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Theory-Practice Colloquium

The Colloquium

The HLS Theory-Practice Colloquium, sponsored by the Program on the Legal Profession, is a term-time workshop for Harvard Law School students with interest or experience in the practice of lawyering for social change. The colloquium will builds upon the highly successful Harvard Law School Summer Theory Institute, a workshop for public interest HLS students that has convened in New York City since 2008. Like the institute, the term-time colloquium has two broad goals, (1) To encourage thoughtful public interest practice by creating a space for participants to think through the role that social theory can play in public interest practice; and (2) To deepen commitment to public interest law by fostering a network of like-minded students across clinical programs and interest areas who are motivated to be innovative thinkers and actors in the public interest world after they graduate. The idea for the term-time colloquium emerged out of feedback received from participants of the Summer Theory Institute, who enjoyed having the opportunity to meet regularly with students working in a variety of public interest practice settings to read social theory and discuss its implications for their activism.

The 2010 Term-Time Colloquium was facilitated by two full-time practitioners, Nisha Agarwal ’06 and Jocelyn Simonson ‘06, and two student alumni of the Summer Theory Institute, Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune (HLS 2L) and Anthony Kammer (HLS 3L).


The Theory-Practice Colloquium meets five times during the academic year: twice in the Fall, once in the January Term, and twice in the Spring. The colloquium provides a space within which students can discuss with facilitators short works of social theory and the relationship of those theories to their public interest practice. The students gather in two groups of 10-15 participants, each with one practitioner-facilitator and one peer-facilitator. The focus of these voluntary, ungraded workshops is on parsing through dense works of critical and social theory and using the theory to engage with the challenges posed by public interest legal practice. For each session, participants read either a short article or an excerpt from a larger theoretical work, no more than 30 pages. Some examples of the types of thinkers we might engage with include Gayatri Spivak, Chantal Mouffe, Steven Lukes, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich Hayek, Karl Marx, and Michel Foucault. Participants will also be asked to email their initial, informal reactions to the reading to the entire colloquium, focusing on the relevance of the theoretical viewpoint presented to their experiences practicing public interest law in their clinics and/or internships. At the colloquium, facilitators then guide a two-hour discussion based on the students’ responses and the themes that arise in the text(s).

The Term-Time Colloquium involves a serious commitment on the part of the participants, who are required to commit to attending both of the Fall and Spring sessions, with some flexibility given for the January session for those students who will be off campus for the winter term. Participants are asked to prepare for each group meeting ahead of time through reading and writing of a response paper, and to engage actively in the discussions. Sessions are typically held on weekday evenings over dinner from 7-9pm.

The mission of the institute is to infuse excitement, innovation and sustainability into students’ public interest practice experience. Working together to think through the role that social theory can play in legal practice and activism allows students to engage more meaningfully with the methods of pursuing justice they have observed in internships, externships, clinics, and other practice settings. The colloquium aims to create a community of future leaders who will bring their enthusiasm for pursuing social change through the law to their peers and colleagues as they move through law school and beyond.

Questions? Please email Hakim Lakhdar.

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