Harvard Law School Hosts 'Think Big' Lecture

Harvard Law School professor Michael J. Klarman said he chose to wear a suit to the Law School’s inaugural “HLS Thinks Big” for no other reason than to celebrate the Red Sox’s winning streak.

Despite his lighthearted allusion to Boston’s baseball team, Klarman spoke about the unexpected backlashes associated with a different kind of winning streak—legal verdicts favorable for progressives, such as in Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.

Klarman was one of five Law School lecturers and professors who delivered 10-minute speeches on a variety of topics within their respective areas of expertise as part of the event.

Law School professor Carol Steiker ’82 spoke on the possibility of the death penalty’s abolition within the United States.

“Will the United States ever get rid of the death penalty? Probably not in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime. But there’s the possibility for it to go away,” she said, citing what she called a “precipitous decline” in the number of American executions after 1999.

In their speeches, lecturer Robert Greenwald focused on what he described as the unfortunate fact that so many Americans still are uninsured and are denied access to health care, Professor John G. Palfrey ’94 spoke on the concept of “interoperability,” and Law Professor David A Grossman discussed topics related to his research on advocacy.

The forum was designed in the style of both the annual Technology, Entertainment, and Design talks and the “Harvard Thinks Big” program held earlier this year, at which professors also delivered 10-minute speeches on subjects within their respective areas of expertise.

Law School Dean Martha Minow said, however, that “HLS Thinks Big” was not necessarily a response to “Harvard Thinks Big” and had been planned before the other event.

“As a new leader, one of the questions I dealt with is how do we make clear that [the Law School] is a learning environment—how do we make the work and research people do here available to the larger community,” she said.

At the event’s conclusion, Minow posed a series of questions to the panel of five professors, one of which dealt with the common theme of “comparison” in their speeches. Some legal scholars insist that comparing United States law with foreign law—such as that of the E.U.—is unwarranted, but the general consensus among the participants at the event was that trans-legal comparisons are essential.

Palfrey evoked Emerson’s adage that one needs to travel to foreign shores to understand the nature of one’s own.

Around 100 Law School students, professors, and Harvard affiliates attended the event.

—Staff writer James K. McAuley can be reached at