Legal Dissertations

HLS has many endowed prizes for student papers and essays. Details for each are listed in the Harvard Law School Catalog. Prize winners are announced each year in the commencement pamphlet and mentioned annually in the Harvard Law Bulletin, the alumni magazine and on the law school web page. The Library has not specifically collected prize papers over the years but has added copies when possible. When the Library is made aware of the fact that a paper in the collection is a prize recipient, a note indicating that status is sometimes added to the HOLLIS record for that paper. If you are looking for papers that won a particular prize, search Hollis for the name of the prize. Note that although prizes may be eligible for yearly awards, they are not always awarded yearly.

See Writing Prizes for links to lists of prizes and recipients back to 2008/2009 

Harvard Law School Prize Essays (1850-1868) This is a collection of handwritten prize essays covering a wide array of topics studied at that time, such as torts, domestic relations, property, admiralty, partnership, common law, and pleading. See the finding aid for a full description of this collection.

Addison Brown Prize Awarded annually or biannually for the best student essay on a subject related to private international law or maritime law. Browse those papers held by the Library designated as recipients

Victor Brudney Prize This prize was established by the Program on Corporate Governance in honor of Professor Victor Brudney, Robert B. and Candice J. Haas Professor in Corporate Finance Law, Emeritus. This prize may be awarded annually to the best student paper on a topic related to corporate governance. Papers receiving this award also appear at http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/olin_center/corporate_governance/prizes.shtml. Browse those papers held by the Library designated as recipients.

Irving Oberman Memorial Award Awarded annually for the best student essays on a specified, current legal subjects. See the appropriate HLS Catalog for the annual topics. Browse those papers held by the Library designated as recipients.

John Gallup Laylin Prize Awarded annually to the best student paper in the field of public international law. Browse those papers held by the Library designated as recipients.

Mancini Prize Awarded annually to the best student essay in the field of European Union law. Browse those papers held by the Library designated as recipients.

Sidney I. Roberts Prize Awarded annually to the best student paper in the field of taxation. Victor Brudney Prize Awarded annually to the best student paper on a topic related to corporate governance.

Yong K. Kim Memorial Prize Awarded to the best student paper on the law or legal history of East Asia or legal issues surrounding U.S.-East Asia relations.

There are some student papers in our institutional repository DASH. Whenever possible, information about the paper (e.g. prizes won, courses for which the paper was written, etc.) has been included for keyword searching.

Generally, writing a dissertation is not compulsory. But for law students in particular, it may be worth considering.

It was last year’s conflict in Gaza that encouraged me to write a dissertation. I wanted to find out what the law had to say about such a contentious topic. Luckily, at most law schools you can be flexible with the focus of your dissertation.

A fellow student at City Law School wrote his on the exception of parodies to copyright law. While others in my cohort wrote about humanitarian intervention against Isis, and the practice of child marriage in Bangladesh.

Having the chance to explore an area of law outside the seven core modules, and become reasonably knowledgeable in it, can give you an edge in job interviews. Graduates who have completed dissertations have what many others don’t – a specialism, and potentially useful knowledge that can set them apart.

Writing a 10,000- to 15,000-word thesis also enables you to develop transferable skills that will be useful during any law career.

Ten things I wish I'd known before starting my dissertation

First, there are the obvious research skills. A lawyer’s strength is not so much his or her knowledge of the law, but their knowledge of where to find the law. Thomas Jones, an LLB and LPC graduate from City Law School, wrote his dissertation on the exception of parodies to copyright law, and has since worked as a research assistant for Professor Daniel Wilsher of City Law School.

Jones says the practical research skills he gained was one of the biggest benefits of writing a dissertation. These include the ability to locate sources efficiently, sift through case law and assess expert opinion.

In addition to research skills you learn to write well. Dissertations require succinct arguments and you learn to reduce complex pieces of information into concise sentences. This is useful when advising clients or writing skeleton arguments.

Structure and organisation are also crucial. You will have to use chapters, subsections, headings, and include a contents page. This is essential in the legal profession when compiling bundles and other files.

How to write your dissertation

Rachel Tandy, a barrister at Henderson Chambers, compares the dissertation-writing process to that of preparing a case. “First, you have to gather all the facts. Next, you have to establish what everyone else is saying about them, and what it is that you want to say. Finally, you have to dismantle those facts yourself and re-assemble them in a way that supports your position.

“That process requires a creative mind, forensic attention to detail, and self-motivation – many of the qualities one might look for in a good barrister,” she says.

Although writing a dissertation is predominantly independent work, each student is assigned a supervisor – another potential benefit. The relationship you build with your supervisor, who will be an established professional and expert in your chosen area of study, can lead to further opportunities.

Junaed Khan, a City University graduate, says his supervisor for his international politics dissertation provided him with advice, contacts and invitations to topical networking events and conferences. “She still invites me to events,” he says.

Yasmin Dehghani, who is graduating from St Mary’s University with a law degree this year, also had a close relationship with her supervisor. “My supervisor really helped me to improve my CV, which helped me to get job offers and interviews,” she says.

Writing a dissertation isn’t always plain sailing though. Aram Alaaldin, who wrote his dissertation on the use of force against Isis, says he would only dedicate time to it each week once his notes for other modules were done. “I had to neglect my other modules due to the sheer workload when the deadline was nearing,” he says.

Writing what is essentially a compilation of essays requires a vast commitment of time, reading and effort. Naturally, this can result in stress, anxiety, and a rollercoaster of other emotions.

While not always pleasant, having to deal with such a large workload independently can be a rich experience in itself. It can give you a higher stress threshold, or at least allow you to practice managing it.

When entering the legal profession, a trainee or pupil will likely not have to draft a 15,000-word document from day one by researching a five-page list of books and journals in a completely new area of law.

But having coped with a dissertation, future tasks such as researching a particular case, drafting a short skeleton argument, or reading over some papers, will be comparatively minuscule.

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