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Foundations of Private Law


The Project on the Foundations of Private Law is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the academic investigation of private law. "Private law" embraces the traditionally common law subjects (property, contracts, and torts), as well as related subjects that are more heavily statutory, such as intellectual property and commercial law. It also includes areas of study that are today less familiar to students and scholars, including unjust enrichment, restitution, equity, and remedies. The Project aims to further study of these areas, their relationships to and distinctiveness from each other, and questions about the status and nature of private law as a whole. The Project draws on multiple disciplines outside law, including economics, history, cognitive science, and philosophy. It also encourages comparative work, especially involving Commonwealth and civil-law systems with explicit notions of private law.


Henry E. Smith, Director

John C.P. Goldberg

Janet Freilich, Qualcomm Postdoctoral Fellow in Private Law and Intellectual Property

The Project on Foundations of Private Law Student Fellowship Program

Application Information (PDF)

Deadline: Friday, May 29, 2015

Watch for updates...

Private Law Courses 2013-14

Anatomy of a Mass Tort

Catholic Social Thought

Commercial Law: Secured Transactions

Comparative Online Privacy

Complex Litigation and Mass Tort

Consumer Contracts

Consumer Law


Contracts and Justice


Copyright and Trademark Litigation: TRO to the Supreme Court

Drug Product Liability Litigation

Economic Theories of Bequests

Estate Planning

Fiduciary Investing After the Financial Crisis

Intellectual Property Law: Advanced

Japanese Business Law: Intellectual Property, Corporate and Mergers and Acquisitions

Jurisprudence: Legal Ideals

Justice and Morality in Shakespeare's "Tragedies" including Merchant of Venice

Law and Economic Development in India: A Study of the Indian Entertainment Industry (commonly known as "Bollywood")

Law and Literature

Law and Philosophy Colloquium

Law, Psychology, and Morality: An Exploration through Film

Legal Thought Now: Law and the Structure of Society

Natural Law and Positive Law

Natural Resources Law

Patent Law

Philosophical Analysis of Legal Argument

Philosophy and Literature: The Problem of Consent

Private Law Workshop

Real Estate Law

Reason in Law: Challenges of Skepticism and Paradox


Risk and Insurance

Sports Law: Advanced Contract Drafting

The Genealogy of Continental Philosophy and Law

Theories About Law

Trade Secrecy


Trusts and Estates (Fall 2013)

Trusts and Estates (Spring 2014)

Private law also includes courses in areas such as corporate law which are not listed individually here.


Foundations of Private Law Working Papers Series

9.  The Fraud-on-the-Market Tort by John C.P. Goldberg and Benjamin C. Zipursky

8.  Protecting Freedom of Testation: A Proposal for Law Reform in the United States by Eike G. Hosemann

7.  The Problem of the Altruistic Forger: A Puzzle for Private Law by Britt Cramer

6.  Why Fiduciary Law is Equitable by Henry E. Smith

5.  Tort Law and Responsibility by John C.P. Goldberg and Benjamin C. Zipursky

4.  Property, Equity and the Rule of Law by Henry E. Smith

3.  Emergent Property by Henry E. Smith

2.  Convergence and Contrast in Tort Scholarship: An Essay in Honor of Robert Rabin
by John C.P. Goldberg and Benjamin C. Zipursky

1.  Civil Recourse: A Reply to Posner, Calabresi, Rustad, Chamallas and Robinette by John C.P. Goldberg


Private Law: Workshop Presenters and Papers

Spring 2013

1:00-3:00 p.m.
Wasserstein Hall, Room 3009
1585 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA  02138

Monday, February 4, 2013
Dan Kelly, University of Notre Dame Law School
"The Right to Include"

Monday, February 11, 2013
Aditi Bagchi, Fordham University School of Law
"Voluntariness and Contract Interpretation"

Monday, February 18, 2013
Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego Law School
"The Mathematical Structure of the Law"

Monday, February 25, 2013
Mark Geistfeld, New York University School of Law
"Compensation as a Tort Norm"

Monday, March 11, 2013
Ming Wai Lau
"The Nature of the Beneficial interest – Historical and Economic Perspectives"

