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Harvard's Curriculum Like New Coke?

It's about as heretical as changing the recipe for Coke. Harvard Law School announced Friday that it is changing its first-year curriculum, the very one it invented over a century ago and that has served as the basic training of every aspiring lawyer in every U.S. law school ever since. The new curriculum, approved unanimously by the faculty, will add 1L courses in international and comparative law, legislation and regulation, and complex problem solving.

Will the new recipe survive the blogosphere taste test? Orin Kerr is not so sure. Writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, he says:

"In my view, the traditional first-year curriculum works because its courses lay the foundation for later study; public law and statutory courses generally build on common law origins, so I think it usually works to put the common law courses first. Of course, it may be that we think that other courses are now ultimately more important. But if that's true, I tend to think that means such courses should be upper-level requirements rather than required first-year courses."

But what is common law? That is the question for Will Baude at Crescat Sententia, who admits that the concept still confuses him:

"is it made? is it found? is a federal common law of crimes unconstitutional? should a judge who believes that the common law is found rather than made ever be willing to follow a line of doctrine he believes to be clearly erroneous? when do Congress's enumerated powers entitle it to revise the common law? what about the common law of rules of decision? And so on. Then again, I suspect a lot of these questions would not have been settled to my satisfaction even with more common-law courses during my first semester of first year."

That said, Baude likes the idea of a first-year course on statutory interpretation. "[A] huge amount of the law school curriculum-- from tax to administrative law to corporations to criminal law-- seems like it builds at least as much on statutory interpretation as on the common law."

For some bloggers, their reactions to the new curriculum turn on their areas of focus. For example, at Opinion Juris, a blog devoted to international law, Peter Spiro is, of course, ecstatic:

"This adds Harvard to Michigan and Hofstra as schools that require IL in the first year, but Harvard's move obviously increases the probability of a cascade (look at what's happened in the wake of Harvard College's decision on early admissions).

Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy gives kudos to HLS for its "long overdue" update to its curriculum, but wonders why it is not teaching sentencing:

"I have argued here that sentencing is the most 'under-taught' class in law schools, and I am not at all surprised that sentencing has not jumped into HLS's mandatory curriculum.  But, more problematically, sentencing has not often been an elective course at HLS.  That is a real shame (and perhaps a reason many elite junior lawyers are not adequately familiar with some of the most pressing modern criminal law issues)."

Wait -- nevermind. HLS is teaching sentencing law and policy, using Berman's textbook.

Among law students, reaction was more certain. Taco's Toppings calls the reform long overdue and urges other law schools to follow suit. Scoplaw, noting that Georgetown has offered an alternative 1L curriculum since 1991, suggests that naysayers can now "officially go suck a nut." But 3L parens binubus is happy that change is coming as she leaves law school rather than as she enters.

Back at HLS, Dean Elena Kagan commented in The Boston Globe:

"Good God, the first-year curriculum was developed 130 years ago, and it really hasn't changed all that much since. So what we asked ourselves in these last few years is: Should it have remained quite that stable? And we decided the answer was no."

Hmmm, isn't that exactly what they said about the New Coke?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 9, 2006 at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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