From the Dean

Solving Problems, Locally and Globally

Photo of  Dean Martha Minow

Creative problem-solving is the hallmark of superb lawyering. The stories in this Bulletin include a profile of Rebecca Onie ’03, whose questions about how best to meet the health needs of low-income patients started during her college years and led to a holistic approach to the problem, a MacArthur “genius” award and a new direction for health care reform.

How to adapt the largest private law library in the world to the digital revolution is a problem with opportunities. Cyberlaw visionary Professor John Palfrey’s (’01) leadership of the HLS library has introduced an in-house laboratory for digital innovation and on-staff statisticians assisting faculty and students with empirical research. All of Harvard University’s libraries are now benefiting through Palfrey’s ideas and advice from his work on a universitywide library task force.

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Shout

“The workshop challenged students to tackle cases from the very beginning—when clients walk in the door with a problem.”

How should we make sense of the financial crisis of ’08 and ’09? What solutions can work and what measures can prevent a recurrence? These challenges engage many HLS faculty, students and alumni. Professor Hal Scott has taken his analyses to the Senate; Professor Howell Jackson ’82 supports a financial services oversight council—and flags for special attention the monitoring of international firms that can elude attention by any single nation. Byron Georgiou ’74, Norm Champ ’89, and Professors Allen Ferrell ’95, Jesse Fried ’92, Lucian Bebchuk LL.M. ’80 S.J.D. ’84, Bill Stuntz and Elizabeth Warren each offer insights into the financial crisis and regulatory options.

The HLS faculty as a whole tackled the problem of improving legal education with the winter term launch of the 1L Problem Solving Workshop, experienced for the first time by all 560 first-year students. Using role-play, teamwork and engagement with practicing attorneys, the workshop challenged students to tackle cases from the very beginning—when clients walk in the door with a problem—and to use creativity and analytical rigor in generating real, workable solutions. Here, the workshop moved beyond the hypothetical and theoretical, and the engagement of more than 100 practicing attorneys in instructing and giving feedback proved especially valuable to students.

One of the problems studied in the course—how to protect tenants living in foreclosed homes—was drawn from the vital work of Clinical Professor David Grossman ’88 and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, work that responds directly to the financial crisis.

A new round of problem-solving is well under way as the faculty involved in the successful course assess ways to make it even better.

In all of these and other efforts, we are constantly testing Voltaire’s wonderful maxim: “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” Or, at the very least, we are attempting to make sure that no failure to apply sustained thinking will be the cause of unsolved problems.

Dean Martha Minow

P.S. As this issue of the Bulletin was going to press, news broke that President Barack Obama ’91 had nominated my predecessor, Elena Kagan ’86, to the U.S. Supreme Court. We are immensely proud of our former dean, colleague, teacher and our friend!

For more on law schools’ potential for creative problem-solving, see the text and video of Dean Minow’s recent talk “The Past, Present, and Future of Legal Education”.


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