All first-year Harvard Law School students take the Problem Solving Workshop in the winter term. A uniquely structured offering, the Problem Solving Workshop bridges the gap between academic study and practical lawyering. Students confront client problems—framed from the clients’ and attorneys’ points of view and designed expressly for the Workshop—in the way practicing lawyers do, from the very beginning, before the facts are all known, before the client’s goals are clarified, before the full range of options is explored, and before a course of conduct is chosen. Rather than teach law in the abstract, the course poses questions like these: What sort of problems do lawyers solve? How do they solve them? What intellectual constructs do they bring to bear? What practical judgments? And, as students find the answers to those questions, they learn to combine their knowledge of the law with practical judgment to help clients attain their goals within the bounds of the law.
A key aspect of the Workshop (reflective of legal practice, but not of most first-year law school work) is the expectation that students work collaboratively and submit group work product. Classroom activities and assignments vary, keeping students on their toes and actively engaged in the task at hand. The required work product takes the form of the kind of memos, analyses, and advice written by practicing lawyers daily. The deadlines are often tight, as they usually are for lawyers seeking to respond with immediacy to particular client problems. Through the expertise of the instructors, the collaborative exercises with peers, and exposure to some of the day-to-day elements of lawyering, students in the Workshop learn about the law in a new and exciting way.