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About Harvard Law Case Studies

Case Studies at Harvard Law School

"[In 2004], Harvard Law School embarked on a major curricular review aimed at determining what changes might help us to prepare our students even more effectively for the complex global challenges of this new millennium."

--Supreme Court Justice and former HLS Dean Elena Kagan, 2007

One of the major initiatives that came out of this review was the Problem Solving Workshop, a required first-year program aimed at practical lawyering skills. View this short video about the Problem-Solving Workshop:



Harvard’s curricular review in 2004 challenged the accepted way of teaching law. In 2007, HLS Dean Martha Minow and Professor Todd Rakoff published these findings, "A Case for Another Case Method," in the Vanderbilt Law Review.

The Langdellian case method, which focused on "a retrospective view of facts," was falling short in teaching critical problem solving skills. What law school needed, according to Minow and Rakoff, was a new way to simulate “legal imagination.”

Minow and Rakoff wrote: "What [students] most crucially lack ... is the ability to generate the multiple characterizations, multiple versions, multiple pathways, and multiple solutions, to which they could apply their very well-honed analytic skills."

To that end, Harvard Law School instituted the Problem Solving Workshop, a required first-year course that teaches problem solving skills through the case study method. The Problem Solving Workshop encourages the use of case studies throughout the HLS curriculum.

Now, several faculty initiatives produce case studies at Harvard Law School. 

The Case Development Initiative 

The Case Development Initiative creates case studies for J.D. and Executive Education classes. HLS faculty use case studies to teach a variety of legal topics, including career dilemmas that lawyers face and management issues that law firms and professional service firms experience. These case studies expose participants to real-world problems that lawyers and firm leaders confront, and help them work through possible approaches and solutions. CDI was founded by Professor Ashish Nanda and is now directed by Dr. Lisa Rohrer.

Great for: discussion-based case studies, law and business, management, professional development

Sample Teaching Units: Professional Development for In-House Counsel, Professional Development for Law Firms, Leadership

Additional Information: The Case Development Initiative at Harvard Law School



Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

The Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program, directed by Professor Robert Bordone, developed several role plays for an advanced negotiation workshop at HLS. The course, Multiparty Negotiation, Group Decision Making, and Teams, enables students to participate in and conduct complex, multiparty negotiations. "Lawyers and other professionals, irrespective of their specialty, find themselves party to negotiations with multiple (more than two) principals all the time," explains Bordone. "This course combines theory and practice to give students an opportunity to hone their skills in multiparty settings."  Students work in teams to address complex, global, and professional issues. The advanced workshop integrates intellectual and experiential learning by combining readings, lectures, and discussions with frequent exercises, extensive review, live and filmed examples, individual and small group reviews, and analysis of the negotiation process and the process of learning from experience.

Great for: role plays, multiparty negotiation, DVDs, mediation

Sample Teaching Units: Critical Decisions in Negotiation


Program on Negotiation 

Program on Negotiation materials use real events or fictionalized versions of events to teach negotiation and mediation theory, issues, and practice. These materials can take the form of a discussion exercise, a role playing game, a dilemma-based case study, or a factual account of a negotiation event. Events and historical contexts, such as the rise of organized labor in the United States, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and the history of Zionists and Arabs in the Middle East, catalyze discussion and debate on negotiation and dispute resolution.

Great for: role plays, historical case studies, negotiation, value-based conflict resolution, water rights and environmental management, examples of Great Negotiators

Sample Teaching Units: Mediating Value-Based Conflict


Problem Solving Workshop 

Problem Solving Workshop materials immerse students in the type of real-world problems faced every day by practicing lawyers. The case studies present the problem at hand and provide readings on related theory, excerpts of relevant law, and other illustrative documents, such as contracts and leases. Students complete team assignments and exercises that include tasks such as drafting a press release as general counsel of a toy company in trouble; determining, as an associate at a law firm, the possible actions open to a client facing a harassment change from a tenant; or deciding, as a new Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York, whether—and how—to charge someone with Section 8 housing fraud. Professors Todd Rakoff and Joseph Singer lead the PSW teaching group, which develops new materials yearly.

Great for: workshop-based case studies, 1Ls, J.D. programs, lawyering, problem solving, free materials

Sample Teaching Units: Problem Solving Workshop, Advanced Problem Solving Workshop: Cyberlaw, Intellectual Property, and Internet & Society

Additional Information: Information Law and Policy: Advanced Problem Solving Workshop


Case Studies Program 

The Case Studies Program supports additional HLS faculty in developing case studies.

Great for: discussion-based case studies

Sample Teaching Units: Decision Making and Leadership in the Public Sector


Next: The Case Study Teaching Method >>