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In December 2015, the New York Court of Appeals adopted Rule 520.18 establishing bar admission requirements regarding skills competencies and professional values, applicable to all students who begin their J.D. studies in August 2016 or later. Rule 520.18 provides five pathways by which J.D. students can satisfy the requirement.

Pathway 1 consists of two main components. First, the law school must have a plan to incorporate into its curriculum the skills and professional values required to prepare its J.D. graduates for basic competence and ethical participation in the legal profession and make this plan publicly available. Second, the law school must certify that the particular law graduate seeking admission to the bar has attained sufficient competency in the relevant skills and sufficient familiarity with the relevant professional values. Pathway 1 states that a law school may use course grades to determine whether a student has attained these skills and professional values.

Harvard Law School anticipates that J.D. students will meet the Skills Competency Requirement through Pathway 1. The Law School’s curriculum and assessment of student learning meet the requirements of Pathway 1. The Law School has identified six core competencies for successful participation in the profession: knowledge and understanding of the law; legal analysis and reasoning; ethics and professionalism; communications and presentation skills; research skills (as to both law and facts); and problem-solving skills. Please see Exhibit A for a full description of these core competencies and their subsidiary competencies and a chart that graphically represents the core competencies’ interrelation. As reflected in Exhibit A, the various competencies incorporate both skills (e.g., ability to analyze/organize facts in relation to applicable law and client goals) and values (e.g., understanding pro bono and justice obligations). Critically, the Law School’s taxonomy of core and subsidiary competencies was designed to encompass the skill set and professional values students might need for their successful participation in the legal professional across a wide spectrum of lawyering possibilities—from litigation to transactional work, from alternative dispute resolution to institutional design, from domestic to transnational work, and so forth.

The Law School ensures that its graduates have acquired the skills and values reflected in the core competencies through a variety of mechanisms. The foundation for these core competencies is established through the mandatory first-year curriculum. As an initial matter, the predicate core competency—knowledge and understanding of the law—is the subject of several first-year courses, namely Civil Procedure, Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law, and a required international law elective. The first-year legal research and writing course, which culminates in the Ames Moot Court competition, focuses intensely for two semesters on three of the core competencies: legal analysis and reasoning; communications and presentation skills; and research skills. The first-year Problem Solving Workshop (PSW) and, beginning in winter term 2019, expanded set of first-year January Experiential Term courses play an essential role in complementing and extending the curriculum of the legal research and writing program. In the January Experiential Term courses, students devote the entire winter-term to instructor- supervised exercises that engage real-world situations and problem-solving skills and values. The courses’ substance and structure permits an intensive focus on various core competencies— including, ethics and professionalism, legal analysis and reasoning, communications and presentation skills, and problem-solving skills. In this way, these courses both reinforce certain of the core competencies covered in the legal research and writing program and addresses additional core competencies unique to each course’s subject or field.

While the January Experiential Term courses begin the process of introducing students to ethics and professionalism standards, students are also required to complete a separate professional responsibility course to graduate.

Overall, through the Law School’s wide array of clinical and experiential offerings and diverse advanced coursework, the upper-level curriculum strengthens the foundation created by the first-year curriculum. The upper-level curriculum is organized in a way to maximize opportunities for students to complete courses that, in combination, help integrate substantive areas of focus with the lawyering skills relevant thereto.

The Law School assesses whether students have attained sufficient competency in the core competencies through our grading system, as permitted by Rule 520.18(1)(ii).

The Law School’s curriculum and student assessment methods satisfy the requirements of Pathway 1 for admission to the New York Bar.


Communications and Presentation Skills

  • Communicating effectively and appropriately with clients
  • Communicating effectively and appropriately with other lawyers/judges/officials
  • Conducting an effective interview
  • Drafting well-organized, clear, comprehensive and succinct litigation documents (e.g., complaints, discovery, briefs)
  • Drafting well-organized, clear, comprehensive and succinct policy documents (e.g. white papers)
  • Drafting well-organized, clear, comprehensive and succinct transactional documents
  • Explaining complex legal issues in simple terms to clients and other audiences
  • Formal presentation and oral advocacy skills
  • Using multiple technologies and tools effectively and efficiently

Ethics and Professionalism

  • Enhancing self-awareness
  • Knowing and adhering to ethical rules and mores
  • Taking positions rather than hedging
  • Taking responsibility (taking initiative, accountability, meeting deadlines, leadership)
  • Understanding pro bono and professional social justice obligations
  • Working effectively as a member of a team (including giving and taking criticism)
  • Working effectively with many types of people and across multiple backgrounds

Knowledge and Understanding

  • Doctrinal content of particular subject
  • Historical and/or political context of particular subject
  • Institutional and/or global context of particular subject
  • Interrelationship of substance and procedure in particular subject
  • Principles/policies of particular subject

Legal Analysis and Reasoning

  • Ability to analyze/organize facts in relation to applicable laws and client goals
  • Ability to articulate both/all sides of contested issue
  • Ability to construct case theory and strategy
  • Ability to create innovative and reasoned analyses and arguments
  • Ability to parse, identify flaws in, and revise transactional documents
  • Ability to parse, interpret and apply legal texts (e.g., case law, administrative decisions, treaties, constitutions, statutes and regulations)
  • Ability to predict legal outcomes
  • Ability to use/understand quantitative methods and business/economic analysis
  • Ability to use common analytical routines (e.g., institutional and business/economic analyses)
  • Relationship of particular subject to understanding of law in general

Problem Solving Skills

  • Consideration of institutional design
  • Identification and framing of a problem
  • Identification of alternate courses of action
  • Melding of practical and legal considerations
  • Negotiation and resolution
  • Recommendation of specific course of action based on strategic thinking and identification of attendant risks

Research Skills

  • Finding applicable positive legal materials (including international and comparative law)
  • Gathering relevant facts efficiently
  • Identifying clients’ goals and problems accurately
  • Identifying stakeholders and interests
  • Knowing when enough research has been done
  • Locating applicable and relevant non-legal materials