Undue diligence

BY MELINDA MCLELLAN

During my time here at HLS I’ve heard all sorts of rumors and Cantabrigian legends concerning this institution, the buildings, the professors, and, of course, the students. Most of these stories would be relatively easy to confirm or debunk, but instead they are passed on from 3L to 2L to 1L, year after year, and no one ever coordinates to figure out the whole story.

This year, with this column, I’m going to give it a shot. Whether or not I actually uncover or elucidate anything, I think it will be amusing to try to get to the bottom of this stuff. As far as I can tell, no one ever investigates law school rumors beyond asking roommates if they’ve heard the same thing. And if some 3L says it’s true, then it is. The collective passive acceptance of these legends hardly demonstrates a diligence befitting students of the #2 law school in the country. Then again, the various little bits of trivia are, for the most part, pretty petty. So I’ll call what I’m doing undue diligence. If you want to know more about some strange or seemingly improbable factoid that you heard from someone’s boyfriend’s sister’s roommate who graduated HLS six years ago, put me on the case. I’m serious – I need ideas. If nothing else, I want to know the rumors that I haven’t heard yet.

Example: we all know that the Gropius dorms are a protected cultural landmark, right? Has any HLS student not rolled his or her eyes upon hearing that explanation for the outdated, gulag-style accommodations? Well, just a guess, but I’d bet there’s a very good reason behind all of it. Some very dedicated people probably circulated a petition to protect those lovely buildings. What exactly could the school do to them without invoking the wrath of the Cambridge City Council? We’ve all witnessed the extreme makeover of the Hark despite its protected status. Could the Grope be far behind?

Not for nothing, but I personally am curious to know what would happen if they just totaled the whole complex. A fifty million-dollar fine? I think being a law student has really corrupted me. I used to be concerned with how to comply with the law – now I’m more interested in questioning why a law exists in the first place, whether or not it’s worth it to violate one, or how far laws can bend without breaking. I’m not advocating the destruction of an artistic accomplishment like Shaw, I’m just… wondering.

Example: what’s up with this constantly circulating rumor that if a professor gives a student a C, said professor has to justify doing so to some kind of academic board? It seems to me that this is one of those fairy tales that the administration allows to flourish because it tranquilizes people into a comfort zone of thinking that so long as they pay their $33,120 plus fees they can pull a straight B- average without ever learning anything. Can anyone seriously imagine Tribe or Miller being pulled into some room in Pound and asked to explain why Mr. Gunner deserved a C? I didn’t think so. Yet I’ve heard this rumor many, many times. I’ve also heard that no one EVER gets an F, EVER. And don’t even get me started on the curve as a general matter. I think the Coca-Cola recipe is a less well-guarded formula.

Example: the number of individuals who have graduated summa cum laude from the law school is, naturally, exceedingly small. Maybe 30 or so. It involves something obscene like getting all As and A+s, but more A+s than As. A G.P.A. that could only be accomplished by someone of either frightening intelligence, or ridiculous good luck, or an utter disregard for social interaction. Or all of the above. Here’s my question: what ever happened to those people? What wonderful life awaits a student who manages to pull off that coup? I think we should look these people up. Let’s find out whether it’s even worth it to be a true Type-A++++. I might be able to save some 1Ls the trouble of even thinking about trying. I can tell you right now that a cursory Google doesn’t turn up a great deal of interesting information.

Example: at some point last year someone told me that there’s a room in Langdell Library where “they” worked on “the bomb.” I went on the library tour during orientation, and I don’t remember hearing anything about this room, yet someone else told me that it is actually discussed on the tour. Is it a secret room? Or can it be reserved for meetings? More fundamentally, who exactly are “they” and which “bomb” are we talking about? If this room exists, I’m sure some enterprising students have already found it and had sex in it. Let me know if you have a true tale of the mysterious “bomb” room.

The above are a few examples of the kind of rumors I’m going to investigate this year for the edification of the student body. And, well, to satisfy my own curiosity in a public forum. For this first column, however, I’m just going to clear up a few things for 1Ls.

1L Myth: I have to join a journal. I have to join a study group. I have to join Lincoln’s Inn.

No, no, and for God’s sake, NO. You don’t “have” to do anything. This is one secret I would’ve liked to have known on the first day of school. You can make whatever you want to make of your three years here. If you want to work on a journal, do it. Frankly, I didn’t want to work on a journal, but I did it anyway, and ended up liking it, and, a bit of inertia later, I’m now one of the Executive Editors. So it can turn out fine even if you just follow the crowd like sheep to the slaughter. But certainly don’t feel obligated.

I have nothing against Lincoln’s Inn, but when I signed up I had no idea of the kind of commitment to alcohol a membership involves. It is indeed easy to get your money’s worth, but you have to be prepared to spend time at Lincoln’s Inn. I wasn’t equal to the task and ended up trying to “get my money’s worth” all in one night. Yikes. In short, no, I did not “have” to join Lincoln’s Inn. And neither do you.

1L Myth: Years ago HLS students had to pay for their own coffee and tampons. And fight each other for an outlet in first floor Pound classrooms.

TRUE. You kids are so friggin’ spoiled.

1L Myth: I have to attend class every day.

TRUE. Just kidding. Apparently you don’t even have to live in the Boston metropolitan area to be an HLS student. I’ve heard tales of registered students who lived and worked in the Midwest and flew in for exams only. Certainly there’s someone in every section who will show up for class once or twice at best, and rumors will circulate about his cocaine habit or her double life as an expensive call girl. That said, if you feel like skipping a class, you really should think for a minute about how much you’re paying to be there, and how many people you beat out to get that seat, and how lucky you are to have the foremost legal scholars in the world teaching you. Then go back to sleep. It’s not going to kill you to miss a class or two.

One final note: after much reflection I have decided that I will not write about any rumors concerning current professors or my fellow students. Of course these are always the best, most juicy, and most interesting stories out there, but aside from my fear of a personally embarrassing retaliatory strike, having been invited to contribute to the school paper I feel I should at least pretend to be above the pedestrian gossip fray. But if you do hear anything, please feel free to pass it along to mmclella@ law.harvard.edu. Seriously.

Melinda McLellan is a 3L. Her column will appear regularly.

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