Rethinking Langdell: Historic changes in 1L curriculum set stage for new upper-level programs of study
Post Date: December 2006
Langdell Hall Then:
The first major curriculum reform
in over 100 years at HLS
In October, the Harvard Law School faculty unanimously adopted a reform of the first-year curriculum after a three-year process of study and consultation with legal scholars, faculty from other professional schools and practicing lawyers.
The changes to the 1L course offerings, together with new second- and third-year programs of study which the faculty approved last spring, mark the first comprehensive revision of the law school’s curriculum since it was designed more than 100 years ago by Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell.
News of the vote on the first-year changes generated national media coverage, including extensive reports in The New York Times, The National Law Journal, and dozens of online news outlets and legal blogs.
"This is a major step forward in our efforts to develop a law school curriculum for the 21st century," said Dean Elena Kagan '86. "Over 100 years ago, Harvard Law School invented the basic law school curriculum, and we are now making the most significant revisions to it since that time. I am extraordinarily grateful to the entire faculty for its vision and support of these far-reaching reforms."
According to Professor Martha Minow, who led the reform effort, the new curriculum will prepare students better for modern legal practice, and will reflect the increasingly international dimensions of law and the fact that regulations and statutes often play a more important role in the creation and elaboration of law than court decisions do.
Specifically, the curricular changes seek to ensure:
- Greater attention to statutes and regulations and an introduction to the institutions of public law;
- Systematic attention to international and comparative law and economic systems;
- Opportunities for students to address - alone and in teams - complex, fact-intensive problems (instead of focusing only on appellate decisions) and to generate and evaluate solutions; and
- More sustained opportunities to reflect on the entire enterprise of law and legal studies, the assumptions and methods of contemporary U.S. law, and the perspectives provided by other systems and disciplines.
To achieve these goals, the school will add three new course requirements to the first-year curriculum: a course focusing on legislation and regulation; a choice of one of three specially crafted courses introducing global legal systems and concerns; and a course focusing on problem solving, which also will introduce students to theoretical frameworks illuminating legal doctrines and institutions.
These changes complement last year's reforms of the curriculum for 2Ls and 3Ls, which promote more focused, interdisciplinary programs of study in the following categories: Law and Government; Law and Business; Law, Science and Technology; Law and the International Sphere; and Law and Social Change.
The new first-year curriculum will provide a foundation to enable any student who wishes to pursue one of the advanced programs of study, Minow says.
For the advanced programs, law school faculty are consulting with scholars at Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government to enable law students to take a set of offerings at those schools and thereby gain an understanding of their different disciplinary approaches and perspectives. The idea, Kagan says, is to broaden students' vision and equip them to play leadership roles in many fields of endeavor.
The programs of study in the second and third years are also designed to provide students with expanded opportunities for clinical work, internships and study abroad, Minow says. They reflect a belief that problem-solving exercises should be a critical component of legal education and that hands-on training should be central to many students' law school experience.
In the last five years, the number of students getting legal experience in the school's clinical programs has almost doubled. There has been an expansion of clinical placements in areas such as community economic development, international human rights, and environmental law. By year's end, the school is also expected to launch an appellate and Supreme Court litigation clinic.
To make room for the new first-year courses, fewer class hours will be devoted to the traditional first-year curriculum (contracts, torts, civil procedure, criminal law and property). There will also be a new January term for first-year students, devoted exclusively to the Problems and Theories class.
CHARTING NEW COURSES
New offerings at a glance:
- Legislation and Regulation - This course will introduce students to the world of legislation, regulation and administration that creates and defines so much of today’s legal order.
- Public International Law, International Economic Law or Comparative Law - Students will choose one of these three courses recognizing the impact of globalization on legal issues and systems.
- Problems and Theories - This new winter-term course will focus on complex problem solving and provide an opportunity for students to reflect on what they learned in the fall term.