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Harvard Law School’s recent announcement that it is making the most sweeping changes to its first-year curriculum in 100 years heralded a major shift in legal education, including a new emphasis on global law. But some of its competitors say that they already have revamped their programs in similar ways. Harvard will begin requiring first-year students to take three new courses, including a class on legislation and regulation, another covering global legal systems and a third focusing on problems and theories. The school’s Oct. 6 announcement created plenty of buzz for the institution, which historically was instrumental in establishing the basic law school curriculum of torts, contracts, property and other first-year classes required at almost every law school across the nation. And while some competing schools say they welcome the changes at Harvard, they also are a bit perturbed by all the fuss. “When Harvard does it, it becomes news,” said Evan Caminker, dean of the University of Michigan School of Law. Since 2001, Michigan’s law school has required its students to complete a three-credit “transnational” course, Caminker said. They have the option to take the course during any one of the three years in law school, he said, adding that about half of the school’s first-year class takes the course. “While we thought it was critically important that every law student take the course, it wasn’t critical that it come in the first year,” Caminker said. Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer said his school also has similar requirements. But it has decided to follow a more traditional approach in its first-year curriculum and to leave the other courses for the second and third years of law school. “The first year is the one year that works,” he said. “It is rather bizarre that, in general, law schools have focused on reforming the first year when the problems and failures in the curriculum are all in the second and third years.” Harvard decided to modify its first-year curriculum because of the “imprint” that the initial year of study has on law students, said Martha Minow, a Harvard Law School professor who spearheaded its curriculum reform project. “To postpone introduction to legislation and regulation is to communicate to students that it’s an add-on. To postpone introduction to international law is to say ‘that’s for later,’ ” she said. Minow also said that the changes at other schools influenced Harvard’s revisions. “We are simply enacting what a lot of people have talked about and what a lot of people have done in pieces,” she said. Although Northwestern University School of Law recently altered its first-year legal research and writing course to include a broader communications and legal-reasoning component, it does not plan to change markedly its 1L curriculum, said the school’s dean, David Van Zandt. “I’m not a big fan of what Harvard’s done,” he said. Harvard’s new course on legislation and regulation will focus on the separation of powers, the legislative process, statutory interpretation, administrative agency practice and more. For the global legal systems course, students will choose one of three classes: public international law, international economic law and comparative law. Students will take the problems and theories course after they complete their first term. It will include solving problems from simulated case studies. Harvard will accommodate the changes by reducing the number of class hours in torts, contracts, civil procedure, criminal law and property, and by adding a new January term for first-year students for the problem-solving course. It will implement the changes over the next three years.

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