We find ourselves largely confused by the law school administration’s decision to reduce the 3L writing requirement into functional irrelevance. Certainly we can see that there are some rationales for the decision – it might encourage students to take seminars and to get involved with journals; it removes a hoop students have to jump through for graduation; and it will presumably reduce the burden on faculty to supervise such papers.
At the same time, however, the fact that students can satisfy this requirement with a series of seminar response papers or even the journal entries written during the Negotiation Workshop, appears to negate any purpose the requirement might have had of promoting student research and scholarship. Seminar papers are generally three to five page papers written the night (or the lunch hour) before class. They do not usually involve any research at all, much less original research, nor do they require the writer to organize their thoughts, outline their points, or polish their rhetorical skills in the same way that a substantive research paper does.
At this point, in fact, we can’t help but wonder why we aren’t getting 3L writing credit for the cumulative total of articles we’ve written for the Record. Or if that won’t fly, perhaps the many students who have blogs that deal with legal issues will be able to meet the requirement. Many of their entries show at least as much, if not more, reflection than the typical seminar response paper.
If the law school wishes to make the writing requirement that much easier for students to complete, it probably should just get rid of it. Creating a substitute requirement that keeps the bureaucratic hassle for students at the same time as eliminating the substantive benefit serves nobody.
That said, we suggest that the 3L writing requirement served a legitimate purpose and should have been maintained in something closer to its prior form. Law is a writing-intensive profession, and many law school classes require shockingly little writing (let’s leave LRW out of it for the time being). That students sit down and write a moderately long paper or complete a project on the topic of their choice for which they can receive school credit (and take off an entire Winter Term if they so choose) before receiving a Harvard Law Degree hardly seems overly burdensome, and the research and writing skills may make students better lawyers.
If the problem was that students had a difficult time fulfilling the requirement, that should be dealt with, perhaps by providing more formalized options for adding longer papers onto seminars. If the problem was that HLS professors didn’t wish to supervise students writing such papers, we wonder how that fits in with the school’s recent emphasis on its professors’ teaching skills. We suspect that research will always we the bread and butter of our professors, but supervising papers surely is not too onerous. Either way, suddenly – and with minimal explanation – announcing a new requirement that substantively guts the former is hardly an effective way to deal with any obstacles that exist.
Lest readers feel that the Board is writing in a self-righteous manner, at least one Board member recently took advantage of the new written work requirement to take a fun class rather than complete her independent writing credits over winter term. Many of us, at least those who had not already completed their 3L papers, felt a little thrill reading Dean Kagan’s annoucement of the new requirement.
We realize that this new policy will benefit students in some ways, but we cannot help wondering at the motivation to suddenly make such a broad revision of policy.