Last week, the 1Ls and 2Ls began prepping for AY 2020-2021! Unlike 1Ls, upper-level students have total control over their schedules (which is a first for me, in my entire history of education. gulp.) The HLS registrar offers four rounds of class registration; Clinics, Multi-Section Classes, Legal Profession,* and Electives. Each round is conducted through a Harvard site called Helios, with very specific dates and times for submitting your class preferences!
*The Legal Profession registration is only for rising 3Ls
So, from start to *almost* finish, here’s how Registration works!
All 2Ls and 3Ls received an email about registration two weeks before the first Clinics period opened. That gave us all plenty of time to check out the course catalog, look up professor reviews, and figure out how we wanted to allocate our top choices.
While everyone is different, a few separate considerations that went into my pre-course selection. First, the Air Force JAGs had a few recommendations – while these aren’t technically required, it would be kind of silly to ignore them!! Information from Evidence, Tax, Family Law, Trusts & Estates, and Administrative Law classes are going to be necessary in my day-to-day as a JAG officer. The JAGs also recommended getting some real-world practice in a courtroom if possible – at HLS, you do that mostly through clinics.
Second, I took h o u r s to look at class and professor reviews. If nothing else, 1L taught me that the professor – not the topic – makes the class. Additionally, the best professors go quickly so you have to preference them high to truly have a shot at enrollment in their courses. The professors’ ratings simultaneously informed which courses I wanted (and which I’m absolutely avoiding) AND my preference order.
HLS offers official class reviews, but there’s also a student-created website called “TooDope” that includes unofficial student reviews (among other things). The picture below is an example of a professor’s TooDope review, which assesses multiple categories and includes helpful identifying emojis. Students can also add personal, anonymous comments underneath the unofficial evals, which are SUPER helpful and basically informed my entire preference list!
Third, you DO have to keep graduation requirements in mind during registration! To graduate on time, upper-level JD students need a total of 52 credits (36 in the classroom); 50 service hours; an international/comparative class; experiential learning class; and an ethics class. Everyone needs an average of 13 credits each semester, and you can’t just do hands-on stuff or classroom stuff (which I personally love). The requirements are pretty loose and not hard to meet, but I’ve heard horror stories of 3Ls taking 18 credits hours (like we do as 1Ls!) because they didn’t track their classes appropriately.
Clinics are one of HLS’s most popular features, because there are SO MANY CHOICES! HLS offers 22 in-house clinics (with an on-campus office), 13 externship clinics (placed in more than 21 cities across the US), and then advanced and independent clinical programs. Most clinics are done in the fall or winter, and have a small classroom requirement along with pro bono work done. Additionally, I’m pretty sure one clinic fulfills the HLS community service requirement because they’re a ton of work, for real clients! But the hands-on experience is why many people choose to attend HLS.
Multi-Section Courses are kind of like the “core classes” at HLS. Each semester there are identical courses taught by different professors because they’re the typical law school courses, like Tax, Corporations, First Amendment, Investigations, Evidence, etc. These are the most like our 1L courses, and tend to be 4 credits each.
Electives are the fun, less intense classes on specific topics; as one professor put it, they’re the the “dessert” of your law school schedule. My goal is to have at least one “fun” class every semester, and there’s such a huge range of topics I don’t think this will be an issue! Plus, electives aren’t nearly as competitive as the multi-section courses; if you want an elective, you’ll probably get it. I think…
How Does It Work?
For each round of preferencing, you’re given a full list of available courses for that round and can choose/rank up to 12 courses. Unfortunately, for both clinics and multi-section courses, the preferences are for fall, winter, and spring of the following year. It’s kind of stressful to plan out the entire thing!!
It’s not a first-come-first-serve system, which is good for EVERYONE involved; instead, it’s a random lottery. Basically the system will assign everyone a number and then roll through their first choices, giving as many first options as possible; then, it goes through and assesses peoples’ second choices if they did NOT receive their first choice, before the second choices of those who DID. (That kind of explains why I got my first and third multi-section choices, but not my second). Beside the common knowledge that really popular professors HAVE to be ranked first, there’s no way to ‘game’ the system; everyone kind of ends up in the same boat. It all depends where you land in the algorithm!
So, What Are You Taking?
We just got our results from the second round of preferencing, so I don’t have a full schedule yet. And I’ve been told schedules tend to change a LOT as people add/drop courses…and thank goodness, because my schedule is looking a liiiiittle empty right now. But here’s what I’ve got:
CLINIC – Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, which is exactly what it sounds like! I’ll be assisting vets with claims regarding VA benefits, estate and financial planning, and Social Security disability benefits. I chose this clinic because it has rave reviews, leaves law students with lots of experience in the courtroom, allows me to serve my own military community, and begin to explore the unique laws around veterans and military affairs. This is a spring 2021 clinic, with a matching in-class course on Mondays from 5-7. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here: http://www.legalservicescenter.org/veterans-legal-clinic/
MULTI-SECTION – nothing in the fall, Trial Advocacy Workshop during J-term, and Public International Law in the spring. Trial Ad was my #1 choice and is hard to get, so I was very excited to get it! It’s an intense three-week course, from 2-9 pm every day, and I’ll run through two complete mock trials in that time. It’s basically a crash course in litigation and is HIGHLY recommended by both the school and the students who have taken it!
Unfortunately, I didn’t get my second choice (an Evidence course), but I did get my third of Public International Law. This professor was my reading group leader as a 1L, and worked as a JAG in the Israeli armed forces after her own graduation from HLS. Can you say, BADASS?! I also have this, and Trial Ad, with at least one friend, so I’m definitely looking forward to next year.
I’m sitting on waitlists for other multi-section courses including Evidence, Admin Law, and Taxation, but I’m pretty low on those lists because I went with the highly-rated professors. Barring a miracle, I don’t expect to pick anything up! But we pick our fall electives this weekend, so I can still make sure I’m keeping up with credit requirements despite not getting many multi-sections.
Electives – Of course I don’t know yet, but I have my top few choices picked out! One is with a Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (the highest military court…can you say GOALS), and another is a National Security course with a former General Counsel for the NSA, and Special Counsel to the Director of the FBI. No matter what I get, I KNOW it’ll be fascinating!!
Overall, I’m excited!! I didn’t get as many classes as I expected out of the multi-section round, but I’m pumped to have my few courses with friends. I’m also REALLY excited for trial advocacy and the veterans clinic, because I think it’ll give me a real chance to test my classroom knowledge for the first time. I came to HLS as Elle Woods, but I’m LEAVING AS LT DANIEL KAFFEE, DANGIT!!! Stay tuned for all the court cases I’m gonna win (or lose, that’s okay too) – I can’t wait!