Monday, March 25, 2013
Michael Kenneally, Fellow/Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
 and Ph.D. candidate/Harvard Department of Philosophy
"Sowing Confusion: Preemption and the Morality Behind Misappropriation Doctrine"

Monday, April 1, 2013
Anna di Robilant, Boston University School of Law
"Property and Deliberation: The Numerus Clausus Principle, New Property Forms and New Property Values"

Monday, April 8, 2013
Jeannie Fromer, New York University School of Law (Visiting Professor Harvard Law School, Spring 2013)
"A Legal Tangle of Secrets and Disclosures in Trade: Tabor v. Hoffman and Beyond"

Monday, April 15, 2013
Don Herzog, University of Michigan Law School
"Defaming the Dead"

Monday, April 22, 2013
Arthur Ripstein, University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy
"Possession and Use"


Previous Private Law: Workshop Presenters and Papers

Spring 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012
Steven Shavell, Harvard Law School
"A Fundamental Cost Advantage of the Negligence Rule over Regulation"

Monday, February 6, 2012
Anita Bernstein, Brooklyn Law School
"Real Remedies for Virtual Injuries"

Monday, February 13, 2012
Daniel Markovits, Yale Law School
"Market Solidarity 1: Price as Commensuration, Contract as Integration"

Monday, February 20, 2012
Ward Farnsworth, Boston University
"Restatement Third, Torts: Liability for Economic Harm"

Monday, March 5, 2012
Andrew Gold, DePaul University College of Law
"A Theory of Redressive Justice"

Monday, March 19, 2012
Gillian K. Hadfield, University of Southern California School of Law
"Law without Coercion: Examining the Role of Law in Coordinating Collective Punishment"

Monday, March 26, 2012
James Goudkamp, Balliol College, Oxford and University of Oxford
"A Taxonomy of Tort Defences"

Monday, April 2, 2012
Duncan Kennedy, Harvard Law School
"A Transnational Genealogy of Proportionality in Private Law"

Monday, April 9, 2012
Martha Chamallas, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University
"The Measure of Injury" (Introduction and Chapter 5)


Spring 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Kenneth Simons, Boston University School of Law
Statistical Knowledge Deconstructed

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Richard Brooks, Yale Law School
"The Efficient Performance Hypothesis"
"Participation Interests"

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
James Penner, Faculty of Laws, University College London
"Promises, Agreements and the Structure of Contract Law Doctrine"
"Promising, Intimate Relationships and Conventionalism"
"Voluntary Obligations and the Scope of the Law of Contract"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Charles Fried, Harvard Law School
"Contract As Promise"

Monday, March 28, 2011
Seana Shiffrin, UCLA School of Law and Philosophy
"The Divergence of Contract and Promise"
"Inducing Moral Deliberation: On the Occasional Virtues of Fog"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
"Connecticut  v. American Electric Power Co."
"Public Nuisance as Mass Liability Tort" (excerpt)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Thomas Merrill, Columbia Law School
"Is Public Nuisance a Tort?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Brian Lee, Brooklyn Law School
"The Idiosyncratic Premium in Eminent Domain"


Project on the Foundations of Private Law Postdoctoral Fellowship (2015-2017)

Call for Applications

Application Information (PDF)

Deadline: Monday, February 2, 2015

The Fellowship is a two-year, residential postdoctoral program specifically designed to identify, cultivate, and promote promising scholars early in their careers with a primary interest in private law.  Private law embraces traditional common law subjects (property, contracts, and torts), as well as adjacent statutory areas such as intellectual property and commercial law.  It also includes resurgent areas, such as unjust enrichment, restitution, equity, and remedies.  Fellows have been selected from among recent graduates, young academics, and mid-career practitioners who are committed to pursuing publishable research likely to make a significant contribution to private law scholarship.

Fellows devote their full time to scholarly activities in furtherance of their individual research agendas. In addition, fellows contribute to the intellectual life of the Project and the Harvard Law School community through mentoring students, presenting their research in and attending faculty workshops and seminars, helping to organize and participating in Center events, and blogging.

Last modified: April 06, 2015

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