The Harvard Law School Rule of Law Society is a student-run organization that fosters a critical and comprehensive understanding of the rule of law. As different thinkers define “Rule of Law” in a large variety of ways, we define it broadly: our organization engages with issues international and domestic, including election security, law enforcement, human rights abuses, and (most recently) government responses to COVID-19. We strive to create opportunities through which students and the wider community can egage with this topic beyond what is traditionally offered by law schools. As a non-partisan organization, we aim to bring together and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and interests to examine, discuss, and ultimately advocate for the rule of law in our communities at every level.

Setting the Stage

Lesley Rosenthal, a New York-based lawyer, piloted an intensive course at Harvard Law School called “Advocating for the Rule of Law: A Practical Approach.” It was the first course of its kind at Harvard Law School–a course dedicated exclusively to the rule of law that married historical and doctrinal formulations of this old concept with the recognition that the rule of law must be operationalized in modern terms for modern times.

The class, which comprised J.D. and graduate students from the United States and abroad, studied multiple factors based on the World Justice Project’s annual Rule of Law Index. Rule of law leaders in law, government, and media visited the classroom to give students practical tools to advocate for the rule of law at the local, state, and national level.

The course ended, but the students’ passion for the rule of law and their drive to advocate for it did not.

From Idea to Reality

HLS Rule of Law started with a simple idea: what if our rule of law advocacy did not have to end with Rosenthal’s course? How could we share the knowledge and skills we learned with the broader Harvard Law School community and, in particular, students who will likely go on to positions of influence?

Under the leadership of classmates from the inaugural offering of “Advocating for the Rule of Law: A Practical Approach,” HLS Students for the Rule of Law was born.

What We Do and Why It Matters

HLS Rule of Law aims to promote an understanding of the rule of law on the Harvard campus. We are excited to launch a student group that would allow HLS students to engage with issues surrounding the rule of law in the United States and abroad on an intellectual level and to advocate for the rule of law in practical terms.

At this inflection point in our nation’s history, bringing together students of different political persuasions to advocate for the rule of law is more important than ever. Rule of law is one of the few concepts that unites people in these fractious times. Through guest speakers, discussions, conferences, electronic communications and other events, this student group will explore international and domestic current events and contemporary developments in intellectual thought through a rule of law lens. HLS Rule of Law hopes to nurture a new generation of dedicated lawyers who will be committed to communicating about the importance of rule of law to many audiences within and outside the legal profession–clients, news outlets, classrooms and the general public–throughout their careers.

What Makes Us Different

While some existing student organizations promote certain aspects of the rule of law, they tend to do so through a particular lens (e.g. constitutional law generally without focusing on the rule of law’s link to anti-corruption and transparency) or as part of a particular political movement. None address the rule of law rigorously in its entirety and in a non-partisan way.

HLS Rule of Law fills this gap, first, by covering the rule of law comprehensively; second, by standing separate from partisan groups, and, in fact, bringing committed students together from across the ideological spectrum to highlight and combat threats to the rule of law; and, third, by considering both domestic and international rule of law concepts, challenges, and projects. The organization will make an impact in the realm of education, advocacy, and promotion of good process. Although the events of the day will certainly provide much fodder for work and conversation, partisan politics will not be its purpose.

Unlike student groups associated with political parties or groups centered around political ideologies, HLS Rule of Law will be made up of conservatives, moderates, and progressives alike. Additionally, unlike clubs with a primarily international focus or a primarily domestic focus, HLS Rule of Law will bring together students to consider questions of system design and legal practice both at home and across international borders. For example, we plan to host discussion groups in which students can share best practices to promote transparency within government, fight corruption, and encourage equal treatment before the law from their various home countries and states.

For More Information

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