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Harvard Law School (also known as Harvard Law or HLS) is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard Universitymarker. Located in Cambridgemarker, Massachusettsmarker, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United Statesmarker and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. HLS typically ranks among the top law schools. The U.S. News and World Report law school rankings place it as second, behind Yale Law School.

In the 1870s, under Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell, HLS introduced what has become the standard first-year curriculum for American law schools—including classes in contracts, property, torts, criminal law, and civil procedure. At Harvard, Langdell also developed the case method of teaching law, now the dominant pedagogical model at U.S. law schools.

The law school is currently led by Dean Martha Minow, who assumed the role on July 1, 2009. It was previously led by interim dean Howell Jackson, who took over from Elena Kagan upon her confirmation as Solicitor General of the United States on March 19, 2009.

Each class in the three-year J.D. program has approximately 550 students. The first-year (1L) class is broken into seven sections of approximately 80 students who take most first-year classes together. Harvard Law has 246 faculty members.

Admission to Harvard Law is highly selective: For the class entering in 2008, there were approximately 7,200 applicants, of which approximately 11.4% were admitted; 67.9% of those admitted enrolled. For that class, the GPA for the middle 50% of the students was between 3.74 and 3.95 (out of 4.33, as calculated by the Law School Data Assembly Service of the Law School Admissions Council) and an LSAT score between 170 and 176 (out of 180). Harvard Law's admissions process includes the unusual feature of telephone interviews conducted with students likely to be accepted.

Harvard Law School has produced numerous leaders in law and politics, including the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. One other former president, Rutherford B. Hayes, is a graduate, as is the current President of the Republic of China, Ma Ying-jeou. Some 149 sitting United States federal judges are Harvard Law School graduates, including four sitting justices of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker - Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts. Seven sitting United States Senators graduated from the school.

Harvard Law School graduates have accounted for 568 judicial clerkships in the past three years, including one-quarter of all Supreme Court clerkships. More than 120 from the last five graduating classes have obtained tenure-track law teaching positions.

Langdell Hall at night
Austin Hall
Langdell in the winter


Harvard Law School's campus is located just north of Harvard Yardmarker, the historic center of Harvard University, and contains several architecturally significant buildings.

From 1849 to 1855, the Harvard Branch Railroad terminated within what would become the present Law School campus, close to its southwest edge. Austin Hallmarker, the law school's oldest dedicated structure, designed by architect H. H. Richardson, was completed in that vicinity in 1884. The law school's student center, Harkness Commons, was designed by the Bauhaus's founder, Walter Gropius, and his firm, along with several law school dormitories. Together they make up the Harvard Graduate Center complex. Langdell Hallmarker, the largest building on the law school campus, contains the Harvard Law Library, the most extensive academic law library in the world.

As of 2006, a new complex is scheduled to rise on the northwest corner of the law school campus, to be designed by traditionalist architect Robert A. M. Stern. The complex is set to marry the architectural themes present in Austin and Langdell Halls, as well as the Gropius buildings.


Harvard Law School was established in 1817, making it the oldest continuously-operating law school in the nation. (The Marshall-Wythe School of Law at The College of William & Marymarker opened in 1779, but was forced to close at the outset of the American Civil War, and did not reopen until 1920. The University of Maryland School of Law was chartered in 1816, but did not begin classes until 1824, and also closed during the Civil War.)

The Royall estate

Its origins can be traced to the estate of Isaac Royall, who sold most of his Antiguan slaves and plantations to move to Medford, Massachusettsmarker. His Medford estate, the Isaac Royall Housemarker, is now a museum, and includes the only remaining slave quarters in the northeast United States. The estate was passed down to Royall's son, Isaac Royall, Jr., who fled Massachusetts as the American Revolution broke out. Just prior to his death in 1781, Royall, Jr. left land to Harvard, the sale of which was intended for the "endowing of a Professor of Laws at said college, or a Professor of Physics and Anatomy". Harvard took the opportunity to fund its first chair of law. The Royall chair remains today. It traditionally was held by the Dean of the law school. The school's previous Dean, Elena Kagan, declined the Royall chair, instead giving herself the Charles Hamilton Houston Professorship.

