Introducing the Harvard Law School Case Studies

How can law school learning be made more experiential and better prepare students to be effective lawyers in the real world? How can law schools inject participant-centered learning into curriculums that are largely dominated by lecture and the Socratic method? Based in the HLS Library, the Harvard Law School Case Studies are dedicated to just this mission:

…faculty and staff at HLS research and write case studies, role plays, and problems that can be used and adapted in a variety of classroom settings. We are excited about the possibilities that experiential learning presents and are actively supporting the adoption of these materials in other law and professional schools.

The Case Studies has launched a blog exploring the case studies and related courses and workshops both at HLS and other schools that have adopted the case study approach. A recent post highlights an intriguing example: Shackleton’s Journey to the Endurance:

Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton’s first journey to the Antarctic ended in a very public failure. On his second expedition, in a race to the South Pole, Shackleton turned back within 100 miles of his goal. In his third journey, Shackleton not only failed to achieve his goal of a transcontinental traverse of Antarctica, but his ship was trapped and destroyed by ice, stranding the crew on ice floes for over a year. So why do law and business students and executives in legal and business organizations study Shackleton as an example of successful leadership?

[Professor Ashish] Nanda uses his case study on Shackleton’s third journey to prompt class discussions about effective leadership in the face of sudden challenges and environmental turbulence, and draw lessons on leadership in today’s law firms and legal departments. The case study is accompanied with a collection of historical video footage and photographs that take participants through the experiences of Shackleton’s expedition.

For a more modern case, take a look at From Sony to SOPA: The Technology-Content Divide by Professors John Palfrey and Jonathan Zittrain, who examine fall 2011’s proposed Stop Online Piracy Act. From the blog:

Open access advocates protest outside the Supreme Court, speaking out in response to the MGM v. Grokster hearings (March 2005).

Used in the classroom to promote discussion and analysis of the SOPA legislation, From Sony to SOPA prompts participants to ponder questions such as: Is there really a problem with online piracy that the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) doesn’t already address? Are the precedents set by the Sony decision adequate in the face of today’s file sharing technologies? Is it possible to craft a law that will strike an appropriate balance between the interests of copyright holders and those of technology creators and individuals? Is some measure of piracy the price we pay for a robust technology sector in the United States? Or is piracy an ever-growing scourge, eviscerating U.S. entertainment industries?  In the classroom, student groups representing various stakeholders work to amend SOPA and try to create a bill more likely to be signed into law.

We hope this taste of the Case Studies piques your interest and you’ll consider subscribing to the Case Studies blog or newsletter. We’ll be back periodically to share highlights, news, and other items of interest from our colleagues at the Case Studies program.


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