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Harvard Law School recently undertook a sweeping overhaul of its first-year curriculum. The new curriculum reflects legal practice in the 21st century, adding courses in legislation and regulation and international and comparative law to the traditional curriculum of civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. All first-year students now take a problem solving workshop in which they grapple with real-world challenges involving complex fact patterns and encompassing diverse bodies of law. Students also participate in a legal research and writing course which teaches important skills essential to the practice of law. And students choose electives, in the international law arena and, more generally, from the wide array of courses Harvard offers.
The first-year class is divided into seven sections of eighty students each. Faculty Section Leaders, generally senior faculty members who teach one of the section’s basic courses, provide guidance and support to the students in their sections and develop a program of extra-curricular activities related to the law.
In addition to section activities, students may participate in first-year reading groups—groups of 10-12 students—that offer the opportunity to interact with faculty in informal settings outside the classroom. Led by faculty members who often focus on areas of particular personal interest, these ungraded groups explore such topics as diverse as law and literature, legal responses to terrorism, regulation of climate change, and issues of bioethics.
In the second and third years of law school, Harvard students shape their own courses of study, selecting among a wide offering of electives. Students generally take a mix of classroom, clinical, writing and cross-registration credits, selecting courses at the Law School and throughout the University that align with their interests. Five optional Programs of Study – Law and Government; Law and Social Change; Law and Business; International and Comparative Law; and Law, Science and Technology—developed by the Law School faculty provide pathways through the upper-level curriculum. The Programs of Study offer students guidance on structuring an academic program that will give them extensive exposure to the law, policies, theory, and practice in their chosen areas of focus. Of particular importance for many students are clinical and inter-disciplinary opportunities, which enable students to experience law in practice and to understand how law appears from the perspective of other activities and approaches. The Law School encourages students to engage in their third year in a capstone learning experience: advanced seminars, clinical practice, and writing projects that call on students to use the full extent of their knowledge, skills, and methodological tools in a field to address the most interesting, complicated and intractable legal problems of today.
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