Paul L. Caron

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Harvard Makes Online Zero-L Course Free For All U.S. Law Schools Due To Coronavirus


Harvard Crimson, Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus:

Harvard Law School announced Wednesday it will offer its online, pre-term “Zero-L” course for free for all United States law schools this summer in an effort to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the success of incoming law students.

The Law School and the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning created the Zero-L program in 2018 to ensure students from all backgrounds could enter the school with foundational knowledge about the legal field. The name Zero-L refers to the names of 1L, 2L, and 3L for first, second, and third-year law students.

The program is taught by Law School professors and features self-paced modules that students can refer back to throughout their entire first year. It covers topics such as how to read a case and the stages of civil litigation. ...

In 2019, four other law schools — Seton Hall University, Northeastern University, Boston College, and the University of Baltimore — adopted the program.

The Law School had planned to make the Zero-L program available to other schools for a fee, but decided to waive that fee in light of the pandemic. All law schools in the United States who wish to participate can offer the course to their incoming students starting July 1. ... [T]he Law School has not eliminated the possibility of reinstating the fee in future years.

Harvard Law Today, Harvard Makes Online Course For Incoming Students Available to All Law Schools For Free This Summer:

A self-paced course with optional comprehension checks, content is universal and flexible. Law schools can identify modules that are most useful for their students and instruct them to focus on those particular areas. ...

“We designed Zero-L as a course that all law schools can benefit from by ensuring the content doesn’t focus on any institution-specific pedagogy,” said Jessica Soban ’07, associate dean for strategic initiatives.

For institutions facing the prospect of online orientation due to COVID-19, Zero-L also covers some critical elements of law school orientation, such as an introduction to the first year of law school, in an on-demand format that may complement a virtual orientation.

The self-paced course will now be accessible to participating law schools to offer to their incoming law students starting July 1, 2020, and is designed to be completed in 12 – 14 hours. ... In the coming months, the HLS team will work with participating institutions to enroll them in Zero-L and ensure students gain access when the course launches on July 1.

Zero-L Modules:

  • Intro to Law and the Court Systems
  • How to Read a Case and Understand Precedent
  • Working With Statutes
  • A Preview of 1L Courses
  • Intro to the Legal Profession
  • Legal Theory and Scholarship

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

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The concept of have legal instructions prepared by the best classroom teachers and then used/shared by other law schools (probably for a fee), rather than having hundreds of law professors at different law school all take the time to individually prepare a lesson on the same topic - e.g., on Palsgraf, proximate cause, etc. - was in no way restricted materials prepared by any specific law school.

Harvard, and its interesting if not unique offer, was used only as an example and a news peg.

Law schools would obviously be free to choose (and probably then license for a fee) whichever on-line instructions for a particular course or particular topic they think would best fit their own needs, whether its prepared by a law professor at Harvard or Georgetown or Rutgers, or even by an institution other than a conventional law school.

The quality and value of the legal instruction on any particular topic - not the ranking or overall reputation of a specific law school, or even of an individual law professor - would presumably determine which instructional material would be acquired by each law school, and this selection might in turn depend, on the law school and/or the law professors doing the choosing.

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | May 24, 2020 7:45:28 AM

I find the idea that students need Harvard to prepare them for going to other law schools condescending and not a little bit ridiculous. Whatever my disagreements with Rutgers, the teaching here is not only as good as Yale, Harvard, etc. but probably much better. Our professors spend their time trying to help their students, not trying to get on television or polish their resumes. Let Harvard worry about Harvard.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | May 23, 2020 3:59:59 AM

Maybe this free-for-limited-time-only offer will help law schools to see the advantages of - and law students to begin to demand - using legal instruction from the top law schools and the very best classroom teachers, rather than simply having their own law professors pontificate.

It really makes little sense - economically or otherwise - to have hundreds of individual law professors, often several at the same law school, try to explain (using Torts as an example) the Palsgraf case, proof of causation, proximate cause, etc. to first year law students.

Would it not be much better for the one or two or three truly finest and most effective Torts professors to prepare - with the help of education and IT experts, graphs and charts, etc. - an explanation of each such subject, and to then share (probably for a fee) those explanations with other law schools.

To the extent that (at least large essential) law school classes include, beyond a lecture or other instructional presentation, an opportunity for students to be asked questions, for students to ask questions, and for students to discuss the material with each other, these functions could probably be provided or facilitated by no more than one Torts professor at each law school.

This would free up those who taught (for example) the other two or more additional Torts classes at the same law school.

Also, even the one Torts professor assigned to facilitate the functions noted above would presumably have to spend less time than if, in addition to those functions, he also had to lecture or otherwise make classroom presentations on all of these different Torts topics.

Allowing a few top teachers in each area of law to very carefully prepare instructional materials which can be delivered on line would also be much better during the current crisis - and certainly preferable to having hundreds of Torts professors, often with little if any real training in distance learning, try to transform their classroom course into an on-line course in a few months for use this fall if necessary.

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | May 22, 2020 7:13:22 AM