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Harvard Law School – Justice for The People


— November 6, 2017

“Law students must not forget that they are fitting themselves to be ministers of justice.” – Thomas McIntyre Cooley, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice. These are the words that should guide students in every law school. However, as we’ll see, this is too often not the case.


“Law students must not forget that they are fitting themselves to be ministers of justice.” – Thomas McIntyre Cooley, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice. These words should guide students in every law school. However, as we’ll see, this is too often not the case.

Harvard Law School Mission – Justice & Our Well-being

The Harvard Law Record carries an article by Pete Davis about the school’s public interest mission on its Bicentennial.  He wrote:

“As we celebrate, many students are concerned: about our school being overtaken by corporate interests and losing relevance to the average American; about a watchdog of the law being largely asleep as the institutions of the rule of law and equal justice under law are under siege; and of a school community that has lost track of its declared mission to “educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”  

To surface these concerns, I have compiled a report on Harvard Law School’s public interest mission — Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission — that is being released today to coincide with our school’s bicentennial celebration. The report aims to document: first, the crisis of mass exclusion from legal power for the average American (in the criminal justice, civil justice and political systems); second, Harvard Law’s failure to address this crisis, and the inaccurate excuses our community tends to give for not addressing it; third, what accounts for this civic deficit; and fourth, twelve reform proposals that aim to help us better live up to our mission.  An electronic copy of the report can be downloaded here….

I hope for this report to have a similar motivating impact, inspiring the community to transition from a school community where four out of five graduates deploy their legal educations to advance the legal interests of a wealthy and powerful few to one where a majority of students use their education to serve the interests of the vast, underserved public.1

Safety, Health, and Happiness for all; graphic courtesy of Neil Angeles.
Safety, Health, and Happiness for all; graphic courtesy of Neil Angeles.

Harvard Law School Alumni

One Harvard Law School graduate that has devoted his life to the “advancement of justice and the well-being of society” is Ralph Nader.  His latest warning of what is endangering both justice and society was carried in an Op-Ed in the NY Times. 2

Another Harvard Law School graduate who devoted his life to the “advancement of justice and the well-being of society” was the late Clarence M. Ditlow, III.  Clarence passed a year ago after a lifetime of accomplishments in the public interest noted in the NY Times. 3

I have been privileged to work with Clarence since 1970 when he helped me create The Public Interest Campaign to work on Clean Air.  Legal Reader carried a tribute to Clarence’s work at the time of his passing. 4

Public Interest Accomplishments – More Needed

Students at Harvard and other schools can be inspired by just one informative video where Clarence describes citizen strategies for advancing the public interest by overcoming legal and political obstacles and opposition. 5

For students who wish to dig deeper into the legal literature for examples of benefits of regulation I recommend the Yale Journal article “The Hidden Benefits of Regulation: Disclosing the Auto Safety Payoff” by Joan Claybrook and David Bollier. 6

Despite all the public interest accomplishments on auto safety (millions of lives saved, and many more injuries prevented) deaths and injuries are increasing again.

Despite all the accomplishments in reducing emissions of air pollutants (lead has been removed from gasoline and catalysts on vehicles are reducing carbon monoxide) air pollution still harms people and has grown globally to the point of being a planetary existential threat to all of us. 7

Hopefully the idealism of Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader continues to inspire advocates to achieve future advances in the public interest.

Sources:

  1. Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission
  2. Ralph Nader: Trump’s Anti-Consumer Agenda Hurts His Voters
  3. Clarence M. Ditlow III, Auto Safety Crusader, Dies at 72
  4. Tribute to Clarence M. Ditlow III Vehicle Safety Leader
  5. Breaking Through Power – May 24
  6. The Hidden Benefits of Regulation: Disclosing the Auto Safety Payoff
  7. 50 Years of “Legal” Climate Change

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