Skip to content

Overview

Because law is deeply implicated in our economic, political, and social worlds, pursuit of social change invariably involves an engagement with law. Students who seek to understand how law can be harnessed for social change, or who wish to pursue careers as social change agents, are encouraged to follow the Law and Social Change Program of Study.

At the heart of the Law and Social Change Program of Study is an effort to build a community of students and faculty committed to understanding and using law as a means of achieving social change. The Program holds regular events with faculty and students who can answer questions about course selection, summer plans, and career options. The Program also sponsors programming on substantive social change topics and social events to give students and professors affiliated with the Program the chance to get to know one another in more informal settings.


Academic Offerings

For the latest academic year offerings in Law and Social Change, please visit the HLS Course Catalog.

This Program of Study includes not only those courses and clinics that are obviously relevant, but also classes and activities that with less obvious links to law and social change that are potentially critical to building relevant understanding, skills, and strategies. Learning about the past, analyzing relationships among law, society, the economy, and social institutions, dissecting powerful institutions, and developing skills and capacities – including data and policy analysis skills – are all important steps; so is understanding particular problem areas and related legal materials. In order that students may develop a broad understanding of the ways in which law can contribute to social change, the Program is organized in two ways. First, recommended courses and faculty advisors are categorized according to different modes of social change work (a list that we continually expand and modify as the Program develops):

  • Organizing and Social Movements
  • Institutional Reform
  • Litigation
  • Organizational Development and Leadership
  • Electoral Politics
  • Media and the Internet
  • Law and Government

Second, because many students are drawn to law and social change through a substantive focus, problem area, or constituency, courses and faculty are categorized into substantive “areas” (also a list that we continue to expand and modify):

  • Children, Youth, and Family: Health, Welfare, and Education
  • Community Economic Development
  • Criminal Justice
  • Economic Justice
  • Environment
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Health Care
  • Immigration and Asylum
  • International Human Rights
  • Land Use and Property
  • National Security
  • Poverty
  • Racial Justice
  • Religious Freedom
  • Workplace

The Program of Study is not designed to encourage students to concentrate on a single mode or area of social change work. Nor does the Program view these different modes and areas as completely independent of one another; to the contrary, modes and areas of social change are deeply related to and impact each other. In sum, the Program’s intent is to enable students to develop a rich understanding of the promises and limitations inherent in the various modes and areas of work that are of interest to the student.

What follows is a description of modes and areas of social change, along with a preliminary list of faculty advisors and courses for each. Please note that for administrative ease, classes are listed only once in the “areas” section of this overview – although most have relevance to multiple areas of social change work. These lists will be updated as the Program continues to develop.

Modes of Social Change

ORGANIZING AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

People are at the heart of social change. So, then, are deliberate strategies to organize people, to mobilize groups with shared interests, to forge social movements, and to connect these efforts to law. The question of how law can facilitate organizing – how law can contribute to the building of social movements by enabling associations to meet, raise funds, speak, and act or by offering targets and arenas for action – is an important theme. The role of intellectuals and intellectual movements in social movement work is also an important area of study.

HLS
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Art of Social Change
  • Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • Lawyer as Facilitator
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation Workshop
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • DPI-312: Sparking Social Change
  • MLD-201A Exercising Leadership: The Politics of Change
  • MLD-377: Organizing: People, Power, and Change
  • MLD-342 Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Influence

Faculty Advisors

  • Janet Halley
  • Michael Klarman
  • Martha Minow
  • Benjamin Sachs
  • Jeannie Suk Gersen

INSTITUTIONAL REFORM

Social change also involves reforming the institutions that structure and govern our society – including corporations, labor unions, administrative agencies, schools, child welfare institutions, and religious organizations – as well as working through these institutions to influence other sectors of society. Forging partnerships between public and private institutions also constitutes a promising avenue for reform.This mode of social change will enable students to understand how to reform and harness existing political, social, legal, and economic institutions.

HLS
  • Antitrust Law and Economics – US
  • Art of Social Change
  • Bankruptcy
  • Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Bankruptcy Deal-making
  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • Corporations
  • Government Lawyer
  • Professor Dharan’s courses
  • Local Government Law
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Public Law Workshop
  • Taxation
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • SUP-211: Institutional and Community-Based Strategies to Support Children and Strengthen Families
  • SUP-447: Politics, Policy Making and Political Action in American Education
Harvard Business School (not all courses offered every year)
  • Entrepreneurship in Education Reform

Faculty Advisors

  • Brian Price
  • Benjamin Sachs

LITIGATION

Litigation is an historically significant and still often powerful force for social change. Indeed, litigation has been central to many of the most well-known and important achievements in social change work. This mode will enable students to develop an understanding of how litigation can function as a tool of social reform and in evaluating the uses and limits of litigation in this context.

