This school year began with the World Trade Center towers falling, an instant that changed the entire world. It ends with a race controversy still raging, with demands being made and students standing against the purported indifference of the administration. This is a year that began with tears, and ends with strife and shame.
But the news, though it may have seemed so, wasn’t all bad. Indeed, this year’s 3Ls graduate in a much different world – and from a much different Harvard Law School – than that which they entered. The school they leave, at least, will be far better for their presence, its social climate at least a little richer, its sense of community and friendship far stronger. The very battles that rage over race reflect tension and discord, but they also reflect unity – unity among student leaders, unity among concerned students and within organizations, and especially, unity among black students, whose courage has proven that in even relatively small numbers there can be a great deal of strength.
Today’s HLS boasts smaller section sizes and a revamped legal writing program, both of which are at least partially responsible for happier 1L classes. By the end of this year, every single 1L should have been invited to each of their professors’ homes at least once. The stress of the 1L rat race has been at least partially tempered by the large-scale efforts of a student-started non-profit corporation – and even bookworms can thank HL Central for the easiest access to outlines, ever. Instead of gossiping about the horrors of Turow’s “One-L,” students might now find it more relevant to debate the truth behind the debauchery and idleness detailed in Jaime Marquart ’98’s sordid “Brush With the Law.” Even Hemenway gym – a perpetual complaint – is finally a decent place to exercise.
Still, HLS remains far from perfect. Strong student organizations and a happier student body cannot disguise the fact that the school continues to support the efforts of some out-of-touch professors who disregard the value of teaching, that it continues to underfund and undervalue its public interest advising, and that it continues, partly by lack of stricter standards and an interviewing process, to admit the sort of embarrassing applicants responsible for the controversy in Section IV.
Many students here learn early on to believe their legal education is a joke, to be tempered by skipping class, drinking heavily and disrespecting this institution and the purposes for which it stands. Students learn this by the example of the institution itself – which often seems to put prestige and money, instead of people, first. Students learn that law school is little more than a few aimless years before a meaningless but lucrative law firm career because that is precisely the career option HLS makes most attractive and makes even easier to pursue. Students learn not to care about their professors’ teaching because they learn that many of their professors do not care about them – or when they are offended or confused by what those professors are saying. Students continue to wonder – and with good reason – why the law school with the largest endowment of any in the nation continues to underinvest in facilities and benefits for them, offering as its excuse the might of its prestige and the easy wealth it provides. HLS has been under the same leadership for a very long time. Perhaps it is time for a change.
One change we will all regret will be the passing of the Class of 2002 – one of the finest collections of individuals this school has seen in awhile. With its fanatical leaders, quirky personalities and famous faces, the Class of 2002 made HLS an object of fascination both inside and out. This class led by example, and leaves a much different place – and a much different attitude – behind. In a year filled with tragedy, this class leaves a wake of optimism and hope, of respect and admiration. This is a class of stars, who prove that HLS still attracts some of our nation’s best and brightest. They will be dearly missed, and not easily replaced.