Paul L. Caron

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Harvard 1Ls: Elite Law Schools Shortchange Students By Veering Left

National Review op-ed:  Elite Law Schools Shortchange Students by Veering Left, by Eli Nachmany (J.D. 2022, Harvard) & Jacob Richards (J.D. 2022, Harvard):

Harvard Law School (2016)The conservative legal movement is in its golden age, but you wouldn’t know it from visiting America’s top law schools. At Harvard Law School, for example, which we both currently attend, originalist faculty and right-of-center educational opportunities are conspicuously lacking despite a tremendous amount of student interest. ...

At Harvard Law, despite a faculty of more than 100 tenured professors and dozens more assistant professors, clinical professors, and lecturers, there are fewer openly right-of-center professors than we can count on one hand. What’s worse, none of them focus their scholarship on originalism. ... All students would benefit from having a more ideologically diverse faculty. 

See Adam Bonica (Stanford), Adam S. Chilton (Chicago), Kyle Rozema (Northwestern) & Maya Sen (Harvard), The Legal Academy's Ideological Uniformity, 47 J. Legal Stud. 1 (2018):

Harvard Political Ideology

At law schools across America, “law clinics” are a way for students to gain hands-on experience lawyering in exchange for academic credit. While these clinics were once a vehicle for providing free representation to indigent clients who faced asymmetries in access to justice, many clinical programs have morphed into cause lawyering and issue advocacy, shaped by priorities that reflect legal academia’s progressive consensus.

At Harvard Law, progressive students have plenty of opportunities to live their values through the clinical program. ... Conservative students do not share this luxury — if we want to live our values through our legal work, we can either participate in facially neutral clinics (often led by openly progressive faculty members, which necessarily affects the cases that the clinics actually take on) or simply take a pass on clinical legal education altogether. ...

We take no issue with the existence of left-leaning clinics on our campus. Harvard Law is a big school, with more than enough resources to accommodate clinical opportunities for both the Left and the Right. But that’s not what we have. Recently we put together a petition calling for Harvard Law to expand its clinical offerings to better represent the full spectrum of student interests. ...

Law schools are less effective at training tomorrow’s leaders when they allow themselves to become ideologically uniform echo chambers. To remedy that failure, schools need to make conscious decisions in faculty hiring to bring in conservative viewpoints and expand their clinical legal-education programs to invest in the futures of right-of-center law students just as they do for progressives. In an era when originalists fill the ranks of the federal bench and right-of-center legal-advocacy opportunities abound, law schools shortchange their students by veering left.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


These studies of ideology are Bullsh*t because they define the center of the ideological spectrum as the position of the median member of congress, whose views are essentially indistinguishable from those of ultra-wealthy donors, which is to say, more right wing than 99.9% of the world's population.

Scientists are actually more "left wing" than social scientists because they haven't been bought up like economists, and because they generally have stronger empirical orientation and less ideological bias.

I'm sorry, but if members of congress start believing global warming is a Chinese hoax and the earth is flat and smoking or vaping tobacco is good for your health, that doesn't mean anyone who disagrees is a left winger.

It just means that the Republicans have gone off the deep end of craziness, and scientists don't want to follow.

Posted by: Bullhockey | Nov 19, 2019 9:20:03 AM

One way to avoid the problems of "left-leaning clinics" is to not limit experiential law teaching to clinics with a defined agenda and scope (e.g., domestic violence) in which students are closely supervised by instructors who often may dictate what they should do and how.

Clinical law can be taught outside such traditional clinics, thereby avoiding many of the problems and limitations - including potential bias - of law school clinics. See, e.g.,

In my CLASS (not clinic) in Legal Activism, students are free to pick what clinical legal projects they can undertake - a/k/a/ who they will sue, and on what basis.

Thus the legal action projects could be progressive or conservative, libertarian or liberal, etc.

For example, they are free to decide for themselves whether to be pro-choice or pro-life, for more of less gun control, for or against the death penalty, etc.

They may also take on causes or concerns of only a small unpopular minority group: e.g., for nudists, those who consider themselves witches, etc.

Experience dictates that students will learn more, and work much harder, on projects which are addressed to problems of real interest to themselves, rather than having to work on concerns selected by the instructor and/or the law school.

Moreover, if they are not confined to clinics, they may have more freedom to address problems creatively.

For example, my law school has long had a Domestic Violence Clinic in which law students work to obtain protective orders and provide other help to (laregly) women who have been battered by a husband or live-in boyfriend.

But my students addressed the same problem by filing a petition for rulemaking which persuaded the D.C. police to arrest (rather than simply counsel) whenever there is probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred - an approach which has substantially reduced recidivism, and which is now being used in many other jurisdictions.

Perhaps Harvard and other law schools should begin thinking outside the box, rather than boxing students into legal clinics which may have a bias.


Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Nov 17, 2019 10:00:12 PM

So an originalist judge is by definition a marginal talent? Interesting notion.

Posted by: Annie | Nov 17, 2019 7:45:41 AM

Maybe there are too many originalists on the federal bench rather than too few in elite law schools? It seems some very marginal legal talent in their 30s and 40s are being appointed to the federal bench these days with a conservative bent.

Posted by: But SEa | Nov 17, 2019 4:48:36 AM