  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Art of Social Change
  • Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Complex Litigation and Mass Tort
  • Complex Litigation
  • Copyright and Trademark Litigation: TRO to the Supreme Court
  • Criminal Justice Institute: Criminal Defense Clinic
  • Drug Product Liability Litigation
  • Employment Law Clinic
  • Evidence
  • Expert Witnesses
  • Federal Litigation: Civil
  • Government Lawyer
  • Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic
  • International Human Rights Clinic
  • Legal Profession Courses
  • Litigating in the Family Courts Clinic
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Patent Litigation
  • Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense/Housing Law Clinic
  • Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic
  • Security Litigation
  • Supreme Court Litigation Clinic
  • Trial Advocacy Workshop

Faculty Advisors

  • Jim Greiner
  • William Rubenstein
  • Carol Steiker

ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP

Social change requires not only mobilization, but also creating institutions capable of sustaining movement work. Building and leading lasting organizations of this kind depends on critical contributions from lawyers. This mode will enable students to understand the ways in which law can be instrumental to the development and leadership of social change organizations.

HLS
  • Art of Social Change
  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • Government Lawyer
  • Accounting and Financial Analysis
  • Decision-making and Leadership in the Public Sector
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • SUP-605m: Leading Cities
  • MLD-101: Strategy Structure, and Leadership in Public Service Organizations (multiple sections)
  • MLD-202: Exercising Leadership: A Cross-Cultural and International Perspective
  • MLD-325: Becoming a Leader
  • MLD-401A: Financial Management in Nonprofit and Public Organizations
  • MLD-601: Operations Management
Harvard Business School (not all courses offered every year)
  • Leading and Governing High Performing Nonprofit Organizations
  • Authentic Leadership Development

Faculty Advisors

  • Brian Price
  • Benjamin Sachs

ELECTORAL POLITICS

Change often comes through the political arena, and perhaps no mode of change is more directly defined by law than electoral politics. Campaign finance laws and election law – along with the Constitutional issues they raise – form the heart of this Program mode, but union and non-profit participation in the electoral process is also crucial.

HLS
  • Administrative Law
  • Election Law
  • Litigation and Legislative Strategies for Latino Civil Rights Advocacy
  • Local Government Law
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • DPI-324: Running for Office and Managing Campaigns

Faculty Advisors

  • Nikolas Bowie
  • Jim Greiner
  • Benjamin Sachs
  • Nicholas Stephanopolous

MEDIA AND THE INTERNET

In contemporary society, almost no movement for social change succeeds without an effective media and internet component. Indeed all of the modes of social change listed here often depend heavily on the media and the internet. Legal regulation of these outlets is extensive, and understanding the ways in which law structures, facilitates, and constrains media and internet work is integral to understanding law and social change.

HLS
  • Communications and Internet Law and Policy
  • Comparative Online Privacy
  • Counseling and Legal Strategy in the Digital Age
  • Cyberlaw Clinic
  • Entertainment and Media Law
  • Music and Digital Media
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • DPI-685: 2025 Vision and Information Policy: Considering the Public Interest
  • DPI-600: Press, Politics, and Public Policy
  • DPI-659: Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age

Faculty Advisors

  • Yochai Benkler
  • Jonathan Zittrain

Areas of Social Change

CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND FAMILY: HEALTH, WELFARE, AND EDUCATION

HLS
  • Art of Social Change
  • Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Child Family and State
  • Education Law Clinic
  • Education Law and Policy
  • Family Law
  • Financial and Legal Needs of Low and Moderate Income Households
  • Future of the Family
  • Litigating in the Family Courts Clinic
  • Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense/Housing Law Clinic
  • Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic
  • Topics in Education Law and Policy
  • Trusts and Estates
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • SUP-211: Institutional and Community-Based Strategies to Support Children and Strengthen Families
  • SUP-425m: Developing Effective School and Community Interventions for At-Risk Children

Faculty Advisors

  • Glenn Cohen
  • Martha Minow
  • Jeannie Suk Gersen

COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

HLS
  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics

Faculty Advisors

  • Lucie White

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

HLS
  • Criminal Law and Procedure Courses

Faculty Advisors

  • Andrew Crespo
  • Adriaan Lanni
  • Christopher Lewis
  • Anna Lvovsky
  • Alexandra Natapoff
  • Carol Steiker
  • Ron Sullivan
  • Crystal Yang

ECONOMIC JUSTICE

HLS
  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • Financial and Legal Needs of Law and Moderate Income Households
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Housing Law Clinic
  • Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic
  • Taxation
  • Trusts and Estates

