Students have participated in a wide variety of international projects and placements during Winter Term.
Examples of past research/writing project topics include:
- changes to the Russian visa regime and its effect on non-governmental organizations
- universal jurisdiction in French courts
- legal strategies for economic development to protect traditional resource users in Mali
- the effect of co-determination on German corporate governance
- gang violence in El Salvador and human rights abuses in the government’s response
- campaign finance law in Hong Kong
- legal strategies to promote climate change adaptation in the Philippines
Examples of past clinical placements include
- Australian Securities and Investments Commission
- South Africa’s Equal Education Law Centre
- Documentation Center of Cambodia
- Public Interest Law Institute in Hungary
- Judicial Reform Foundation in Taiwan
- United Nations Commission on International Trade Law
Developing a Project
Properly planned Winter Term projects can be fascinating and rewarding. Some students have found that Winter Term abroad has been the highlight of their time at HLS. But students must understand that undertaking Winter Term projects abroad is a serious commitment and requires an investment of time before and after Winter Term. Grant proposals should show evidence of this commitment.
In identifying a topic and research question for a writing project or selecting an independent clinical placement, students should consider their interests, abilities, and goals, and the potential value of the project. Students may wish to consult with individuals and offices that can provide guidance, such as faculty members, research programs, and/or the Office of Clinical Programs. (Note: some faculty members prefer that students send a paragraph describing the proposed topic and work plan in advance of a consultation.)
Winter Term is quite short, and students must think carefully about the scope and work plan of their projects, as well as the possible risks and challenges of conducting clinical work or research abroad. When planning projects, students should try to anticipate how they will adapt to different conditions and unexpected challenges. Students who prepare in advance both substantively (e.g., reading, consulting with people who have relevant expertise, and arranging meetings for Winter Term in advance) and in terms of logistics (e.g., accommodations, transportation, and even safety) have a much better and more productive Winter Term experience. Prior grant recipients have reported that, despite their best intentions, travel to and research in more than one country over Winter Term proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated and, in some cases, infeasible. Also, some organizations and institutions may be closed, and individuals may be on holiday, for part or all of January.
These stories in Harvard Law Today provide some examples of successful student projects:
Necessary Project Elements
Please note that funding is not guaranteed — students will only receive grants if their proposals demonstrate the necessary project elements described below. The specific amount granted to each qualifying student will depend on the strength of the student’s proposal.
In deciding which projects merit grants, and the amounts of those grants, the Selection Committee will consider:
- the necessity of travel in order to complete the project
- the thoughtfulness, clarity, and completeness of the proposal, including the rigor of the project’s methodology and requisite detail about the specific work contemplated
- the reasons the student wants to undertake the project, including its relation to the student’s goals and their academic, intellectual, practical, and other experiences
- the appropriateness of the scope and the feasibility of the project, given the duration of Winter Term
- the student’s qualifications for the project, including foreign language proficiency if relevant
- the originality and potential impact of the project
- the correlation between the project and the expertise of the student’s HLS faculty supervisor
- the relationship of the proposed budget to the outlined project
Please see the Winter Term Writing Program information (under “Additional Academic Opportunities (J.D. and Graduate Program”) in the HLS Handbook of Academic Policies for more information, including specifics regarding credits, and read advice on developing a Winter Term research/writing project (PDF) and preparing to write (PDF).
Examples of Strong Proposals
Here are illustrations of elements that made some recent proposals compelling:
Art Law in Australia
Student A had secured a clinical placement with a non-profit organization in Australia that dealt with art law. Their project involved license agreements for artists participating in creative enterprise hubs designed to revitalize city centers. The student had practical and academic experience with art/entertainment law and intellectual property law and policy. They described specifically how their Winter Term work would build on skills and knowledge they had gained through experiences prior to law school, summer jobs, and courses at HLS, as well as how the clinical placement would allow them to gain understanding in a practice area that directly related to work they hoped to do after law school. It also seemed that the student would be able to contribute significantly to the placement organization. The application included a strong endorsement from the faculty advisor which confirmed the Selection Committee’s sense that the student was well-positioned for an effective Winter Term project.
