Paper tiger


There are two bookends to life at Harvard Law. One occurs at the very outset of law school, a gushing week long lovefest known as Orientation. Lunches are followed by speeches which become interminable tours of the Langdell labyrinth, all with one enduring theme … we few, we happy few at Harvard Law.

The second bookend has already descended on 3Ls. Known officially by its sanitized name – “The Written Work Requirement” – the 3L paper serves a purpose as varied as its creators. As befits the scattered HLS experience, some will struggle mightily to craft a product worthy of this venerable institution’s esteem, while others will whip something up at the last moment, standing on the shoulders of the giants who preceded them (namely, other students). Yet another faction will laughingly pass off alternative “papers” as the real deal.

This whole enterprise would make more sense if the 3L paper somehow accorded with HLS’s apparent mission as a professional school. Paradoxically, however, this professional training ground insists on finding and nurturing the inner academic within every student, regardless of that student’s own wishes. As a result, the written work requirement stands as a beacon of opportunity to some and a blaring klaxon to others, depending upon their devotion to the scholastic path.

Furthermore, if the rationale for the requirement is to hone a student’s legal writing skills, then the 3L paper is a farce. Most 3L paper-writers are offered little or no tutelage by their advisors beyond the occasional mark-up of a draft. We have all seen the obvious flaws in HLS’s first year writing instruction – witness the attempts to revamp the LRA program. The 3L paper is no better. It requires a completely different set of skills from those needed to succeed in other classes. Unlike exams, this writing does not require eight hours of fast typing; rather, it takes countless months of thought and deep research to meet the lofty ideals of what the 3L paper should be.

For students who want to cultivate the inner scholar, the 3L paper should be an option that is highly incentivized through extra credit, travel and expense grants, and intense supervision. But for that wider portion of the student body who see a future outside the Ivory Tower, it should be nothing more than an option.