Five students who made a difference

BY RECORD STAFF

Another class, another year. Sometimes the massive human churn of graduates out of Harvard Law School seems as regular and inexorable as the rotation of the earth. Each year, students leave this school to find their futures; each year, students become what many would only dare dream, be they firm lawyers, clerks or public servants. As such, the goals of a professional school are decidedly different from those of an undergraduate college — the curriculum is more rigorous and focused, and the emphasis is even more on results.

But for many, HLS is something more than a training ground. Our school is blessed by its size, something that gives it an incredibly wide range of opportunities to take advantage of and groups to call home.

There are specific people to thank for that. Some students here have done much than simply make it through law school. Their efforts have helped to build something at HLS that did not exist before, helped to turn this Law School from a pre-professional stomping ground into a bona fide community. They gave those of us just exiting the undergraduate experience a few more years to experience a similar sense of community, and all of us reasons to be sorry to be leaving HLS, an always-imperfect, but never uninteresting place.

This place provides myriad ways to make a difference, as these five students show. They have started corporations and led organizations. They have fought for equality, made us laugh, made our quality of life better, and set examples for all of us. They have proven, too, that the people we cherish most are often those whose brilliance extends beyond the classroom. All five have been selected for Dean’s Awards for Community Leaders.

HLS is blessed with a galaxy of stars, far too many to be named, far too many to thank individually. Still, as the days of this year dwindle, the RECORD wanted to commemorate these five 3Ls, who have been some of the brightest stars of all.

T.J. Duane

Perhaps no person was more ubiquitous over the last three years than HL Central founder and 2002 Head Class Marshal Duane, who turned a whim of a personal web site into a prominent non-profit corporation that transformed social life at Harvard Law School. Duane’s single-minded passion for HL Central, and his love for the school, showed everywhere, from his frenetic Admitted Students’ Weekend tours to the organization’s weekly bar reviews. When the first $20 bus ride left Pound Hall for New York City this year, Duane was there to see it off. Whenever there was a problem, whenever there was a gap to fill or a new project to launch, T.J. Duane took charge, even after he relinquished the reins of HL Central last year. He also figured prominently in the Law School Council, Student Activities Council, and the Catholic Law Students’ Association.

“T.J. saw opportunities where most people saw complaints, and he found ways to pursue his visions and get around obstacles people put in his way,” said 2L Naomi Klein, the incoming Executive Director of HL Central. “I don’t think that there is anyone at HLS — in the student body, the faculty or the administration that does not know the name T.J. Duane.”

Today, Duane leaves a much different organization than the one he founded, with broad involvement in community service, the arts and admissions recruiting. But Duane says that for him, HL Central has become about much more.

“I didn’t do these things for any kind of personal recognition,” he said. “The intention wasn’t all about drinking and food and socializing. It was about getting to know your classmates as human beings…. To have people getting along, being positive influences on each other… that’s going to be clutch for developing a stronger society. I always wanted this to be about having a stronger community at Harvard Law School.”

As Head Class Marshal, Duane will be speaking on behalf of his class at commencement. He plans a reflective speech — this is the first class to graduate post-September 11 — but also a positive one that puts a challenge out to his class.

“I feel like this class is one of the most talented classes I’ve seen come through Harvard Law School of the five, six that I’ve seen,” said Duane. “I feel like they can do a lot of really impressive things.”

As for what motivated him to get involved in the first place, Duane’s explanation was simple, “I have a lot of energy, and I do get bored pretty easily.”

Taryn Fielder

In this year’s Parody, “Taryn-It-Up” Fielder was a hard-driving drill sergeant who held a whip — and the presidency of every student organization on campus. Like most of the characters who appear in the yearly production — which Fielder helped direct this year and co-produced last year — the portrayal was a humorously twisted version of the truth. Indeed, Fielder made it seem like it was physically possible to be involved in everything at once. She could be seen on many lunch hours manning the BarBri or Lexis-Nexis tables in the Hark, or spending hundreds of hours in the Ropes-Gray room building sets, rehearsing scenes, or rehearsing lines. What fewer people saw — but no less important — was her work with the Human Rights Journal, Women’s Law Association and Law School Council, as well as countless other organizations. Fielder, as one RECORD staffer noted, “was everywhere.”