In 1806, the Royall estate in Medford was returned to Royall, Jr.'s heirs, who sold it and donated the proceeds for the formal foundation of Harvard Law School. The Royall family coat-of-arms was adopted as the school crest, which shows three stacked wheat sheaves beneath the university motto (Veritas, Latin "truth").

Growth and the Langdell curriculum

By 1827, the school, which was down to one faculty member, was struggling. An alumnus stepped in by endowing the Dane Professorship of Law and insisting that it be given to then Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Story's belief in the need for an elite law school based on merit and dedicated to public service helped build the school's reputation at the time, although the contours of these beliefs have not been consistent throughout its history. Enrollment remained low through the 19th century as university legal education was considered to be of little added benefit to apprenticeships in legal practice.

In the 1870s, Christopher Columbus Langdell arrived, introducing his new curriculum. Langdell's notion that law could be studied as a "science" gave university legal education a reason for being distinct from vocational preparation.

While the law school had previously been located on Harvard Yardmarker, the new system demanded lecture halls suited to the case law and interrogatory Socratic method of teaching. Henry Hobson Richardson would later design the law school's first independent home, the Romanesque Austin Hallmarker, to the north of the Yard, with these needs in mind. This would come to form the nucleus of the current law school campus.

As the 20th century dawned, Dean Langdell's innovations became standard in law school curricula across the country. The school also became the first to elevate legal education to a graduate-only discipline. Yet new theories, such as legal realism, blossomed at Yale and Columbia, while Harvard faculty members were generally known for their conservative approach.

20th century: institutional criticism

As it rose to preeminence among law schools in the United States, Harvard attracted significant criticism for many perceived shortcomings.

Harvard Law was often believed to be a competitive environment. For example, Dean Berring of Berkeley Law once stated that he "view[ed] Harvard Law School as a samurai ring where you can test your swordsmanship against the swordsmanship of the strongest intellectual warriors from around the nation." This was possibly historically true. When Langdell developed the original law school curriculum, Harvard Universitymarker President Charles Eliot told him to make it "hard and long."The school maintained a relatively uncompetitive admissions process, but "weeded out" a large number of first year students. This gave rise to the infamous legend of a dean at the school telling incoming students, "Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won't be here by the end of the year." Novels such as Scott Turow's One L and John Jay Osborn's The Paper Chase describe such an environment.

Whether the school ever was competitive is a subject of debate. A New York Times article from 1894 described in-class moot courts at Harvard as "co-operative."

In addition, Eleanor Kerlow's book Poisoned Ivy: How Egos, Ideology, and Power Politics Almost Ruined Harvard Law School criticized the school for a 1980s political dispute between newer and older faculty members over accusations of insensitivity to minority and feminist issues. Divisiveness over such issues as political correctness lent the school the title "Beirutmarker on the Charles."

In Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School, Richard Kahlenberg criticized the school for driving students away from public interest and toward work in high-paying law firms. Kahlenberg's criticisms are supported by Granfield and Koenig's study, which found that "students [are directed] toward service in the most prestigious law firms, both because they learn that such positions are their destiny and because the recruitment network that results from collective eminence makes these jobs extremely easy to obtain."

The school has also been criticized for extremely large first year class sizes (at one point there were 140 students/classroom; as of 2001 there are 80), a cold and aloof administration, and an inaccessible faculty. The latter stereotype is a central plot element of The Paper Chase and appears in Legally Blonde. Inaccessibility of the faculty was possibly a side effect of Harvard's original admissions process, which may have annoyed faculty by giving them less than stellar students.

