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Harvard Law School announced Wednesday it will offer its online, pre-term “Zero-L” course for free for all United States law schools this summer in an effort to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the success of incoming law students.
The Law School and the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning created the Zero-L program in 2018 to ensure students from all backgrounds could enter the school with foundational knowledge about the legal field. The name Zero-L refers to the names of 1L, 2L, and 3L for first, second, and third-year law students.
The program is taught by Law School professors and features self-paced modules that students can refer back to throughout their entire first year. It covers topics such as how to read a case and the stages of civil litigation.
Law School Professor I. Glenn Cohen, who serves as Zero-L’s faculty director, told Harvard Law Today — a Law School-run publication — that the decision was prompted by concerns that many incoming law students might be struggling to prepare for the fall due additional responsibilities imposed by the pandemic, such as caring for sick relatives or financially supporting their families.
“Given all this, and knowing we had an excellent course with a demonstrated ability to help students start law school, making it freely available this year seemed like a small thing HLS could do for law students and law schools across the country to try to make the Fall 2020 just a little bit easier,” he said.
In 2019, four other law schools — Seton Hall University, Northeastern University, Boston College, and the University of Baltimore — adopted the program.
The Law School had planned to make the Zero-L program available to other schools for a fee, but decided to waive that fee in light of the pandemic. All law schools in the United States who wish to participate can offer the course to their incoming students starting July 1.
This year, the course will also cover material typically included in law school orientation, providing supplemental materials for schools that are currently making the shift to virtual orientations due to the pandemic.
Cohen also noted in Harvard Law Today that the Law School has not eliminated the possibility of reinstating the fee in future years. The school will, however, make a portion of Zero-L focused on American civics free and available to the public on HarvardX permanently.
Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 — who oversaw the original launch of Zero-L at the Law School — said in a press release that his own experience as a first-generation student has informed his understanding of the program’s importance.
“When I arrived at HLS as a first-year student, I felt very much out of my depth in those crucial first weeks,” he said in a press release. “Like a lot of other new law students, I felt that everyone around me ‘got it,’ and I just didn’t.”
Law School student Mara L. Chin Loy said in the release that the Zero-L program helped her feel well-prepared for her first semester in law school, adding that as a human biology major at Stanford, she did not understand how law school would work before taking the course.
“I was able to fully focus my time on learning the material in my class, as opposed to spending a few weeks trying to figure out what was even going on,” she wrote.
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