Students Release Report on Civic Deficit at Harvard Law School

As Harvard Law School celebrated its 200th anniversary this week, law students released a report documenting how the school has been overtaken by corporate interests and is losing relevance to the average American.

The report – Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission  – was written by third year Harvard Law student Pete Davis.

The report found that the law school had lost track of its declared mission to “educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”

The report found that for every one graduate of Harvard Law School who goes on to work in public interest law, government or education, four graduates work for corporate interest firms or businesses.

Harvard Law School did not return calls seeking comment on the report.

The report lays out how the school fails to live up to its civic potential.

The report says the first reason is a culture that fails to spark public spiritedness.

The report found that Harvard Law has an entrenched culture of competition, in which the law is viewed as a game and “geniuses” are praised regardless of their civic commitment.

“This law school culture provides a smooth transition to the culture of corporate interest legal work,” the report found.

Second is a curriculum that pacifies students. The first year curriculum of Harvard Law School is stuck in a century-old mold – and students do not get exposed to any pluralist curricula until their second and third years, when they have already made their decision to pursue corporate interest legal work, the report found.

Third is a career-building system that nudges toward corporate law.

The report found that the school treats corporate interest work as the “default option,” a process that culminates in first year students being wined-and-dined by corporate firms and an “early interview program” that streamlines corporate interest recruitment.

“At its worst, the school career office provides materials that encourage students to pursue revolving door work – joining a firm, leaving for a government agency that regulates their clients, and then returning to the firm to trade their government experience for higher salaries,” the report found.

Fourth is a cost structure that dissuades students from public interest work.  The report found that despite Harvard Law School’s efforts made to lower the debt burden of students pursuing public interest work, most students still see their law school debt as a major reason for pursuing corporate interest legal work.

Davis said that he hoped that his report would have a motivating impact, inspiring the community to transition from a school 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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