1L Experience: They’re smart, experienced and living among us. Why don’t 1Ls hang out with LL.Ms? David Baharvar asks

BY DAVID BAHARVAR

We have emerged battle-worn from our first semester, more confident in how to study law but perhaps forever changed from the last few months. Most 1Ls seem more relaxed and less frenzied about class but also somewhat lacking in that initial gusto for courses that radiated from us in September. Looking back over the last semester, and looking forward to an equally vast barrage of assignments coming this semester, many 1Ls are asking themselves: When did law — and law students — become my life? Many of us wonder how we can interact with more students who are studying subjects other than the basics of American law, and who come from a different background than we do.

In particular, I think many 1Ls are asking why we haven’t taken the initiative to meet LL.M. students. It seems especially sad that, on the whole, we don’t seem to interact or mingle much with this amazing — and easily accessible — international group that is all around us and in some of our classes, too. Everyone agrees that there are great and unique benefits to be gained from relationships with LL.M.s, both in terms of international perspectives and “what it’s like to be a lawyer” questions.

Yet one doesn’t see much of this interaction in practice. For instance, why are there few or no events explicitly geared toward having 1Ls, or J.D. students more broadly, interact with LL.M.s? LL.M.s are strangely removed from the 1L experience, saying a word or two here and there in some of our classes but having most of their social events and studies centered elsewhere, particularly at the Lewis Center, where a 1L rarely has occasion to set foot save for an FYL workshop. Given how globally thinking and initiative-oriented HLS students are supposed to be, why doesn’t there seem to be much demand by J.D. students to change this status quo?

With 1Ls in particular, perhaps our (self-) segregation from the LL.M.s is simply because our plates are already full with the curriculum. Faced with the task of unraveling the puzzle of how the American legal system works, I think many 1Ls reason that spending much time and energy learning about alternative legal systems is not a priority, and might even confuse our understanding of how “the law” works in America. However silly that sounds, I believe it may be true. Therefore, as 1Ls, we converse with 2Ls and 3Ls much more, and not so much about the form or substance of law as about exam advice, professors’ teaching styles, managing the workload, planning course selection and other elements of our new and often stressful transition into HLS. Hashing over these areas of common ground with 2Ls and 3Ls is a common, traditional and almost ritualized way that we associate with non-1Ls. But couldn’t there be a place for LL.M.s in this informal relating and advising process?

Perhaps the lack of interaction with LL.M.s is also due to something more fundamental. Perhaps most 1Ls just don’t see connecting with LL.M.s as all that worthwhile. Most of us, I’ll wager, have never had such a great number of amazing, internationally accomplished professionals living and studying among us. So maybe we haven’t truly realized and internalized the tremendous opportunity it presents. But maybe when it comes down to it most of us confirm the stereotype of Americans as insulated, unaware, and uninterested in the rest of the world. Do we see America, for all intents and purposes, as the entire world? From conversations with fellow 1Ls, it seems like most of us ultimately want to work, to excel, and — maybe one day — to become famous. Do our cosmopolitan interests then take a back seat to our professional interests?

For instance, how many of us will embrace the opportunity to travel while in law school? Over part of the long break we had before exams, I traveled to Beijing, China, to visit a friend (and yes, I still had plenty of time to study for exams). I met many Chinese law students at the Communist Party’s college. The experience opened my eyes to the society they operate in, to the conditions they study in and to what it means to become a lawyer in China. I also learned what Harvard means to them: “heaven,” they said, considered by most to be an impossible goal. I came back with a new appreciation for the immense academic support and possibilities we have here, and a desire to meet our LL.M.s and other students from China. Most of all, the experience made me realize how HLS is perceived around the world, as a global institution and leader. But coming back here, people don’t seem as globally-minded as that image suggests. If we are a global institution, then why doesn’t HLS start a branch of the law school in Beijing? If we truly want to embrace globalization, why not go beyond curriculum revision and into some direct action? With so many Chinese students coming (and trying to come) to America to study, why not go to them and be the first American law school to directly invest itself in China’s future?

These thoughts stem from the idea that HLS could do a lot more to be a truly international place. I came here wanting the Harvard experience to be broadly cosmopolitan, for me and for everyone. But essentially, 1Ls — myself included — can only blame ourselves for our lack of interaction with LL.M.s, and I think we are increasingly realizing that we need to take personal action to make our experience here more international.

With comments or to start a dialogue, please e-mail dbaharva@law.harvard.edu.

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