BY ADINA LEVINE
Thiru Vignarajah became the 118th president of Harvard Law Review on Wednesday, February 11. Defeating nine other candidates, the 2L assumed the position immediately and went to work supervising the elections for the other Law Review board positions.
“It’s a full time job that starts the moment the election is over,” commented Vignarajah. “It is a great thrill and a great honor. The sudden transition is bizarre in some ways, and a little scary.”
Born in Sri Lanka but raised in Baltimore, Vignarajah was voted in by his 2L and 3L fellow editors.
“I help lead the organization, but over the past week it’s become clear that the job gets done because of the collective efforts of a lot of really talented, fun people,” Vignarajah observed.
For the 42 current 2Ls, there are normally 36 to 40 positions available, either through election or by appointment, including managing editor and notes editors.
“Everybody who wants a position generally gets a position,” said Vignarajah. “There are lots of different ways to contribute and help lead the organization.”
Because of the abundance of available positions, as well as the cohesiveness of the voting population, the elections are generally friendly affairs, and not a competition, according to Vignarajah.
“I can’t imagine that there are elections less political,” Vignarajah opined. “We’re first and foremost a bunch of really good friends.”
Despite only having held the position for a couple of days, Vignarajah has already developed a three-part plan for improving the Law Review. His first goal is to ensure the publication of “great legal scholarship.” With the Review receiving and evaluating approximately two thousand articles each year, Vignarajah is committed to publishing a diverse set of articles, with varied ideological perspectives, covering as many fields of law, styles of writing and genres of scholarship as possible.
“We want to make our volume as diverse and interesting as it can be,” said Vignarajah. Asked about a favorite Law Review topic, Vignarajah said, “I get very excited about one thing that bores the tears out of someone else. From practitioners to scholars, different people are interested in different things. We want to reach out to the different segments of the legal community.”
Vignarajah’s second goal is to set the tone for a positive, enjoyable atmosphere.
“I think each year, the bunch of us want to try to leave our imprint on our organization,” Vignarajah stated. “We want to leave it better than when we found it. This opportunity is both a great thrill and a great honor.”
Finally, Vignarajah wants to ensure that the broader Harvard Law School community is involved in the excitement of the law review.
“I want to make the organization better understood. I hope to make the broader community understand better why it is that we love what we do. It’s important to communicate clearly why we do what we do, and why we’re so excited about what we do.”
To this end, the Law Review is sponsoring a spring symposium about the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
“In addition to the spring symposium, we plan on having a series of informal sessions where people get to see what we do, talk with us about our experiences, and get to know us better,” explained Vignarajah. “It will be a sustained set of opportunities for folks to ask questions, think of more questions and then come back and ask us again.”
Vignarajah hopes that this informational campaign will assist in closing the Law Review’s gender gap.
“We want to really reach out to folks who are underrepresented on the Law Review,” said Vignarajah. “One theory is that this is an information problem – people don’t know enough about what we do.”
By creating excitement around Law Review and enhanced understanding of its inner workings, Vignarajah hopes that 1Ls from diverse backgrounds will apply for the positions.
About the gender disparity problem, Vignarajah says, “We have poured thousands of hours into collecting information, doing analysis on the data, thinking through possible approaches to resolve the issues. We have come up with all sorts of possible solutions, some of which are quite promising, but it’s a problem that goes beyond the Law Review. It’s a problem that demands attention and demands a solution. Everybody is so committed to trying to address this problem. It’s at the top of my priorities.”
Vignarajah has concerns with attempting to solve the gender disparity problem using any method that evaluates applicants on the basis of gender in the expectation of giving preference to female applicants.
“At this stage, our application is gender blind. There’s no place on the application to indicate the applicant’s gender. This is a question that we have struggled with as an organization. It’s a tough problem, but many of us are not convinced that preference based on gender is the right answer. The thing we agree on is that it needs to be solved. Very thoughtful people committed to solving this problem disagree on the best approach. What we agree on, however, is that it is a problem that needs to be solved.”
A graduate of Yale University, Vignarajah received his Masters in Medical Ethics and Law from Kings College London. Before arriving at law school, he spent three years as a consultant for McKinsey & Company in Connecticut. He plans to spend the summer at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, but is unsure of his eventual goals.
“I love the law,” commented Vignarajah. “But I really haven’t figured out how to carve a profession out of it.”