Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission

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.

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Pete Davis is a civic reformer from Falls Church, Virginia and a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 2018. Email Pete at Pete@CivicIdeas.org. Tweet at Pete at @PeteDDavis.

An Exit Interview with Dean Minow

After eight years as the head of Harvard Law School, Dean Martha Minow is stepping down from her role to return to teaching and research at the Law School. Her resignation is effective as of this July. The Record talked to Dean Minow about her thoughts looking back and looking forward. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and organization.

The Record: What made you decide to step down as dean?

Dean Minow: I made the decision just before the holidays. I want to participate in the events of the day. And I’m late in a contract for a book. So I’m looking forward to working on all of that.

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Jim An is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record and a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 2018.

An Interview with Dean Minow

Two weeks ago, The Record interviewed Dean Martha Minow for her thoughts on the Law School, women in the profession, and the Cubs. We were initially informed by the communications office that they objected to our publication of the interview, and we met with them and Dean of Students Marcia Sells last week to discuss the issue. Following that meeting, the communications office withdrew their objections. We are pleased to present our interview with Dean Minow, condensed and edited for clarity.

The Record: This is the first year in Harvard Law School’s history in which the entering JD class was more than 50% women. How did that end up happening and what do you make of it?

Dean Minow: We’ve made a lot of outreach efforts, and I’m happy with the results. These things do change from year to year though: last year’s LLM class was majority women, but this year it’s majority men.

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