My 3L paper is going fine


The Harvard Law School Catalog is a bit vague about a lot of things (“By accepting membership in the University, an individual joins a community ideally characterized by free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of others, and openness to constructive change;” “Harvard University promotes the health and well being of its students and employees through its Health Services and other agencies;” and “Students should strive to take a range of courses in order to create a balanced program,” just as examples), but about at least one it is very specific:

“Third-year students must register for the Written Work Requirement by October 15, 2004. Fines for late registration are $25 (October 18 to November 24), $50 (December 1 through February 4, 2005), and $100 after February 4, 2005.”

This is pretty straightforward. I mean, we could argue about why the fines are necessary, but that the Catalog says they exist is pretty clear. Why fines? I suppose on the one hand they could be punitive, but that seems silly. First, they’re not nearly high enough to really change anyone’s behavior. And, second, if they wanted to punish people who register late, why not just set a deadline and that’s the deadline? Lots of things in the catalog have deadlines: course registration, add/drop, paper due dates. So why not just say that the deadline is January 1, and deal with people who register late the same way anyone who does anything late gets dealt with?

On the other hand, maybe they aren’t punitive. Maybe it actually costs the Registrar more to process written work registrations after a certain date. Perhaps their resources are taxed as the semester moves forward, figuring out new algorithms for course selection, making the add/drop procedure less computerized, or interviewing proctors for the rigorous hiring process that I’m sure makes OCI seem like a piece of cake.

Why am I writing about 3L paper fines? Well, I think there might be a scandal here, and I want to get to the bottom of it (plus I couldn’t think of anything else to write about). A careful investigation (i.e., I heard this from a couple of friends) has led me to believe that the fines are never actually assessed. This seems kind of unfair to those of us who bothered to get our forms in on time. Why threaten a fine – especially a fine that’s fairly minimal anyway – if it’s never going to be charged? “Why compromise the integrity of the Catalog,” I might ask if I took my column seriously, “if everyone knows it’s all just a sham?”

If we can’t trust this, it puts into doubt everything the Catalog says. How can we trust that “Whoever is a principal organizer or participant in the crime of hazing, as defined herein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars or by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than one year, or both such fine and imprisonment”? How can we trust that the “Harvard Affiliated Housing portfolio offers approximately 2,500 apartments within a one-mile radius of Harvard Yard, and these units vary in style from townhouse apartments to apartments in high-rise buildings”? How can we trust that “The Appellate Courts and Advocacy course combines a substantive review of key appellate litigation doctrines concerning appellate jurisdiction, standards of review, and other topics, with an intensive advocacy component, ranging from motion and brief writing to oral argument”? How can we trust that we even have a registrar?

I understand that some deadlines are meaningless. Like Bar/Bri sign-ups closing three weeks into 1L year, or the cafeteria closing for lunch at 2:00 but then re-opening at 5:30 with the exact same food. I understand that some deadlines are meaningful. Like the add-drop deadline, because without it, we’d take 30 classes, wait until we got our grades, and then drop all the courses we didn’t get As in. This makes sense. I understand the financial aid form deadline, because otherwise Harvard will run out of money in its $16 billion endowment. But, I don’t really understand why there’s a 3L paper registration deadline that isn’t really a deadline, because the only penalty is a small fine, and the fine apparently doesn’t even get assessed. If they want us to have the forms in by October 15, make them due then. If they want to give us until February, give us until February. And if they’re going to pretend there’s a fine to punish us for something, then charge the fine. This is why people hate lawyers. Lawyers make up rules that don’t make sense. I guess they’re usually called laws. We have to write a 3L paper by the time we graduate. If we don’t write it, we don’t graduate. Isn’t this the only deadline we need regarding the 3L paper?

It’s amazing what I learned reading the Catalog that I did not know before. I didn’t know we had a patient advocate: “The Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) staff provides the student with health care and services that are responsive to his/her needs, but no service functions perfectly all the time. If a student is confused, upset, has a concern or a compliment, they should not go away unheard…. The Patient Advocate is available to provide assistance for patients who encounter difficulties or problems within the Health Services.” This is amazing. But why does health services get all of this attention and the rest of the law school doesn’t? Do we have a “course registration advocate” for when the registrar doesn’t give us our first choice class, an “on-campus interviewing advocate” when we don’t get to interview with the firms we wanted, a “student learning advocate” when a professor sucks, or a “wow, this is the same turkey as they had last week advocate” when the food at the Hark is lousy?

Here’s something in the Catalog no one ever seems to dwell on: “Class work is essential to the educational program at the Law School. Regular attendance at classes and participation in class work are expected of all students.”

Or how about this one: “There is an extracurricular organization for almost every interest or inclination at the Law School.” Cool. I’m late for my HLS Wiccans meeting.

And, this one shocked me: “Course materials distributed to students in class or via the Harvard Printing and Publications Services… are normally covered by the cost of tuition. However, courses with large volumes of copied and distributed materials… may be billed to the students at the rates below. … $50: Over 3,000 pages.” I’m glad I’m not in that class. Wow. I hope that’s in the course reviews.

Jeremy Blachman writes daily at