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October 26, 2006

The wimpy HLS modification of the 1L curriculum

There is a lot to say about the new 1L curriculum at Harvard Law School, and here is just an abridged sampling of some of the blogosphere reactions:

Though I joked here that I was disappointed HLS did not add a sentencing course to the first year, my real disappointment is with how "wimpy" the changes are. 

HLS added three new courses — a course in legislation/regulation; a course dealing with international law; and a course on legal problem solving — that nobody can assert are unimportant.  But HLS did not make the hard decision to replace any of the existing "traditional" 1L courses.  Though it reduced the size of some of these courses, this was perhaps a market-driven necessity because courses bigger than four credits are becoming an anomaly in the modern law school curriculum.

Gutsy reform would have been to eliminate or radically transform one or more of the traditional 1L offerings.  Property made sense 100 years ago when most students were sons of rich landowners who could need to know how to convey estates; today, a host of intellectual property topics are far more important for the average lawyer to know.  Civ Pro, Contracts and Torts have kept up with the times a bit better, but additional "renovations" and innovations in all of these traditional subjects are still needed to keep up with the modern legal times.

Criminal Law, the 1L course I teach, definitely needs modernizing because, in my view, a focus on the Model Penal Code misses the most common and pressing controversies in modern criminal justice systems.  A few years ago, I have explained my views on this front in an article in the Ohio State journal of Criminal Law with the quirky title "The Model Penal Code Second: Might 'Film Schools' Be in Need of a Remake?".  That article can be accessed at this link, and here is a snippet:

[T]he modern realities of the criminal justice system have made many components and concerns of the original MPC seem increasingly academic and almost naively optimistic.  This is an especially disquieting evolution because, in my view, what made the original MPC so brilliant — and ultimately so important and successful — was its ability to be pragmatic and realistic while also being principled and righteous.  In today's world, though the MPC's principles still look fresh, its realism looks very dated. Consequently, while the original MPC can still be used to teach modern law students about fundamental principles of criminal law, no longer can it effectively illuminate the many modern challenges which now impede the application of these principles in practice.

In sum, I am disappointed that HLS took a wimpy approach to curricular reform: by merely adding to the 1L experience, rather than taking steps to seriously reshape it, Harvard Law School has done very little to modernize legal education.

October 26, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink

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Gutsy reform would have been to eliminate or radically transform one or more of the traditional 1L offerings. Property made sense 100 years ago when most students were sons of rich landowners who could need to know how to convey estates

Posted by: pharmacy | Aug 30, 2011 11:35:07 AM

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