HLS Updates Course Offerings
This past winter semester, all 550 Harvard Law School first-years donned their formal business attire and assumed the roles of lawyers in a multinational corporation or as legal aid attorneys while Boston lawyers evaluated their performance for course credit.
As part of the Law School’s curriculum overhaul—a three-year process ending Oct. 2006 under former Law School Dean Elena Kagan—a new hands-on course based on solving realistic legal cases was introduced to the first-year curriculum this year.
“Most classes are based on the final answer,” said Law School professor Todd D. Rakoff ’67, who helped design and teach the course. “This course was based on the very first question.”
Faculty have hailed recent additions to the 1L curriculum as long overdue and crucial for adapting the school’s century-old curriculum in a changed world.
Current Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, who spearheaded curricular reform efforts, said in an interview this week that the curriculum changes emphasize the growing importance of approaching law in a “global context.”
With new courses on global legal systems and international law, students are now focusing on areas that “just weren’t important in 1890,” according to Law School professor Joseph W. Singer, who also helped design and teach the problem-solving course.
The curricular changes reflect a stronger emphasis on simulation-based learning, as students previously had not been exposed to such teaching methods until their second or third year, according to David Abrams, the program manager of the new problem-solving course.
In order to accommodate the new courses, the original lineup of 1L classes—including civil procedure, criminal law, and property law—lost one hour a week of lecture time per class, Vice-Dean for Academic Programming Andrew L. Kaufman ’51 said.
“The question you might ask is ‘why didn’t this happen earlier?’” Rakoff said.
BEING ‘A REAL LAWYER’
The problem-solving course, which was first taught to 1Ls during the winter semester, was met with warm approval from faculty at this week’s faculty meeting, where Singer and Rakoff presented a review of the course.
Minow said introducing the course in the first-year curriculum will hone teamwork and communication skills early on during students’ time at the Law School.
Even students who do not go on to practice law will find the course helpful, Minow said, as they will learn to “strategize and to bring an imagination to their work.”
Abrams added that the course may see minor adjustments, such as reducing course size from 80 students, despite its overall success.
Taught as a pilot to 2Ls and 3Ls last year, the course required students to come up with creative solutions to complex legal scenarios as well as practice interviewing or developing options for a client or negotiating and drafting contracts, Singer said.