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Does Harvard Teach Law Anymore?

Harvard is to law what Winchester is to bolt actions.  Powerful, dependable, well engineered and the mark of a serious craft, at least that's what I was told.

These days, Harvard graduates probably don't know much about bolt actions, unless they are a member of the Harvard Law School shooting club.  A stroll through the Harvard Law School course catalog also makes you wonder how much they know about the real practice of law.

The course catalog from Harvard Law School hints that the answer might be -- not as much as we thought.

The Harvard Law School course catalog frequently reads more like an ideological training academy than it does a program for teaching lawyers how to practice law.

I may be unqualified to opine about Harvard Law considering that I went to a law school in the SEC.  That's the Southeastern Conference, not the Securities and Exchange Commission.  As such, I spent most of my law school years taking courses that trained future lawyers to practice real law in real American courtrooms: remedies, civil procedure, criminal procedure, legal writing, trusts, evidence, and even more civil procedure.

Six of nine United States Supreme Court justices attended Harvard, so they must be doing something right.  But the course catalog at Harvard reveals a great divide emerging in American legal education.

Is law school about learning to practice law, or fundamental transformation?

Elite universities are graduating lawyers who seem most qualified to engineer fundamental social change, not represent clients in court.  Law schools in most of America still seem to focus on graduating lawyers who know how to practice law.  The course descriptions, below, reveal a different approach to legal education at Harvard.  The political ramifications for the nation should be obvious, especially when so many positions of power are filled with graduates of elite law schools.  That's not just me saying it, Harvard's own website boasts of this fundamental transformation:

Harvard Law School recently undertook a sweeping overhaul of its first-year curriculum. The new curriculum reflects legal practice in the 21st century, adding courses in legislation and regulation and international and comparative law to the traditional curriculum of civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. . . . In the second and third years of law school, Harvard students shape their own courses of study, selecting among a wide offering of electives. . . .  Five optional Programs of Study – Law and Government; Law and Social Change; Law and Business; International and Comparative Law; and Law, Science and Technology €”developed by the Law School faculty provide pathways through the upper-level curriculum.

Sorry, but "legislation" doesn't reflect the "legal practice in the 21st Century."  I took legislation in law school, and a small fraction of lawyers ever dabble in the area.  Lawyers inside the D.C. Beltway seeking to expand the power of the federal government are one exception.  I've sat in courtrooms listening to thousands of docket calls, and never once heard "comparative law" on the menu.  Worse, in most of America, no lawyer has any use for nonsense like "Law and Social Change," unless politics are on the agenda instead of law.

A classroom blackboard at Harvard Law Classroom blackboard at Harvard Law

Joel Pollak, a graduate of Harvard Law School and editor at Breitbart News, told me that the shift isn't always passive, where Harvard law students can hear both sides and peacefully choose.  "Many of the professors who teach the 'core' classes are conscientious about fostering debate, open to different perspectives, and able to separate their own political views from their pedagogy. Others, however, seem unable to resist the urge to foist their personal ideological convictions onto their classes, resisting questions from students who disagree."

And therein lies the danger -- law professors with a captive audience of first year students turn law into political ideology, a training academy for the institutional left at an elite law school.  And after the first year of core classes ends, just imagine what happens in these actual classes (detailed below) that are now taught at Harvard Law School:

The Art of Social Change

"We will bring into the classroom as visiting lecturers leaders from the worlds of policy, practice, and academia -- people who have themselves operated as successful change agents and who represent different disciplines, career paths, and strategies for change."

Fidelity in Interpretation

"This seminar will develop a theory of interpretation for the Constituiton [SIC!!!!!] of the United States tied to a particular conception of interpretive fidelity. The aim is Dworkinian -- to develop the theory that best explains and justifies our constitutional tradition."  A screenshot from the Harvard Law catalog, errata included.

Hav

Feminist Legal Theory

Halley Prof. Janet Halley

"This course will survey the most important sources of feminist thinking in and around law and law reform, with attention to the ways in which differing feminist ideas have and have not become operationalized as law that actually governs. We will pay attention to the rise and fall of feminist ideas; to competitor theoretical frames and ongoing contests among different feminist worldviews for influence on law; to nonwestern sources of feminist legal thought; and to modes of transmitting feminist ideas from one national, regional, and/or international system to another. A constant theme will be the collaborations among and conflicts between feminist social movements and social movements for emancipation of groups other than women: racial minorities, sexual minorities, immigrants, the poor."

Law and Psychology: The Emotions

Ironically taught by Professor David Cope:  "Love, jealousy, guilt, anger, fear, greed, compassion, hope, and joy play important roles in the lives of lawyers and those with whom they interact."

Law and the Political Process

Professor Lani Guinier teaches Law and the Political Process. "Prerequisites: None. Constitutional Law is strongly recommended but is not a prerequisite for this course.”   No surprise in a Guinier-taught course.

Litigating Health Rights: Can Courts Bring More Justice to Health?

"The question of whether courts can not only call for modifying legislation and policies but also enforce affirmative entitlements to care has been answered in many contexts. Yet questions still persist as to when and how litigation can lead to greater equity in health and enhance the functioning and oversight of health systems, rather than distorting priorities and budgets."

Animal Law

A course, perhaps, about laws surrounding animal-based commodities?  Maybe a survey of useful contractual issues involving agricultural commerce?  Stop it, this is Harvard, not the University of Wyoming!:

Animal Law Prof. Kristen Stilt Animal Law Prof. Kristen Stilt

"The course will also engage with fundamental questions about animals and the law, such as: Are some animals more deserving of protection than others, and if so, on what basis? What role does culture and belief play in animal law—why are dogs considered pets in the U.S. and food in some parts of the world, for example? Does the status of animals as property pose an insurmountable barrier to increasing protections for animals? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the concepts of “animal rights” and “animal welfare”?

(More course descriptions on next page)