This week, Harvard Law School has invited alumni back to campus to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our school’s founding.
But a bicentennial is not just a time for celebration of the past — it is also a time to confront the present and plan the future. As we celebrate, many students are concerned: about our school being overtaken by corporate interests and losing relevance to the average American; about a watchdog of the law being largely asleep as the institutions of the rule of law and equal justice under law are under siege; and of a school community that has lost track of its declared mission to “educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”
To surface these concerns, I have compiled a report on Harvard Law School’s public interest mission — Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission — that is being released today to coincide with our school’s bicentennial celebration. The report aims to document: first, the crisis of mass exclusion from legal power for the average American (in the criminal justice, civil justice and political systems); second, Harvard Law’s failure to address this crisis, and the inaccurate excuses our community tends to give for not addressing it; third, what accounts for this civic deficit; and fourth, twelve reform proposals that aim to help us better live up to our mission. An electronic copy of the report can be downloaded here. To request a hard copy, email PeDavis@jd18.law.harvard.edu.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, a flurry of critical works — including Duncan Kennedy’s “Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy,” Joel Seligman’s The High Citadel: The Influence of Harvard Law School, Richard Kahlenberg’s Broken Contract, Scott Turow’s famed One L, and Lani Guinier’s writings on legal education and profession — helped set Harvard Law School on a course from the hidebound, lily-white, cutthroat school of The Paper Chase to the more diverse, pluralist and genial school it is today.
I hope for this report to have a similar motivating impact, inspiring the community to transition from a school community where four out of five graduates deploy their legal educations to advance the legal interests of a wealthy and powerful few to one where a majority of students use their education to serve the interests of the vast, underserved public.