Monday, October 09, 2006

Harvard Law School's Curricular Changes

One of my recent posts invited readers to comment about what they think is good or bad about law school. Thanks to everyone who commented. The comments certainly have given me food for thought.

Now the faculty at Harvard Law School has weighed in on the matter (although unfortunately not through my blog). In their view, one of the biggest problems in current US legal education is the first-year curriculum. So, they have voted unanimously to implement radical changes. In the future, the first-year curriculum at Harvard will de-emphasize the caselaw method, with its reliance on appellate decisions, and focus more strongly on regulatory, governmental, and international sources of law. Yes, international. An October 6, 2006, announcement by Harvard Law School's Dean Elena Kagan can be found here, and a Boston Globe article discussing the changes can be found here. My thanks go to my colleague, Professor Michael McCann (who received his LL.M. from Harvard), for bringing this story to my attention. (FYI--Check out McCann's excellent Sports Law Blog here.)

This really is a stunning development. My teaching and research focus on international law and international trade regulation, so it's amazing to see. International legal courses are all too often viewed purely as strictly optional or luxury courses in law schools, and yet here is a pre-eminent law school turning that assumption completely on its head. I'm all for more international law in the law school curriculum, and yet honestly I do wonder whether the first year is the best place for it. It's something to think about, anyway.

But even more importantly, Harvard's move basically brings the whole model of legal education into question. Not the value of legal education per se, but rather the nature of the education now offered.

I will be paying attention to this revamped curriculum as it gets rolled out. Who knows--20 years from now, the current way of teaching law may be history. Given the frustration that many students feel in law school, and the perception of many law graduates (and their employers) that law school does not prepare people for the practice of law, perhaps these changes will be a good thing.

FYI--The Volokh Conspiracy has a post on this subject too, although that post focuses primarily on the addition of international law to the 1L curriculum. Check out the comments, which are largely negative, and very interesting.


shell said...

This U.S.-centric view is not limited to law school curriculums. It has permeated every aspect of the American society. Take for example, the media. We only cover stories when the U.S. is somehow involved (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea). We presume that U.S. economy is the best model, as is the American political and legal structure.

While U.S. is undoubtedly a major political leader and economic giant, it is unwise to ignore assume that it is therefore unecessary to understand cultural, political, economical, and legal structures, trends, and events outside the North American continent.

An excellent reason to require an international class (of a student's choice) in law school is to expose American law students to the international forum. These days, nearly everything has global applications. Countries (U.S. is no exception) are intrinsically linked to each other through commerce (both individual contracts and trade negotiatons) and other political collaborations (or conflicts).

To pretend the rest of the world does not exist, to ignore the fact that most of the world have non-common law legal system is perpetuating ignorance amongst future young attorneys.

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