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Celebrating Two Hundred at Harvard Law School

Aug. 25, 2017, 1:57 PM

Since its establishment in 1817, Harvard Law has educated presidents, senators, CEOs, and six of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices.

So, how to celebrate a 200th birthday?

Harvard Law is doing it with not one but three events over the course of the school year. Each event is intended to “show what an interesting place [Harvard] is by doing interesting things, rather than talking about how interesting we are,” explained Professor Richard Lazarus, the faculty chair of the bicentennial’s planning committee.

The first event, a festival titled “HLS in the Arts,” marks the start of the school year and celebrates the school’s involvement not only in law but in culture. The festival, which takes place Sept. 15th and 16th, includes conversations with alumni in the arts, film screenings, performances by staff, faculty, students, and alums, and even a book festival. Actors, screenwriters, composers, producers, authors, and company presidents make up the variety of alums returning to Harvard Law to participate. This group includes WWE star David Otunga, Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed, and Patricia Laucella, the president of business and legal affairs at Lionsgate.

“It’s not what you think Harvard Law School would do,” remarked Lazarus. He noted that the event “underscores the reach of the law school in different ways that are surprising, and also fun.”

The second weekend, which Lazarus called the “main event”, takes places around the annual reunion weekend in October.

Beginning on the 26th, Lazarus explained that “HLS in the World” will bring together thousands of people in what he called “a jamboree of intellectual discussion and debate.”

Through more than sixty seminars, students will be able to engage with faculty, alums and others in discussions of everything from impeachment law to entertainment law to human rights. Former ambassador Samantha Power, Senators Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch are just a few of the notable speakers and panelists.

Professor John Goldberg, who teaches tort law and theory and political philosophy, is leading a seminar on Christopher Columbus Langdell, the influential Harvard Law School dean who founded the case study method of legal education.

Goldberg said there’s been a “real effort to bring people in from far and wide; people from the Boston community, and from the legal community. We don’t want this to be a kind of navel-gazing exercise where we talk about ourselves to ourselves. We want it to be an occasion where we open ourselves up to participation from a wider range of people.”

The third event, centered around the spring alumni weekend beginning April 20th, is called “HLS in the Community.” Lazarus defined this event as a “public interest, public service forum with alums,” adding that they plan to “highlight the political education of the law school.” The speakers and schedule have not been announced.

Even as the school looks to celebrateits 200th anniversary, some Harvard faculty are committed to providing an honest assessment of the school’s history.

“I think the goal is to stop for a moment and both appreciate what’s been accomplished, which is a lot, but also take note of the things that have gone badly or we should’ve done differently or that are not proud moments in our history. It’s an occasion to both celebrate and critically self-examine,” said Goldberg.

He praised the staff, alumni, and students of Harvard law, but also remembered that the school was founded by Isaac Royall, a slave owner.

“Like every institution that’s connected to powerful people, there’s a complicated story to tell about the past,” said Goldberg.

UPDATED: This post has been clarified to reflect that six of the sitting Supreme Court justices were educated at HLS. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg briefly was educated at HLS, but she graduated from Columbia Law School.