It is with great pleasure and humility that I write the first Record editorial of the new academic year. There is much to be excited about (which hopefully translates into many interesting news stories), with a new dean at the helm who has demonstrated a willingness to listen to student concerns while pushing a new Campaign that will benefit not only the Law School, but also graduating students who take advantage of the LIPP program.
The Record itself thrives on change, with a new staff bringing fresh ideas. First, I am honored to work beside Jon Lamberson, The Record’s publisher, who is very hard-working and has perfected the art of multitasking. Additionally, Jonas Blank has stayed with the paper as its administrative editor, and I am grateful to have his expertise and advice in the coming year. Also on my list of personal commendations is the editorial page editor Adam White, who has shown a remarkable ability to recruit columnists from a variety of viewpoints.
I could write a whole editorial on The Record staff, praising the photographic ability of Tammy Pettinato, the critical eye of Jeremy Blachman or the writing ability of Hugo Torres, but I think it is enough to say I am looking forward to working with everyone who is a part of the staff this year.
As for Harvard Law School and the new dean, the April 10, 2003 editorial of The Record praised the selection of Kagan, but criticized the selection process. While President Summers ultimately made a correct decision, there must be transparency in similar processes for students to feel like their dean and her selection was made for the betterment of them, as well as faculty and the institution as a whole. Next time the school may not be so lucky to have a former Treasury Secretary who was committed to picking a faculty member who not only had a career of academic excellence, but demonstrated a skillful ability to work with others during her time at the Clinton White House.
Kagan has started off well with her ever-present presence throughout the Law School and her weekly office hours. She has prided herself on being someone who is open to faculty and student concerns about HLS. Kagan’s decision to renovate Pound Hall and Hemenway while constructing the new plaza outside the Hark are not only physically pleasing decisions, but they convey a certain symbolic value that the Law School is committed to instituting positive changes for the benefit of its students.
But, as Kagan has recognized, the Law School has several areas where improvements can be made.
The grading system remains a problem. Grading exams is undoubtedly a time consuming effort, especially for the 80-student 1L classes and bundle courses that can have over 100 students. But that does not take away from the unfairness of basing an entire semester of learning on one three-hour or eight-hour exam. Furthermore, the requirement that 1L professors should provide other means of assessment during the course of the semester is hardly satisfactory given that many professors do not even abide by the requirement.
Along these same lines, the FYL program at this school is in desperate need of renovation. Kagan should be commended for her willingness to consider all options when it comes to the writing program. It is a waste of considerable class time to write only one memo and one brief during the course of an academic year. As a suggestion, perhaps students should write a memo every two weeks and the time spent on the Ames briefs should be cut in half. The entire FYL program could even take one hypothetical case and follow it from the filing of the complaint in September to the appeals hearing in the spring. This would expose students to a broad array of legal writing skills while also teaching them about the litigation process.
Other schools’ writing programs should be examined to determine what works. For example, the University of Chicago could be a model for how a law school can teach writing to its students. If more BSA instructors are needed to handle the increased workload, then that seems like a small financial expense to ensure students leave HLS with a grip on legal writing.
It may seem like a small thing (no pun intended), but the 2L and 3L Hark boxes need to be enlarged in order to handle paper and newspaper stuffing. As of now, the design means most papers have to be folded to fit the dimensions and it only takes a few law firm reception announcements and one issue of The Record to clog the box and make one dread having to go through the crumbled papers. This usually translates into 2Ls and 3Ls growing too frustrated to stop and check their boxes.
The Law School should also offer more consumer law classes to offset the numerous corporate law courses. A bold law school could even include such a course in the list of bundles offered to 2Ls as a way of endorsing its educational value for a well-rounded law student. More should also be done to attract the best faculty in the fields of international law and environmental law.
With bidding winding down today for 2Ls and 3Ls, one is reminded that OCI can do more to ensure that plaintiff-side law firms come to campus and that students are provided with enough information to find those firms and to make an informed decision.
These are meant as criticisms of a school I came to because it was known to be excellent, and I want to continue to be proud of because it continues to be excellent. There is a sense of pride at this school because we are Harvard, but we should never think a title alone bestows excellence. So far Dean Kagan has demonstrated a willingness not to let things remains static, and I hope her example means that this school can begin a real dialogue on change. Here at The Record, we hope to serve as an important part of that dialogue through the course of the year.