Proposal Would Reduce Class Sizes, Increase Financial Aid

After more than two years of studies, committee meetings, and debate, the Harvard Law School faculty has approved a comprehensive strategic plan that will shape the School for the next 10 to 20 years. At the urging of Dean Robert Clark ’72, faculty members, students, alumni, and administrators have crafted a 75-page document that calls for dramatically shrinking first-year class sizes, increasing financial aid, strengthening connections to the legal practice, expanding research and teaching in international law, and improving the School’s infrastructure.

“It was a complicated process,” Clark recently told a group of West Coast alumni who met in San Francisco to learn more about the Strategic Plan. “But the end result has been rather inspiring. If we succeed [in implementing the plan], we will contribute to the good of the world.”

In 1997 Clark assembled faculty members to shape an agenda aimed at strengthening the Law School, with a significant focus on improving the quality of student life. During the next two years, five planning committees–focusing on academic development, connections to practice, infrastructure and resources, institutional life, and internationalization–developed numerous initiatives and proposals under the supervision of the strategic planning steering committee, chaired by Professor Daniel Meltzer ’75.

“We start as a leader in international and comparative law, with a long tradition and a vibrant graduate program for foreign lawyers,” Meltzer said. “We hope to broaden the exposure of our J.D. students to the growing globalization of law practice and to reshape our graduate program to make it even more effective in training lawyers from all over the world.”

In the fall the faculty approved a few specific proposals, including the reduction of first-year sections from 140 students to fewer than 80, which received unanimous support. While the Law School will continue to admit approximately 550 students per year, the overall 1L class will be broken into seven distinct sections instead of four. “This is quite a substantial change,” said Todd Rakoff ’75, dean of the J.D. Program. “First-year sections have been the same size for about the last 100 years.”

A measure mandating at least 40 hours of pro bono work by all J.D. students also passed the faculty, as did a proposal to make grading more uniform across sections.

A significant portion of the plan is devoted to increasing financial aid and expanding loan forgiveness for students who pursue careers in lower-paying fields such as nonprofit and public-sector work. Although Harvard was the first law school in the country to institute the loan forgiveness program for its graduates, most faculty and students agree that the program must be expanded to keep up with increasing debt loads.

The Strategic Plan must still be approved by Harvard University’s top governing body, the Harvard Corporation, before it can be implemented, although Clark and other Law School leaders are optimistic about securing this support.

“If you don’t plan ahead, you will drift and decline,” said Clark. “The end result [of the Strategic Plan] will be a much better Harvard Law School.”