This Harvard Law persisted into the latter half of the 20th century, but bears no resemblance to the modern school. The school eventually implemented the once-criticized but now dominant approach pioneered by Dean Robert Hutchins at Yale Law School: It shifted the competitiveness to the admissions process. Robert Granfield and Thomas Koenig's 1992 study of Harvard Law students that appeared in The Sociological Quarterly found that students "learn to cooperate with rather than compete against classmates," and that contrary to "less eminent" law schools, students "learn that professional success is available for all who attend, and that therefore, only neurotic "gunners" try to outdo peers." According to the ABA, in 2007-2008 the school admitted only 11.8% of applicants and no students left as a result of "academic" shortcomings.

Dean Robert C. Clark is generally given credit for "break[ing] the logjam" of the school's tenure battles and other political disputes. Above all, many of the school's shortcomings were addressed head-on by the administration of Dean Elena Kagan after 2003.

The Kagan Deanship

Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan sought to reverse many of the persistent stereotypes about the school when she assumed its deanship in 2003, promising reforms. She gave students her personal e-mail address, held office hours, successfully cut first year class sizes in half, and was given credit for a host of quality-of-life improvements at the law school, including an ice-skating rink (during the winter) and a beach volleyball court (the rest of the year) on campus, free coffee in classroom buildings, free tampons in campus public restrooms, and the renovation of several of the school's facilities. She also managed to boost the school's involvement in international and public interest law, and hired a significant number of prominent new faculty members.

The number of students interested in public interest law positions has expanded as Harvard has begun to offer summer funding for public interest internships and low income loan reduction plans for alumni who take on careers in the public interest and academia. For example, beginning with the J.D. Class of 2011, students who pledge to spend five years working for nonprofit organizations or the government after graduation will receive a grant in the full amount of their tuition during their third year, and are entitled to keep the grant if they remain in such positions for the five-year period. Tuition for the 2008-2009 academic year was $41,500.

In 2006, the faculty voted unanimously to approve a new first-year curriculum, placing greater emphasis on problem-solving, administrative law, and international law. The new curriculum is being implemented in stages over the next several years. In late 2008, the faculty decided that the school should move to an Honors/Pass/Low Pass (H/P/LP) grading system, much like those in place at Yale and Stanford Law Schools. The system applies to half the courses taken by students in the Class of 2010 and fully starting with the Class of 2011.

In addition, a vast new complex under construction on the northwest part of the law school campus is intended to expand classroom space for additional courses and create more space for an expanding clinical program. Several dormitories are also set to be renovated.


In 2009, Kagan was appointed Solicitor General of the United States by President Barack Obama, and has taken a leave of absence from the faculty and resigned the deanship. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust designated HLS professor Howell Jackson as interim dean until a permanent replacement could be named. On June 11, 2009, Faust announced that Martha Minow would become the dean on July 1, 2009.

In the spring of 2009, Howell Jackson announced that he expects HLS to lay off staff, stating that HLS would cut its budget by 10% for the next year and make further budget cuts the following year due to a drop in the endowment payout. In late spring and summer 2009, the school laid off 12 staff members and consolidated its clinics on campus. That fall, the Dean of Students announced that perks enjoyed by students, such as some free food and coffee, as well as funding for intellectual activities, such as colloquia, would be reduced?


Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Harvard Law School was the original home of the Berkman Center for Internet & Societymarker, which focuses on the study and construction of cyberspace. The Center sponsors conferences, courses, visiting lecturers, and residential fellows. Members of the Center do research and write books, articles, and weblogs with RSS 2.0 feeds, for which the Center holds the specification. Charles Nesson, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, John Palfrey, William W. Fisher, and Yochai Benkler hold appointments at the Center.

The Center's present location is a small Victorian wood-frame building which sits next to the larger-scale buildings of the Harvard Law School campus. It is in the process of relocating to a larger site on the campus' perimeter after being elevated to the status of an interfaculty center for all of Harvard University in 2008.

Its newsletter, " The Filter", is on the Web and available by e-mail, and it hosts a blog community of Harvard faculty, students and Berkman Center affiliates. The Berkman Center is funding the Openlaw project. One of the major initiatives of the Berkman Center is the OpenNet Initiative, which is a joint worldwide study of the filtering of the web, along with the Universities of Toronto and Cambridge (UK). It is also home to Global Voices Online and Herdict, worldwide blog-monitoring websites. The Berkman Center was a co-sponsor of Wikimania 2006.

