BY MIKE WISER
For many 1Ls, T.J. Duane ’02 was the first person to greet them at their first bar review. Now the man who students think of as synonymous with HL Central is turning over the reins of the community-building organization that he founded a little more than a year ago.
It may be hard to define exactly what HL Central is – part website, part parties, part firm receptions, part community service. But whatever it is, everyone at HLS has heard of it. In its current incarnation, HL Central is probably best described as a group of students who are working to change the Harvard Law of Scott Turow ’78 and “The Paper Chase” into a place that is a bit more social and a little bit less competitive.
While HL Central began with Duane, it will now be run by a board of six students who are taking over the bar reviews, trips, receptions, service projects and, of course, the organization’s website at hlcentral.com. Duane, who will serve his class as a Marshall, will be serving HL Central only in an advisory capacity.
Members of the new Executive Board will oversee specific parts of the organization and coordinate overall policy with other Board members. Naomi Klein ’03 will serve as the head of Finance and Firm Relations; Rick Coe ’03 and Niki Fisher ’03 will run 1L College Community Development; Tony Chan ’03 will oversee Events and Excursions; Jeremy Andersen ’03 will run Web Development and Student Benefits; and Ariane Decker ’03 will head up Community Service and Interschool Activities.
While HL Central has been most recognizable to students for its website and bar reviews, Duane says that the new board will take the organization into new areas and expand on some of its lesser-known activities.
One of the areas that HL Central will be expanding is fundraisers and community service activities. On Thursday, for example, the group organized a party after the Public Interest Auction to raise money for public interest groups. Duane hoped that the event would generate around $5,000. HL Central will also be expanding other community service activities like coffee and donuts for the homeless on cold nights.
Anderson, speaking for the new board, said that HL Central will also be concentrating on finding their niche among other student organizations, redesigning the website, getting more people involved and finding their place in the new college system. “[A]s soon as anyone understands what ‘the college/master’ system is, we hope to investigate any opportunities that might present [themselves],” he said.
Duane is convinced that whatever the new board does, it will be successful. “I couldn’t be any more pleased or confident with the new board,” he told the RECORD.
Anderson said that while some students may identify Duane as HL Central, “next year’s 1Ls are going to come in and see a fully functioning, independent student organization. As more people see that, the perception will fade over time.”
Parties and a Website
When he came to Harvard, Duane says he was concerned about the rumors that students weren’t happy and didn’t enjoy life here. “But at the same time,” he told the RECORD, “I didn’t want to not go to Harvard.”
During his first days at the school, Duane never imagined what he would end up starting, but he does remember when it started. “I was in Temple Bar with Mike French [’02] and Craig Anderson [’02], and we were talking about a party, and I said, maybe I’ll put together a website and put it on there and they were jokingly encouraging me – and that was the moment the idea came into my head .”
Duane started by organizing bar reviews and calling up bars to see if they’d provide free snacks or drinks. “They just became bigger and bigger,” he said. As the bar reviews grew, he started to hold them in clubs.
At the same time, Duane started to recognize that the school’s web page simply didn’t cater to students. He explains that, like the bar reviews, things began small. “[W]hen I would plan these social parties and bar reviews, I didn’t want to have to put up flyers everywhere or call all my friends, so I said, I’ll just make up a little web page and put it up there.”
As more people asked Duane to post their events, the website started to grow. Recognizing the untapped demand, he spent April in front of a computer writing the HTML that would become HLCentral.com. If you go to the site now, you will find a lot more than just listings of events. There are outline exchanges, electronic classified ads, pictures from recent parties and even a mail merge database to help students bulk mail law firms.
Until last Fall, though, HL Central was merely a website, and Duane was a 1L who would organize parties. HL Central the organization did not really take off until September. “The beginning of this year I just wanted to get people involved. I wanted people to share in my goal of lighting up the school and taking part in community service,” he told the RECORD.
While a lot of 1Ls didn’t realize that HL Central had just been Duane, enough showed up to his free pizza meetings that he was able to start handing off some of the work. During the summer, Duane had also started to see the potential for funding his community building efforts. “I saw all of this money that firms were throwing at law students in summer jobs and in trying to recruit them, and I thought that that money could be used so much more effectively for building community at HLS if we could just get even 1/1000 of what they spend on one summer associate over the course of the summer,” Duane said.
In exchange for organizing recruiting events, firms would make a donation to HL Central that the group could use for organizing trips, subsidizing parties, helping the community, and covering some of the day-to-day costs of the organization. As HL Central expanded and more students got involved, the organization finally incorporated itself as a non-profit.
A Rocky Road at Times
The rise of HL Central had its rough patches as well. Duane says he sometimes felt as if he faced as many skeptics as partygoers throughout the life of the organization. Once the organization began seeing some success, some students started to be suspicious of what Duane was getting out of his community building.
“I just want to accomplish that first goal – having a solid student community – if, as I have at times felt, it comes at the expense of people’s personal opinions of me, then that is something I have to accept,” Duane said.
Just when he felt that he was rebuilding his image and convincing people of the sincerity of his motives, the Wall Street Journal ran a profile of Duane this fall that emphasized the business aspects of the organization. Questions were raised again about what T.J. was doing with the money that HL Central was making.
Duane insists that HL Central is no different than the RECORD or Lincoln’s Inn. They “are both non-profit corporations with ties to the school but are not controlled by the school, and they primarily serve the student body,” he explained.
“HL Central was never a profit-making enterprise. All last year there was no money ever coming in or coming out; it was just me calling and arranging deals in kind – i.e., a lot of people come to one bar, and they give us free appetizers. This year, when we started getting donations, we budgeted them out and turned around and spent the money on events and projects – there was never a profit making component,” he said. While the board members will receive a salary, Duane said that it would be commensurate with what the BSA would pay a 2L for a similar amount of work.
Notwithstanding the skepticism, Duane sees his election as Class Marshall as evidence that his class appreciated the work.
Getting Back to Just Being T.J.
Duane says walking away from HL Central has not been easy. As a Class Marshall for the class of 2002, he will continue to organize events for his classmates. That does not make it easy to s
tep down from the organization he founded, Duane says. “I honestly feel like I have been raising a child for the last year, and now it is time to send her off into the real world.”
“HL Central is its own living, breathing thing, and I (thankfully) get to go back to just being T.J.,” he added.
Duane’s most rewarding moment came at the end of his first year. He described it to the RECORD. “The last day of 1L classes my Crim Law professor, [Michael] Seidman [’71], was saying his end of the year remarks and then started talking about how the class was one of the most cooperative, friendly, community-oriented class he had seen in his 20 years of teaching law. Then, much to my surprise and somewhat shock, he said that he felt that it was in large part due to the efforts of one person, and then he looked right at me and said, ‘Thank you, T.J., for all the work you put into making this year so unique,’ at which point the whole class applauded and I turned bright red!”