Not only was Fielder involved in many places, but she became an engine for growth in every organization she joined.

“Most people know that Taryn’s involved with a ton of campus organizations,” said 3L Mike Ginsberg, a fellow 2002 Class Marshal who co-produced last year’s Parody with Fielder. “But I think what makes Taryn stand out for me is how when she’s leading something, be it the Parody or WLA, she really makes an effort to build a team spirit among the people she’s working with. She sets a terrific tone for the rest of the people involved in the projects she’s leading. She’s a natural leader.”

And unlike her character, Fielder did everything with a smile on her face and a humble shrug of her shoulders. She led by example, and proved that the best kind of leadership is that which puts people first. One look at the 2001 Parody she co-produced — which had one of the production’s most elaborate sets ever, featuring a video screen, fake rockets and multiple moving set pieces — is a testament to both her ambition and her leadership.

When asked what motivated her to get involved on campus, Fielder had a characteristically disarming response: “Well, someone had to keep a fire lit under T.J.’s ass — just kidding. I guess mostly it was wanting to get to know people, to enjoy the full HLS experience…. My greatest motivation was just meeting new people and learning more about all the incredible people I’m lucky enough to call my peers.”

She isn’t all that much like her drill sergeant alter-ego, but Taryn Fielder — using kindness, passion and decency — has been a leader all can look up to.

Mike French

When Mike French got to HLS, his last involvement with student government had been in fifth grade, when he ran on the platform of “crispier French fries” in the cafeteria. His first LSC platform at HLS was “two dryers for every washer.” (The current ratio, he estimates, is 1.8 to 1.)

“It’s the little issues people care about,” said French. “Those are things you appreciate every day.”

When French got here, Hemenway Gymnasium was no small problem. The facility’s weight room consisted of a screened-in cage with a few rusty barbells inside; its cardio training equipment was stocked with ailing machines from the 1970s.

Today,
French leaves HLS as outgoing LSC President. He leaves a reformed organization with a stronger institutional memory, greater contact with the average student (French was in charge of implementing the “Sound-Off Board” in the Hark) and, most importantly, at least one major project it can be proud of — a renovated Hemenway.

“I really enjoyed the work,” on Hemenway, French said, which led him to greater involvement in LSC. “I thought, here’s something that really benefits the student body…. I saw LSC as a way to do more things like that.”

The old weight cage is still in Hemenway, for those who want to look — and it pales by contrast to a mirrored room full of brand-new weight machines downstairs, as well as a fully equipped cardio area with state-of-the-art equipment. The facility reflects countless hours of meetings between French and University weightlifting coaches, talks with scores of equipment suppliers, and meetings with deans, which culminated in Dean of the Faculty Robert Clark’s final approval of funding for the renovation.

“Mike has improved the quality of life for the students immeasurably,” said Dean of Students Suzanne Richardson. “He has a personal touch, traveling to various administrators’ offices — mine, Building Services, Registrar’s, and beyond to the University Athletic department.”

French demonstrated the best possibilities of student governments, which are often criticized as inept organizations full of would-be political hacks. To help propel the LSC after his departure, French instituted record keeping systems that will help future leaders follow his and others’ example.

Despite his visible achievements, French said his greatest honor as LSC president came this year, when he and Professor Emeritus Clark Byse visited Appalachian School of Law in Virginia, the site of a recent shooting where the school’s dean — an HLS alumnus — was killed. The pair were sent to convey sympathy and support from the entire HLS community.

“It was a sad trip in general,” French said, “But I was proud to be able to represent Harvard Law.”

Erin Hoffmann

At 90 years old, the Board of Student Advisers is one of HLS’ oldest organizations. Over its many years, it has had many missions — from running the original moot court program to its current role in teaching First Year Lawyering. But without the leadership effort of BSA President Erin Hoffmann, the transition to FYL — which accompanied HLS’ move to smaller 1L sections — might have been a very, very rough one for the organization.

“For us, it was a really challenging year, because it was the first time that we’ve had full-time people devoted to the program. In addition to bringing in those new people, it meant a real structural change for us at the BSA,” she said.

