Why Harvard Law School Needs Your Money

With newly launched $400 million campaign, HLS seeks to modernize its facilities, globalize its programs, and energize its students and faculty

By the time the law school launched its fund-raising campaign last June, most students had unplugged their laptops and headed off campus. But in a way they were still at the center of the event. With a goal of $400 million, the current campaign is the largest in legal education, and at its heart is the renewal of the school's intellectual and educational program. Based on the faculty's Strategic Plan, that means improving the student experience, further supporting faculty scholarship, and enhancing the school's connection to the profession and to the global community. It translates into smaller classes, better dorms, more faculty, more research, and more financial aid and loan forgiveness.

Some of these changes are already under way. The school is in the third year of its revamped 1L program, which instituted sections of seven cohesive "law colleges." Now that the core classes are half as big, and professors not only learn students' names but take them apple picking, the Harvard Law School of "The Paper Chase" and "One L" fame is getting further and further away.

"We're not going to become complacent," said Dean Elena Kagan '86. "One of the campaign's highest priorities is our students--improving both their quality of life and the education they receive."

Meeta Anand '05 says she came to law school expecting Armageddon. Now she can't imagine what it would have been like to be in first-year classes so big she wouldn't have known who her classmates were or gotten to hear what they had to say.

One of the section leaders, Professor Carol Steiker '86, says she had no idea what a dramatic difference the smaller class size would make--and not just for the students. "It emerges much more quickly what different perspectives people have," she said, "so as the teacher, I'm able to craft better interactions."

In addition to fostering academic connections, faculty leaders have organized activities ranging from a private showing of Kurosawa's "Rashomon" at the Brattle Theatre, to a discussion with one of the country's leading capital defense lawyers, to a dinner at a professor's house for students interested in public interest law.

But at the center of it all is still the classroom, challenging and transforming: "First-year is an intense experience," said Anand, "but having been through it, I am actually more confident--of my own capabilities and of my ability to chart my own course in life."

For Professor Todd Rakoff ' 75, vice dean for academic programming, this was part of the school's challenge: "To create an environment where students bond strongly with the institution . . . without giving one inch on intellectual rigor and toughness."

But the new program comes at a cost. The school wants to create 15 new faculty positions. More 1L sections mean more criminal law, contracts, civ pro, property and torts teachers. Now that they've seen the difference the smaller classes made in the 1L sections, many faculty are eager to decrease the size of upper-level classes as well. Permanent faculty are also needed to teach subjects that now are often covered by visiting professors, such as environmental law. And as the legal profession becomes more complicated and more specialized, new areas of law proliferate, and the law school wants to be able to hire faculty to cover them.

In addition to hiring new faculty, the law school needs to further support existing faculty scholarship. "One of the things that makes the classroom so exciting at Harvard," said Professor Howell Jackson '82, vice dean for administration and budget, "is that the faculty members are engaged in first-rate research that's of national and sometimes international significance." The areas of research are as diverse as the 81 faculty members. But the school is looking for extra funding for work in three areas: public law and service, empirical studies, and international and comparative research.

Beyond the work of individual faculty, the school has 16 research programs and centers, from the Civil Rights Project to the John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business. Aside from contributing scholarship, these centers play a pivotal role in students' education.

The 1L class size was reduced significantly in fall 2001.

Many students complain, however, that their education is hampered by inadequate facilities--particularly the dorms, the student center and the gym. Student organizations also need better space. (One student journal, for example, has been meeting in a former utility closet.) To accommodate the three new sections, more meeting space and classrooms are needed as well as more office space for additional faculty. A study done by an architectural planning firm before the implementation of the new 1L program showed that the law school needed an additional 114,427 square feet just to adequately house its programs at that time. An announcement issued in October by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers indicated that the law school will not be part of Harvard's plans for expansion in Allston, leading HLS to address its long-term space needs in Cambridge. One possibility for expansion would involve creating a "Northwest Yard" to be built between the north side of Pound Hall and Everett Street. In the meantime, the school is looking into renovating the student center, the Harkness Commons, which could begin as early as this summer. "Our students deserve a better facility," said Kagan.

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