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October 24, 2006

What law school year "works" best?

Orin Kerr here over at The Volokh Conspiracy notes and comments upon this National Law Journal article on how some "elite" law schools dean are reacting to the new 1L Harvard Law School curriculum.  I will have a lot to say about the new HLS curriculum in future posts, but I could not resist noting this remarkable quote from Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer:

"The first year is the one year that works," he said. "It is rather bizarre that, in general, law schools have focused on reforming the first year when the problems and failures in the curriculum are all in the second and third years."

Wow!  Though surely all three years of law school could benefit from more innovative programming, it is rather stunning that Dean Kramer is so confident that the first year "works" and that all the "problems and failures" are in the second and third years.  I am particularly wondering what evidence he has that first year "works" and what he thinks are the "problems and failures" in second and third years.

In my view, the varied options and opportunities given to 2L and 3L law students — both inside and outside the classroom — help empower law students to make these years "work" for them.  However, 1L year is so tightly scripted, I fear it works well only for the rare souls (i.e., most folks who become law professors) who really enjoy figuring out the puzzles of the common law and the legal histories behind modern legal realities.

October 24, 2006 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink


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Dean Kramer's remarks puzzle me, given that the 1L curriculum is virtually identical at both schools.

Civil Procedure
Criminal Law
Constitutional Law
Legal Research/Writing
2-4 Electives

Harvard (after the changes):
Civil Procedure
Criminal Law
Legal Research/Writing
Problems and Theories
3 Electives (1 totally free elective, 1 international/comparative elective, 1 statutory/regulatory elective)

The only real differences between these two is that Harvard requires "Problems and Theories" instead of Con Law (which I believe is still required during 2L year), and only one of Harvard's three electives is a "free" elective, with the other two akin to undergrad distribution requirements.

If anything, one can argue that Harvard's new first year curriculum more closely Stanford's first year curriculum than the old one did.

Posted by: Anthony | Oct 24, 2006 7:08:32 PM

There are no required courses at Harvard after the first year aside from some sort of a professional responsibility credit. Although virtually all students do take Con Law (and Corps) in the second year, this is not a formal requirement to get a degree.

Posted by: Kevin | Oct 24, 2006 11:40:10 PM

Thanks for the clarification -- I wasn't sure whether it was a formal requirement or something that virtually everyone takes.

In any case, I still find Dean Kramer's comment rather odd, and would like more information on why he thinks the 1L year works--and, perhaps more importantly, which school's version of the 1L curriculum works best (there are some pretty significant differences among 1L courses even just between Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, let alone the entire top 14 or among all law schools).

Posted by: Anthony | Oct 25, 2006 6:00:44 PM

I will defend my alma mater on this point. I think the poster's comment that the HLS' first year now seems more like SLS' makes Dean Kramer's point. Let me provide another perspective: the goal of first year is to learn general legal method and some susbtantive law along the way. The first year provides the tools that will come into play in more advanced courses, whether doctrinal, clinical, or other. With that as a given (and I know that might be questioned), it matters little what those first year courses are (whether the traditional big six or some other courses) and more how the courses are approaced and presented.

I am not suggesting by any means that SLS has the answer (although I have to say I was very happy with my first year at SLS). I am offering an interpretation of Dean Kramer's point.

--Shubha Ghosh, Professor of Law, SMU Dedman School of Law (and teacher of some first year courses and more advanced courses)

Posted by: Shubha Ghosh | Oct 28, 2006 3:50:27 PM

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