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Established in the fall of 2005 by Professor Charles Ogletree, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice seeks to honor the contributions of Charles Hamilton Houston. The Institute carries forth Houston's legacy by serving as a hub for scholarship, legal education, policy analysis, and public forums on issues central to current civil rights struggles.

Labor & Worklife Program

The Labor and Worklife Program is a forum for research and teaching on the world of work and its implications for society. The program brings together scholars and policy experts from a variety of disciplines, including scholars of labor studies and an array of international intellectuals, to analyze critical labor issues in the law, economy, and society. As a multidisciplinary research and policy network, the LWP organizes projects and programs that seek to understand critical changes in labor markets and labor law, and to analyze the role of unions, business, and government as they affect the world of work. It also provides unique education for labor leaders throughout the world via the Harvard Trade Union Program, founded in 1942, which works closely with trade unions around the world to bring excellence in labor education to trade union leadership. By engaging scholars, students, and members of the labor community, the program coordinates legal, educational, and cultural activities designed to improve the quality of work life. It regularly holds forums, conferences, and discussion groups on labor issues of concern to business, unions, and the government.

Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is the oldest student-run legal services office in the country, founded in 1913. The Bureau's mission is to provide an important community service while giving student attorneys the opportunity to develop professional skills as part of the clinical programs of Harvard Law School.

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is a student-run law firm. The Bureau serves clients in housing law (landlord-tenant relations, public housing, subsidized housing), family law (divorce, custody, paternity, child support), government benefits (Social Security, unemployment benefits, Veterans' benefits, welfare), and wage and hour cases (including unpaid or underpaid wages, benefits, and overtime). The Bureau employs seven supervising attorneys and elects approximately twenty student members annually. Students practice under the supervision of admitted attorneys; however, students are primarily casehandlers on all matters. As a result, students gain firsthand experience appearing in court, negotiating with opposing attorneys, and working directly with clients. Students receive both classroom and clinical credits for their work at the Bureau.

Unlike most clinical programs at Harvard (or other schools), the Bureau is a two-year commitment. This gives students a chance to have a much more sustained and in-depth academic experience. In addition to the substantive legal experience, students gain practical experience managing a law firm. The student board of directors makes all decisions regarding case intake, budget management, and office administration. Thats cool

Famous participants include Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, activist and first lady Michelle Obama, and professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Laurence Tribe.

Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

The Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program was founded in 2006 by Professor Robert Bordone, who saw a growing need at Harvard Law School for practical opportunities where students could hone their negotiation and dispute management skills. The vision for the clinic was that by working directly with clients facing real-world problems, students would learn to look beyond litigation as the sole means of resolving disputes. From the start, student initiative and engagement have been crucial in shaping the nature of this clinic. The result is the nation’s first legal clinic focusing on dispute systems design and conflict management.

Since 2006, the clinic has continued to grow. HNMCP expanded its capacity by hiring additional staff to support the program and to help develop and supervise clinical projects. Currently, in addition to Professor Bordone, the clinic employs two full-time teaching fellows and a part-time program coordinator. This gives the clinic one of the best student-to-supervisor ratios at Harvard and ensures that the clinic will continue to develop its promise as a place where negotiation and mediation theory and practice come together.

WilmerHale Legal Services Center

Located in Boston’s Jamaica Plainmarker neighborhood, the WilmerHale Legal Services Center (formerly the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center) is Harvard Law School’s oldest and largest clinical teaching facility. Students working at the Center are placed in one of its clinics housed in five substantive practice groups and work with clinical instructors, experienced practitioners and mentors, who supervise student work and provide guidance as students build and manage their own caseload. The Center provides substantive training in each practice area and also offers general instruction on topics such as client interviewing and intake, case management, legal investigation and discovery, creative legal analysis, research and drafting. In June of 2009, Harvard Law School eliminated at least three staff positions at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center.