Comparative Asylum Law in Germany
Student B wished to travel to several cities in Germany to conduct a comparative study of U.S. and German asylum law, focusing on the role played by national security threats and reactions to them in shaping legislation and executive measures. The proposal indicated that the topic built on the student’s prior work and academic experience in refugee and asylum law, as well as on an area of interest arising from their family’s experiences in fleeing from Iraq to Germany. The student provided a detailed explanation of their approach and methodology, and a specific list of research questions. They explained why elements of their research — including interviews and access to secondary sources — made travel to Germany essential, and noted that they had communicated in advance with the experts and NGOs they would consult while abroad. The student also described their fluency in German and familiarity with the country. The faculty supervisor confirmed that the student had a concrete research plan in place and noted that given the political climate in both countries, the project would be undertaken at a critical time.
Labor and Migration Law in Thailand
Student C conducted an independent clinical with the International Labor Organization office in Thailand. Their project examined labor protection and migration laws in the region, a logical outgrowth of previous clinical and summer work in Asia and the U.S. on anti-trafficking laws and immigration reform. The student had taken a number of courses at HLS that provided relevant context for the Winter Term placement, and was able to articulate clearly how the project would be structured and what they hoped to learn from it.
Campaign Finance Reform in Hong Kong
Student D wished to travel to Hong Kong to conduct research on that jurisdiction’s campaign finance laws. Their paper would compare Hong Kong’s unusually restrictive practices with those in other relatively young democracies in the region, and suggest a model for Hong Kong to follow as it adjusted to a changing electoral landscape. The proposal showed that this topic was closely aligned with the student’s professional experience as an organizer for a presidential campaign, their academic work before and during law school, and their goal to become a legal academic focusing on Chinese law, with a sub-specialization in Hong Kong. The student provided examples of the source materials they would consult, as well as a detailed preliminary biography. In planning their Winter Term project, they worked closely with a well-connected visiting lecturer who was an expert in this field and who, through an affiliated think tank in Hong Kong, could facilitate access to legal periodical archives not available at HLS. The faculty supervisor confirmed the student’s strong academic record and noted that the paper would both fill a gap in the academic literature and likely have real-world impact. When it was completed, sections of the student’s paper were published on the think tank’s web site.
Conversely, here are examples of problems with proposals that have resulted in the students not being granted funding:
- The research topic or scope of the clinical project was deemed overly broad for a three-week period.
- The research methodology was unclear – the student did not adequately explain what they would do while they were abroad and why it would require the duration of Winter Term, or how it would differ from research they could conduct in Harvard libraries.
- The project was predicated on conducting interviews but contained almost no information about the expected interviewees, how these interviews would be arranged, what type of questions the student would ask, which meetings had been confirmed, or whether the student’s foreign language skills were sufficient.
- The student was unfamiliar with basic operational practices in the foreign country to which they wished to travel, and failed to ascertain that the institutions where they intended to conduct research would be closed in January.
- The student had not communicated adequately with the placement organization; they had only been in contact with their proposed supervisor briefly with a short e-mail exchange, and they did not know what their clinical work would consist of.
- The letter from a student’s proposed HLS faculty supervisor expressed concerns about the student’s qualifications or proposed project.
These examples do not constitute a comprehensive survey of strong and weak aspects of projects, but illustrate some key aspects the Selection Committee considers when evaluating proposals. It is not necessary for a student to have spent time previously in the country to which they plan to travel over Winter Term, but familiarity with the local context and language can be critical to working effectively. And while it is certainly possible for a student to spend Winter Term exploring a topic of recent rather than long-standing interest, the topic and destination should have some relevance to the student’s areas of study, skills, and experience, and not be a random choice or a thinly veiled justification for a leisure trip. Simply identifying an intriguing topic is not sufficient; a student must indicate how they will be able to do serious work on the subject over Winter Term and thoroughly explain their goals and methodology.
Use of Human Subjects
Students are responsible for the ethical implications of their research. If a student’s project includes research involving human subjects, including interviews, surveys, or obtaining information by other means, it may require review by the Committee on the Use of Human Subjects. Please review the information on their website; for additional questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.