriculum (contracts, torts, civil procedure, criminal law, and property) and by revising the school’s calendar to create a new January term for first-year students, devoted exclusively to the Problems and Theories class.