Faculty Advisors

  • Christine Desan
  • Benjamin Sachs
  • Joseph Singer
  • Robert Sitkoff
  • Lucie White

ENVIRONMENT

HLS
  • Administrative Law
  • Environmental Law Courses

Faculty Advisors

  • Jody Freeman
  • Richard Lazarus
  • Matthew Stephenson

GENDER AND SEXUALITY

HLS
  • Feminist Legal Theory
  • Gender and Sexuality in Transnational Law
  • Gender Violence, Law and Social Justice
  • Gender Violence Legal Policy Workshop
  • Reproductive Rights and Justice
  • Sexuality, Gender and the Law
  • Title IX: Sports, Sex and Equality on Campus
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • MLD-353M: Women and Leadership

Faculty Advisors

  • Glenn Cohen
  • Anna Lvovsky
  • Janet Halley
  • William Rubinstein
  • Jeannie Suk Gersen

HEALTH CARE

HLS
  • Administrative Law
  • HLS Health Law Courses

Faculty Advisors

  • Glenn Cohen
  • Robert Greenwald
  • Terry Fisher

IMMIGRATION AND ASYLUM

HLS
  • Crimmigration: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Immigration Law
  • Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic
  • Immigration Law
  • Immigration Law: Policy and Social Change
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • SUP-311: The Economic Impact of Immigration

Faculty Advisors

  • Sabrineh Ardalan
  • Gerald Neuman
  • Benjamin Sachs

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS

HLS
  • Human Rights Courses

Faculty Advisors

  • Sabrineh Ardalan
  • Susan Farbstein
  • Tyler Giannini
  • Martha Minow
  • Gerald Neuman

LAND USE AND PROPERTY

  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • Environmental Law and Policy Clinic
  • Local Government Law
  • Transactional Practice Clinic

Faculty Advisors

  • Maureen Brady
  • Nikolas Bowie
  • Joseph Singer

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • The Internet: Governance and Power
  • National Security Law: Legal Frameworks and National Decision-making
  • Privacy, Technology and National Security
  • Selected Topics in National Security Law

Faculty Advisors

  • Jack Goldsmith
  • Jonathan Zittrain

POVERTY

  • Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics
  • The Effects of Mass Incarceration: Experiences of Prison and Parole
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Post-Foreclosure Eviction and Housing Law Clinic
  • Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic

Faculty Advisors

  • Andrew Crespo
  • Carol Steiker
  • Lucie White

RACIAL JUSTICE

  • American Indian Law
  • Civil Liberties and the Second Reconstruction: Problems of Suppression, Violence and Covert Disruption
  • Constitutional Law: Separation of Powers, Federalism, and Fourteenth Amendment
  • Criminal Justice Institute: Criminal Defense Clinic
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Democracy, the Incomplete Experiment
  • The Effects of Mass Incarceration: Experiences of Prison and Parole
  • From Protest to Law: Triumphs and Defeats of the Civil Rights Revolution
  • Race and Justice: The Wire
  • Race and Politics

Faculty Advisors

  • Randall Kennedy
  • Michael Klarman
  • Kenneth Mack
  • Martha Minow
  • Joseph Singer
  • Carol Steiker

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

  • Constitutional Analysis
  • Constitutional Law: First Amendment
  • Laws, Markets, and Religions
  • State Constitutional Law
Harvard Kennedy School (not all courses offered every year)
  • DPI-342: Religion, Politics, and Public Policy

Faculty Advisors

  • Noah Feldman
  • Martha Minow

WORKPLACE

  • Advanced Readings in the Law of the Workplace
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Employment Law
  • Employment Law Clinic

Faculty Advisors

  • Benjamin Sachs

The Dynamics of Social Change

The Program of Study is also designed to enable students to develop a range of methodological tools – including sociological, anthropological, and historical tools – that can be deployed to understand the relationship between law and social change, both historically and in contemporary society.


Academic Careers

Students who wish to pursue academic careers in this area should combine the course work discussed above with opportunities for significant research and writing.


Fellowship and Research Funding Opportunities

  • Chayes International Public Service Fellowships
  • Edith W. Fine Fellowship
  • Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton Fellowship
  • Irving R. Kaufman Fellowships
  • Albert M. Sacks Clinical Law Fellowship
  • Maria, Gabriella and Robert A. Skirnick Public Interest Fellowships
  • The L. Anthony Sutin Public Service Fellowship
  • James Vorenberg Equal Justice Summer Fellowship
  • The Zuckerman Fellows Program
  • Summer Public Interest Funding
  • Winter Term International Travel Grants