UntitledThe Next Generation
Recent faculty additions combine teaching excellence with youth and energy
By Michael Armini
There was a time when the names of the Harvard Law School faculty were synonymous with the titans of American jurisprudence: Brandeis, Frankfurter, Holmes, Story. And today's faculty superstarsnames like Dershowitz, Fried, Giunier, Tribe, and many othersare no less remarkable, serving both as master teachers and high-profile practitioners.
Keeping this tradition alive is no easy task. The faculty appointment process at HLS consists of three separate committees, which examine candidates from a wide range of legal disciplines and professional backgrounds.
Currently eight assistant professors are on the HLS tenure track. While their names are not yet emblazoned in the American consciousness or chiseled into the walls of Langdell Hall, they represent the next generation of a tradition that has often charted the course of legal history.
"It's slightly intimidating," says Heather Gerken, an assistant professor who specializes in election law. "But it's also incredibly exciting. It's like walking among giants."
Other assistant professors agree that joining the HLS faculty ranks can seem initially daunting, but that the typical caricature of the facultyas aloof, unapproachable or divisiveis not accurate. "When I was in law school [at HLS], the faculty had a reputation of being somewhat contentious," said Kenneth Mack '91 an assistant professor who specializes in civil rights and history of the legal profession. "Having joined the faculty, I've found people to be very friendly. They are interested in my work and my teaching and want me to succeed."
To Margo Schlanger, who teaches constitutional law and torts, it's not about stacking up against the marquee names of the past, but excelling at a particular approach unique to HLS. "What's intimidating or fun or challenging is to try to live up to the tradition of [unifying] public service and real academic inquiry," she says. "That's the Harvard traditionto be both a scholar and to have your scholarship serve the public interest."
According to Professor Todd Rakoff '75, dean of the J.D. Program, these and other factors allow HLS to successfully recruit top candidates to join the faculty. "We are able to get the absolute best people in the market," Rakoff says. "Virtually everyone we go after has offers from somewhere else, yet they come here."
In addition to the School's prestige, Rakoff cites an interest on the part of potential recruits to work alongside the current HLS faculty. "Bright young scholars want to work with our existing faculty and with our student body."
HLS students seem to share this enthusiasm. Thomas Cotton '02, who took Law and Democracy with Gerken last spring, says "she provides great advice on practical things, like judicial clerkships, government jobs, and teaching."
This focus on students is no accident. Assistant Professor David Barron '94 says he feels a special obligation, as a recent HLS graduate, to work closely with today's students. "Every day I feel a responsibility to try and connect with students and give them a sense that they are not many, many levels down the pecking order here."
While Barron says he had many positive experiences with faculty when he was a student, he believes some students still find faculty difficult to approach. "Sometimes it's self-imposed [by the students]. They're nervous, they feel scared, and they shouldn't be."
Professor Frank Sander '52 thinks even the youthful appearance of some junior faculty can have a positive effect. "Clearly they're more informally dressed than most of us old-timers," said Sander who joined the faculty in 1959.
Although the eight assistant professors have much in common (all are in their thirties) they specialize in many different areas. "We really are in lots of different fields," said Allen Ferrell '95, a corporate law specialist who joined the faculty in 1999. "You have a legal historian, someone in voting rightsit runs the gamut."
In fact, junior faculty are often well-suited to teach in new and emerging fieldsan important consideration with HLS currently offering its most diverse curriculum to date. Just as past HLS faculty broke new ground in fields such as environmental regulation or sexual harassment, today's newcomers are expanding the limits of today's legal landscape.
Jonathan Zittrain '95, the School's cyberlaw guru, is an example of someone who clearly thrives on the cutting edge. "One of the most fascinating things about a field like cyberlaw is that it's boundaries as a field aren't even defined yet," said Zittrain. "The fact that it's very existence as a field is not certain is what makes it such a fun and challenging area." The same is true of Assistant Professor Samuel Bagenstos '93, an expert in the area of disability law. "All of the case law under the ADA is new," Bagenstos points out. "When I was working in practice, I got to work on a lot of the significant cases that gave content to the statute. Young faculty members can come from recent practice experience and have it be very relevant."
In the case of Diane Ring '90, an international tax expert, her appointment is an example of adding new talent and fresh perspective to an already strong area within the HLS faculty. "International tax has really become an area of much greater prominence in the past 10 to 12 years," she said.
Although appointment to the Harvard Law faculty is certainly a major accomplishment, these new recruits seem focused more on future goals, than past achievements. What next? "Get tenure," says Gerken.