Kagan: Surprise! State of Law School ‘Exceptionally Strong’


Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan stepped up to the podium with a smile to deliver her fourth annual state of the school speech on September 20.

“The state of the law school is-surprise-exceptionally strong,” said Kagan, triggering a round of applause from the 150-person audience in Ames Courtroom in Austin Hall. “And it’s growing stronger every day.”

Kagan, addressing her comments to the students who comprised the majority of her audience, named expansion of faculty as one of the school’s priorities in her fourth annual address. She cited seven new faculty appointments as an important step toward decreasing student-faculty ratio, and praised the body of HLS professors as the “world’s most creative and accomplished.”

Kagan spoke of the school’s transformation over the past few years, including the renovations of Harkness Commons in 2004 and Hemenway Gym last summer, but said she recognized the need for further improvements. Between 2003 and 2005, there was an 81% increase in requests for event space at the law school, and some of the excess need has gone unmet.

The northwest corner of campus, now occupied by a parking garage and Wyeth Hall on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Everett Street, will be the site of a new student center, set for completion three or four years from now.

The 250,000 square-foot building will house small classrooms, offices for student journals, and other meeting spaces. Kagan said that architect Robert Stern has worked to ensure the new structure compliments the historic features of other buildings on campus, like Austin Hall and Langdell Library.

“Like the law itself, like the law school itself [the new center] will combine the best of tradition and innovation,” Kagan said.

As in her past speeches, Kagan briefly reflected on curricular reform, inviting students to reflect on the fact that the school’s program of study has remained largely unchanged for the past 100 years. Kagan said HLS had made progress in the internationalization of the legal curriculum, with over 75 courses containing some international, foreign, or comparative aspect. The school has also expanded its international exchange programs, and Kagan briefly mentioned the future possibility of a first-year course in international law.

Toward the end of her speech, Kagan used a metaphor upon which she has often relied when speaking about the diversity and vitality of HLS. “Like New York City, Harvard Law is in large part defined by its scale and scope, and the energy and vibrancy that come with them,” Kagan said.

Kagan ended her address with an appeal to students, offering three ideas for making the most of an HLS education. She first encouraged students to “experiment” with topics unfamiliar to them by attending lectures and undertaking coursework. She next advised taking advantage of opportunities at Harvard University outside of the law school.

Finally, Kagan urged students to engage in pro bono service. According to Kagan, the Class of 2006 completed more than 260,000 hours of pro bono work during their three years at HLS, which works out to about 400 hours per student, or ten times what HLS requires to satisfy its pro bono requirement.

The vast majority of HLS students did not attend the Dean’s address, and most those who did were newcomers to campus. Tony Buchman, a first-year student, said he found it informative. “I didn’t know about the plans for a new building [in the northwest corner],” said Buchman. “That’s pretty exciting.”

Rochelle Lee, a 2L, attended last year but opted out this year. “I felt like it was mostly directed towards new students as a welcome,” Lee said.

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