Other Harvard Law School programs

Pound Hall
Classroom in Pound Hall

Two additional programs affiliated with Harvard Law School are the Ames Foundation and the Selden Society.


Students of the Juris Doctor (JD) program are involved in preparing and publishing the Harvard Law Review, one of the most renowned university law reviews, as well as a number of other law journals and an independent student newspaper. The Harvard Law Review was first published in 1887 and has been staffed and edited by some of the school's most notable alumni. In addition to the journal, the Harvard Law Review Association also publishes The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, the most widely followed authority for legal citation formats in the United States. The student newspaper, the Harvard Law Record, has been published continuously since the 1940s, making it one of the oldest law school newspapers in the country, and has included the exploits of fictional law student Fenno for decades. The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, formerly known as the Harvard Law School Corporate Governance Blog, is one of the most widely read law websites in the country.

Hauser Hall
The law journals are:

Notable alumni

Barack Obama

Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States, and Barack Obama, the 44th and current President of the United States, graduated from HLS. Obama was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review and is now the first African-American President of the United States. His wife Michelle Obama is also a graduate of Harvard Law School. Ma Ying-jeou, the current president of the Republic of Chinamarker (Taiwan), received his SJD from Harvard. Past presidential candidates who are HLS graduates include Mitt Romney, Michael Dukakis and Ralph Nader. The plurality of US Senators with law degrees, and a significant number of Massachusetts governors, graduated from HLS as well.

Fourteen of the school's graduates have served on the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, more than any other law school, and another four justices attended the school without graduating. Five of the current nine members of the court attended HLS: Chief Justice John Roberts, and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Ginsburg transferred to and graduated from Columbia Law School. Past Supreme Court justices from Harvard Law School include David Souter, Harry Blackmun, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, Lewis Powell (LLM), and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., among others.

Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and Janet Reno, among others, and noted federal judges Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Michael Boudin of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Pierre Leval of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, among many other judicial figures, graduated from the school. The current Commonwealth Solicitor General of Australia Stephen Gageler SC graduated from Harvard with an LL.M.

Famous legal academics who graduated from Harvard Law include Erwin Chemerinsky, Ronald Dworkin, Susan Estrich, Arthur R. Miller, William L. Prosser, John Sexton, Kathleen Sullivan, Cass Sunstein, Michael Kinsley, and Laurence Tribe.

In addition to their achievements in law and politics, Harvard Law alumni have also excelled in other fields. Many have gone on to become influential journalists, writers, media and business leaders and even professional athletes.

Notable professors

Former notable professors

In popular culture


A number of notable novels have been inspired by the student experience at the school.

The Paper Chase is a novel set amid a student's first ("One L") year at the school. It was written by John Jay Osborn, Jr., who studied at the school. The book was later turned into a film and a television series (see below).

Scott Turow, a novelist, also wrote a book about his experience as a first-year law student at Harvard, One L.

The book Legally Blonde,[24149] by Amanda Brown, is about a sorority girl enrolling at Stanford Law School, much to the scrutiny of her classmates and professors. When the book was adapted into a feature film (which itself spawned both a sequel and a musical) the setting was changed to Harvard Law School.

Less notable than the above novels, several memoirs have also been written by former students at the school. Richard Kahlenberg's account of his experiences, Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School. Kahlenberg breaks from the other two authors and describes the experience of the final two years at the school, claiming that the environment drives students away from their public interest aspirations and toward work in high-paying law firms.

The book Brush With the Law, by Robert Byrnes and Jaime Marquart, is an account of the authors' three years in Stanford and Harvard Law Schools. The authors indulge in alcohol, drugs, womanizing, and gambling before passing their exams and moving on to a successful legal career.

Film and television

Several movies and television shows take place at least in part at the school. Most of them have scenes filmed on location at or around Harvard Universitymarker. They include:

Many popular movies and television shows also feature characters introduced as Harvard Law graduates. Some of these include:


Further reading

External links

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