The old legal writing program had suffered under the weight of massive inconsistency — some faculty members made teaching it a priority, while others ignored it — and general student disaffection. With FYL, HLS sought to standardize the teaching of the legal writing component by adding staff members dedicated to teaching FYL full-time and creating a set curriculum.

The change to FYL and smaller sections could have meant the end of 2Ls teaching legal writing courses, or even conversion of BSA to an all-3L organization. As late as spring of last year, such things were far from decided — along with crucial elements like the program’s basic curriculum. But with Hoffmann at the helm, BSA arrived at a solution that proved better for students — and meant more dedication from BSA. Rather than expand the size of the organization to accommodate the larger number of sections, Hoffmann and others pushed for team-teaching, with FYL classes taught by a 3L and a 2L. That meant that 3Ls, in some cases, would have to teach two sections instead of one. Under Hoffmann’s leadership, the plan worked.

“That was the big innovation that we were able to get the faculty to agree to,” she said, “I think for my class as a whole, it was a real victory for us to feel like we had been able to influence a change and to keep some things that were really valuable to us.” And according to BSA surveys of 1L sections, satisfaction with the legal writing component has been much higher than in the past.

Hoffmann has also been involved in other ways, serving as a senior editor for the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, the Law School Council, and the Catholic Law Students’ Association.

Asked why she decided to dedicate so much time to BSA, Hoffmann credited her own BSA instructors: “I had a wonderful experience with my LRA instructor and my A-group adviser first year, and I was convinced from the beginning that BSA was the organization that I wanted to be involved in later. I just think BSA is a neat place to give back, and the students were the constituency I wanted to give back to.”

BSA colleague Ryan McAllister praised Hoffmann, saying: “I hope Erin knows that as she leaves HLS, she has touched many people’s lives in a positive way and that the BSA, FYL and HLS are better institutions because of her actions and leadership. That’s a goal most of us strive for even though we may not always be able to accomplish it.”

Nicole Lawson

One need only look at events on campus over the past few weeks to realize how powerful and effective the Black Law Students’ Association has become. In large part, students have Nicole Lawson to thank for the group’s transformation into one of the predominant voices for minority representation on campus. And that accomplishment is only the beginning of the many things Lawson has done to benefit the Law School community.

“When I came to HLS as a 1L, BLSA instantly became one of my strongest support networks,” Lawson said. “I saw BLSA as an organization with so much potential. Even though I cannot make many complaints, I saw that there was not always widespread involvement in the planning of activities among the membership.”

Lawson dove into the organization, joining as many committees as possible as a 1L and rising to internal vice-president as a 2L, where she made spurring 1L involvement a primary goal. This year, Lawson has stayed true to her mission of encouraging 1Ls, opting to join many different BLSA committees that bring her in contact with new students. Her work on this year’s successful Spring Conference brought high-profile recording artists, as well as the Conference’s first web site.

Though she has not always held the highest-profile positions, Lawson has been a kind of invisible glue — always present, always involved, and always, as she says, refusing to be apathetic.

Though she hesitates to credit herself with their efforts, Lawson says the activism of this year’s 1L BLSA class demonstrates the organization’s improvements.

“I look at all of the wonderful new things that BLSA 1Ls have done this year, including the establishment of B.A.D. (Black American Dialogue), and I am just proud to be leaving the organization better than I found it,” she said. “I seriously doubt that their activism is directly related to me, but I would like to think that I was a part of setting the tone for a BLSA that would encourage them to think outside of the box and help the organization grow.”

Lawson’s influence has not stopped with BLSA. Along with serving as a 3L representative for the American Constitution Society, she serves as primary editor for the Women’s Law Journal. She has also worked to benefit people outside of HLS through the Recording Artists’ Project and the Street Law Program, and worked with the admissions office to organize a minority recrui
tment forum in Atlanta two years ago.

“Nicole has that rare combination of being brilliant, compassionate and creative, and able to effectively interact with a wide range of interests,” said Professor Charles Ogletree, who advises BLSA. “She is one of the most gifted and talented people I know, and I’m so pleased with what she’s done for BLSA.”

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