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Students talking in class.

The First Year

Your first year of study will provide a solid intellectual foundation on which to build your legal education, covering foundational principles and concepts that will assist you in dealing with more complex matters in the second and third years. The first-year curriculum provides a thorough grounding in fundamental legal reasoning and analysis. First-year sections have been carefully arranged to include a number of different faculty personalities. Most first-year courses are taught by full professors, permitting all students to experience the teaching of the most eminent legal scholars in their fields.

The entering first-year class of about 560 students is divided into seven sections of approximately eighty students to facilitate academic and career advising and to provide regular opportunities beyond the classroom for discussions about law and the legal profession. A senior faculty member leads each section and coordinates numerous activities for students in the section. The first-year required courses in criminal law, contracts, civil procedure, torts, legislation and regulation, and property are taught in the sections. First-year students satisfy the requirement of a spring elective course in international or comparative law by choosing among a number of courses in those areas. In addition, first-year students choose an elective from the upper-level curriculum during the spring semester. To bridge the gap between academic courses and the skills lawyers use in practice, all first-year students participate in the January Experiential Term. During this term, students enroll in one of several skills-based courses that emphasize teamwork, practical training, and self-reflection. First-year students also take Legal Research and Writing (LRW). This introduction to lawyering complements the other first-year required course work by teaching basic methods of legal analysis, effective written and oral communication of legal concepts and conclusions, and essential legal research tools and methodologies. The Legal Research and Writing (LRW) course provides training in legal research, writing, negotiation, and oral advocacy to groups of approximately twelve students. In the spring semester, first-year students choose an elective course from the upper-level curriculum and participate in the Ames Competition (moot court) in which pairs of students conduct research, write a brief, and present an oral argument for a case based on a hypothetical fact situation.

Small Reading Groups

First-year students also have the opportunity to participate in small, faculty-led reading groups. In a reading group, students have the chance to explore an intellectual interest outside the scope of the basic first-year curriculum.

Upper-level Curriculum

After the 1L year, students at Harvard Law School have a great deal of flexibility to craft their own curriculum. Students are required to take a course in professional responsibility and to complete a major piece of written work (the “third-year paper”).

Although there are no other requirements, students are encouraged to pursue an upper-level program that provides continued intellectual development through courses that build on lower-level courses. Second- and third-year students have the opportunity to engage in independent writing projects under the supervision of faculty, to pursue clinical placements, and to cross-register at other schools and colleges at Harvard University.

In addition, the faculty have designed new programs of study to provide students with clearly-defined, optional tracks. Currently, students can choose from among the following: Criminal Justice, Law and Government; Law and Business; International and Comparative Law; Law, Science, and Technology; and Law and Social Change. To learn more about these programs of study, visit Programs of Study information page.