Challenging Legal Education Through Student Activism at HLS

This post continues our series featuring efforts to organize LPE student groups at several law schools. You can read the rest of the posts here.

Ava Liu —   

Screen Shot 2019-10-28 at 2.34.10 PMAt Harvard, institutional spaces for students to think about topics of law and justice remain limited, especially during the first year of law school when we are pummeled with work. While Harvard Law School has a rich history of student organizing, especially around teaching and academic appointments, we have had limited success in curriculum reform the last few years. From 2015 to 2016, student activists in the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement demanded academic reform as part of their broader demands for racial justice, but there still remain no dedicated critical race theorists appointed to the Harvard Law School faculty. On campus, official student organizations sometimes seem out of touch with the broader conversations happening on the left. Furthermore, these groups have been aligned with an old Democratic Party consensus in ways that felt intellectually staid in the post-2016 climate. Before fall 2019, progressive efforts active on other campuses such as NLG have had little presence.

Within these limited spaces, the alienation I experienced as a 1L led me to pursue work organizing what is now Harvard’s LPE. I came into law school interested in understanding the law and its relationship to power, but found the first year curriculum to be largely inattentive to questions of power and distribution. In particular, I thought the primacy of law and economics was strange. Having studied political philosophy in undergrad, I found the normative focus on grounding efficiency as the supreme goal of the law in Torts and Property to be rather arbitrary. In most classes, and especially in courses around private law, we rarely discussed the simple question of whether an outcome was “fair.” Concerns of distributive justice never entered the fray even when law was the chief mechanism by which distribution was conducted. I suspect this was an experience shared by many other students.

When other students and I found the LPE movement and this blog, it felt like discovering room to breathe. Starting in the fall semester of 2018, students at Harvard Law School began organizing around themes of law and political economy, grounded broadly in economic justice and its intersections with race and gender. Our efforts include reading groups, academic conferences, speaker events, and an alternative curriculum effort to support critical legal scholarship.

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