Critical Legal Studies

  • Lizard_no.1_p1_HOLLIS 003857046

    Lizard, [San Francisco?] : AFAR, [1984], no.1, p.1

    This zine-style newspaper published in 1984 captures the spirit of the CLS movement: irreverent, postmodern, and playful.

  • CLS Feminist Conference_1985_recto_cropped

    Detail from CLS Feminist Conference trifold mailing, 1985

    The 9th annual CLS conference was organized by several women on the HLS faculty and was the first with a feminist theme.

  • Dalton_Clare_John Chapin_1980_Harvard Law Library_HOLLIS 8001351597

    Clare Dalton by John Chapin, 1980

    Clare Dalton identified as a feminist crit; opposition to her HLS tenure application represented opposition to the CLS movement.


Duncan Kennedy
[San Francisco?] : AFAR, [1984]
HOLLIS 3857046

In the late 1970s to mid-1980s leftist legal academics and students developed their own movement and identity that became known as Critical Legal Studies (CLS), their adherents known as “crits.” In 1977, a group of crits that included HLS faculty members planned and put on the first Conference on Critical Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and CLS was officially born.

Over the next decade, as this peripheral corner of legal academia deepened its engagement with leftist theory, crits developed a new framework for legal scholarship and practice. Their intellectual labor gave rise to critical race theory and feminist legal theory, which implicated the law in the historic perpetuation of white supremacy and the subjugation of women. Engagement with CLS as a movement waned in the late 1980s, and while few legal scholars identify as “crits” today, leftist legal scholarship rooted in the CLS movement has persisted. Critical Legal Studies laid the foundation and for the first time allowed the possibility of leftist scholarship as a legitimate project in legal academia.

Between 1975 and 1990, the number of full-time women faculty in law across the country more than doubled, and the number of women law students rose nearly five-fold. During these decades, the HLS faculty was in vehement disagreement about the legitimacy of CLS as a form of legal scholarship. In 1987, a majority of the HLS faculty opposed Clare Dalton’s (LL.M. 1973) tenure application. Following an appeal on the basis of gender discrimination, the decision was upheld by then-Harvard University President Derek Bok. Dalton identified as a female and feminist crit, and this event solidified dominant opposition to the CLS movement. The waning of the movement can be traced to her tenure denial, as it became clear that being a crit could be “dangerous” to one’s career. Dalton went on to join Northeastern University School of Law’s faculty in 1988, where she founded a domestic violence institute with the settlement money from her gender discrimination suit and continued her work in domestic violence law and feminist legal theory until 2010.