Undergraduates planning to enter Harvard Law School in a year or two are likely to find it in many ways a very different institution from what it is today.
The inauguration of a Harvard Administration in Washington and the retirement of the legendary Professor Austin W. Scott after 51 years of teaching at Harvard reduce next year's Faculty by 15 to 20 per cent and deprive the Law School of some of its most-dynamic professors.
More important than the absence of noted teachers, however, will be the changes wrought by the current Curriculum Revision Committee headed by Professor A. James Casner. Since its creation two years ago the Committee has not publicly proposed any reforms, but there are plenty of rumors about the shape of things to come.
Any student entering the Law School is inevitably warned: In the first year they scare you to death, in the second they work you to death, and in the third they bore you to death. It is only the third-year's fatal boredom that will probably give the Committee any real concern.
Ennui stems in part from the fact that many students accept job offers during the year; also it is then that for the first time the Law School allows them to elect their courses. Some third-year men are driven to taking College courses just because, of course, the College courses are supposed to be easier.
The Committee's method of improving the third-year curriculum is easy to state, difficult to implement. It consists of offering a greater variety of challenging courses with in the Law School and counselling by the Faculty on which courses will be the most helpful for the student's own intended career.
The substitution of Legal History for the first-year Agency course has been mentioned as one possible change in the curriculum, since there is a notable shortage in both Legal History and Civil Law courses. Presently both are inadequately treated as half-year electives in competition with Jurisprudence and Legal Process.
Another task of the Committee will be to weed out or change courses which have become obsolete. With the retirement of Professor Scott, for instance, the course on Trusts may eventually be dropped, since, as one practioner explained, all the open-ended questions in the field have been answered by Scott on Trusts.
The Faculty's decision to turn the hitherto mandatory course on Estate Planning into an elective may indicate a changing emphasis in favor of more theoretical courses, to supplement the highly technical ones already available, and in favor of greater choice in the selection of courses.
The Law School occasionally does try to remind itself that, despite statistics, its sole raison d'etre is not to supply the best-trained clerks for Wall Street law offices. It must also keep in mind the needs of those who will become small-town practitioners, law teachers, or career government employees.
In the lean years of the 1930's and 1940's there were good reasons for training law graduates to be the best possible legal technicians to enable them to meet the cut-throat competition for the few positions available. These days, getting a job is somewhat easier, and firms must compete harder to get the law graduates they want.
Partly as the result of the new market--and perhaps partly to assert the Law School's spiritual independence from Wall Street, the Faculty has adopted a policy of not announcing class standings for other than the first 100 students in a class. Although they will still know the applicants' grades, the big-city firms will no longer be able to rely exclusively on these magic numbers which have become rather meaningless because of the great degree of bunching in the middle of the class.
Even as firmly-entrenched an institution as the Law School must from time to time reassess itself. Hopefully, the changes that come about from this present reassessment will give future law students a broader understanding of legal concepts rather than a mere familiarity with technical details.
At one old and rather distinguished judge insisted, "A good lawyer is expert at nothing but is capable of understanding everything."
(Editor's Note: A review of the Poets' Theatre production of "The Tree-Witch" will appear Monday.)