Courting Change

The Law School Reviews Its Curriculum

As part of an ongoing review of curriculum and teaching methods, the Law School faculty will soon consider major changes that would alter the way lawyers are trained at Harvard for years to come.

Whatever new paths are taken here will likely affect legal education across the nation because, as an so many other disciplines, universities tend to look to Harvard Law School for intellectual and administrative leadership.

A faculty committee charted by Professor Frank I Michelman is spearheading the school's first broad review since the mid-1960s and has focused its attention on three men questions.

Should the Law School expand its program in "clinical education, which gives students practical experience dealing with real clients'.

Should courses for second-and third-year students use teaching methods other than the traditional "Socratic" method, in which professors question students instead of lecturing?

And should the Law School develop sequences of courses in the second and third years, allowing students to specialize in a specific area of law!

The Michelinan committee last year made recommendations on first-year programs, but its major suggestion--to institute pass-fail grading for the first semester was voted down by the faculty Harvard's law school retains a reputation for resistance to large scale change.

Probably the most controversial issue under consideration is that of clinical education, which has for the past 10 years become increasingly well regarded at prestigious schools including New York University and UCLA Harvard's faculty reflects a broad split in the field between those who endorse the trend and those who rejected it as not intellectually serious.

Michelman an expert in legal theory and economics who has not publically defined his stand on the issue does point out however, that clinical education gives students increased confidence in dealing with clients after graduation. He explains that supporters of clinical education believe that students learn more about their professional role and how to deal with conflicts when exposed to practical problems.

Nevertheless Robert C Clark a member of the Michelman Committee says that the faculty reaction to proposals for expanded clinical education has been "rather negative".

Because of the added cost of practical education, the committee may recommend increasing the 35-student program gradually over a period of several years. Michelman will submit his report to the faculty at the end of March.

In the meantime, James D. Vorenberg '49, dean of the school, says that he is exploring ways to preserve what clinical education exists at Harvard by making arrangements with local public legal centers. Legal Services Institute the school's only practical branch will probably be eliminated as a result of reduced federal funding.

William D Warren dean of UCLA's law school, notes that because her school and many others already offer extensive clinical education. Harvard would not radically affect national thinking. But in re-thinking the traditional Socratic method, professors here could drastically change legal education in this country.

The Michelman panel is discussing computer sided instruction and "case study" methods now used in many business schools. Came studies emphasize specific incidents and require close analysts of circumstances and details.

Emphasis on the Socratic method for second and third-year students has already waned somewhat at other schools, but if Harvard professors shift to the case-study approach and incorporate if into the influential textbooks they write, others would probably follow suit.

Clark says that because only a few law schools have major computer-aided instruction programs. Harvard professors would also develop much of the software which others might use in the future. He himself endorses increased use of computers since it allows students to receive more feedback on their work.

The other major proposed change the sequencing of courses to allow specialization, would probable not cause changes elsewhere if it were adopted here because most other law schools lack adequate resources to diversify their curricula.

Associate dean at the University of Illinois law school, Marion W Benfield says that students might not even take advantage of specialized programs, for fear of being excluded from other fields later Michelman however says some form of course sequencing is needed to offer students additional direction. The committee will probably back this point of view he adds.

Predictions remain vague as to what else the advisory committee will recommend and how the faculty will respond, but Clark points out that professors here suffer from "general inertia" and "will try something only if it has been successful and looks easier than what they were doing before."