Students and Professors Join Forces on Research
By Seth Stern '01
Think student researchers just check citations?
Last year, Harvard Law School student research assistants found themselves at a trade panel in Canada and a death penalty conference in Texas. And the results of their work are being heard before congressional committees and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In all, some 350 to 400 student research positions are available at HLS each year. These students do an average of 100 hours each as research assistants who work closely with members of the faculty. At any given time, they may be researching topics as diverse as international environmental disputes or the rights of criminal defendants.
"There's a huge range of diversity in research opportunities across a wide range of substantive areas," says Professor Howell Jackson '82, the Law School's associate dean for research "The opportunities here are great."
What follows are profiles of six students who say their work has enriched their law school experience and given them greater contact with professors outside of class.
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court listened to arguments in the case of Alabama v. Shelton on February 19, 3L Jordan Goldstein already knew what the justices would hear. After all, he helped write one of the briefs submitted to the Court.
Goldstein was asked by constitutional law Professor Charles Fried to join a team of lawyers from Boston's Hale and Dorr law firm that were helping prepare a brief requested by the Supreme Court.
The issue: whether the imposition of a suspended or conditional sentence in a misdemeanor case invokes a defendant's 6th Amendment right to counsel.
Goldstein prepared a survey of the case law on the subject and researched how prevalent suspended sentences are in similar situations.
"It was great," says Goldstein, who is also wrapping up an M.B.A. this year from Harvard Business School. "You could see how a Supreme Court amicus brief came from nothing to a finished product."
Call it a bi-national trade dispute or simply a battle between dishwasher makers.
Nathan Daschle said he is learning how the North American Free Trade Agreement really works while serving as an assistant to Professor Bill Alford '77.
Alford is serving on a bi-national panel deciding whether an American company had "dumped" its dishwashers and dryers on the Canadian market as alleged by a Canadian company. Daschle, who was enrolled in Alford's International Trade class last year, was happy to read through a stack of documents half a foot high to help Alford prepare for the case.
He submitted a 15-page memo on the effect of prior decisions by the Canadian government. Unfortunately, Daschle says he wasn't able to attend the January hearing on the case in January along with Alford and another research assistant.
But Daschle says the experience only makes him more interested in doing international trade work after graduation. "My understanding of it was greatly benefited from participating in the panel," he said.
Not every law student feels comfortable with math or statistics. But Jeremy Berry jumped at the chance to crunch numbers for Professor Howell Jackson.
Berry, a 2L who studied statistics and computers as an undergraduate, immediately responded to an announcement seeking a student to help sort through a database of 3,000 loans.
Berry developed the database, analyzed the results and researched some related legal issues to help Jackson serve as an expert witness in an upcoming class action suit. Working full time last summer and continuing once school resumed, Berry says he got an inside look at how lawyers prepare for complex trials.
"You learn the importance of statistics and analytical methods in modern day litigation," said Berry. "I've seen the strategies, preparations for deposition and the discovery process in action."
While the trial hasn't started yet, Jackson already presented some of their findings during testimony before a congressional committee. And Berry also found himself listening to a guest speaker describe some of the work he produced in his Community Economic Development class during Winter Term.
"It was interesting to see how important some of this work has been and how seriously the work is being taken," Berry said.
Annecoos Wiersema started out as a research assistant for Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter '85 and wound up working at the International Monetary Fund.
Wiersema, an S.J.D. student focusing on international environmental law,
As a result of that work, Wiersema went to the I.M.F. as a visiting scholar for two months. While there, she researched an article she's coauthoring with Slaughter on universal jurisdiction. Wiersema said the research helped expose her to areas of law, such as international finance, she hadn't previously thought about.
Wiersema said watching Slaughter work up close has helped her prepare for a career in academia after graduation. "Seeing how a professor writes and thinks—that's just a tremendous opportunity," she said.
Why has the U.S. retained the death penalty years after other industrial nations abolished it? Matthew Collangelo has spent most of his law school career trying to figure that out.
Last year, Collangelo wrote a student note in the Harvard Law Review highlighting successful constitutional challenges to capital punishment in Western European countries. Professor Carol Steiker '86 then invited him to help her own death penalty research.
He researched a paper on why other countries abandoned the death penalty. "It's still an open question," Collangelo says. One theory, he says, is that the U.S. political system is so close to popular will, American leaders can't waiver in their support.
Collangelo joined Steiker at a death penalty conference at the University of Texas at Austin last year where she presented their initial findings. "It let me interact with people currently working in this field: researchers, attorneys, political scientists and politicians," Collangelo said. "It's been a very interesting perspective on what's currently going on in the real world."
After graduation, Collangelo hopes he too may do death penalty work or civil rights litigation. For now, though, Collangelo is assisting Professor Charles Ogletree Jr. '78 on a historical study of the role race has played over the years in the capital punishment. They will discuss their research this spring at a University of Oregon conference.