BY MELINDA MCLELLAN
Being diligent, conscie-ntious Harvard Law students, I’m sure you all have read the school catalog from cover to cover in order to familiarize yourselves with the rules and policies applicable to your time here. Right?
If not, allow me to enlighten you. You’d be forgiven, for example, if you missed the “Information on Student Files” which is literally the last section of the “Rules” part of the book, located conveniently on pages 236-37. It comes right after the section devoted to the Drug and Alcohol Policy which glaringly omits any reference to firm receptions, hall crawls, Lincoln’s Inn, or Professor Nesson.
Anyway, being the intrepid journalist that I am, I actually read the Student Files section in its entirety. To be perfectly honest, it was kind of a fluke – I decided to start at the end of the book, with Appendix B, and work backwards. So I only actually had to read like five pages before I had an idea for a column.
Appendix B, incidentally, purports to assist students in making their elective course selections during the second and third years of school. Curiously, the ever-popular “five-day weekend,” “Law &, Law &, Law & Order,” “will I be forced to speak?” and “the diploma says Harvard whether or not I learned anything” registration theories appear nowhere in this Appendix. But I digress. Armed with the knowledge that “[s]tudents who wish to obtain copies of any of their educational records may do so at no charge,” I headed to the Registrar’s Office.
The Registrar’s File
I don’t think anyone ever actually bothers to ask the Registrar to see his or her file, but despite looks of confusion and surprise, I was promptly and courteously provided with mine when I requested it. It was something of a blast from the past, really, as it contained, inter alia, my application papers (wow, I had forgotten what a starry-eyed dork I was), my LSAT writing sample (but not the actual score report, which I later learned is, for reasons unknown, kept by the admissions office), and cute things like my acceptance letter and signed statement of intent.
I was told that the only items they forward to the New York Bar are certain application materials: the cover sheet, personal statement, and a CV if it was included. And I’d guess they probably have to tell the bar if you have a disciplinary issue lurking in there.
From what I learned, the school really does try to minimize the information that goes in any file kept on students, and is quite dedicated to protecting the integrity of these files such that nothing could be used against you later in life. And only the barest amount of essential information from your file is kept permanently, like the undergraduate transcript upon which your admission decision was based. So in this case Big Brother is watching (out for) you. Or so it seems.
As the next step in my personal file investigation, I got a hold of all my medical records. Anyone can go down to Health Services and request a copy of his or her medical file, and I strongly suggest that 3Ls consider doing so before leaving town. It really can come in handy to have your medical history when you move to a new city and/or switch physicians and insurance. Also, you can read what your doctors write about you.I found the medical records policies to be rather reassuring. First of all, you have to sign an authorization form in order for the school to release your records. And for records pertaining to particularly sensitive information, such as substance abuse problems, abortion, HIV testing, or mental health, you must sign separate waivers. So even if you have to forward a copy of your records to your new physician or insurance provider, the inclusion of intensely personal issues is left to your discretion.
Despite generalized speculation about bar associations requesting mental health records and the like, Dean Cosgrove indicated to me that students no longer need to worry about such disclosures. Predictably in the past when this was a possibility, lawyers and law students simply declined to get treatment out of concern that doing so might disqualify them from bar membership. Since then, the powers that be must have realized that it behooves us all to encourage, rather than discourage, fellow lawyers to seek professional attention as necessary.
So I was feeling pretty good about the medical records situation until I got home and read on the Drudge Report that Harvard student drug purchase histories have been lying exposed and accessible to any nutter on the internet for hell knows how long. Prescription drug purchase histories, I mean. I assume. Let’s hope.
The financial aid office will let you see (and presumably copy) any documents in your file that you submitted when applying for aid. I asked what this policy excludes, and was told that I just wouldn’t be able to peruse their award calculation formulas and worksheets. As with the enigmatic curve, any time the school is using numbers to categorize students, you can rest assured it shall be fully shrouded in mystery. Again, it’s not a bad idea for 3Ls to go get these documents if you didn’t save copies of everything at the time you were scrambling to throw it all together before the submission deadline. Even if you could figure that stuff out again, why not save yourself the time and trouble by having all the information copied and stored in a nice little folder? F.Y.I.: Financial Aid keeps your information on file in the office for one year after your graduation, and then seven years thereafter in their archives. Other Files
Career Services doesn’t keep paper files on students; the only information they have is any that you submitted online by completing their various surveys and questionnaires. OPIA probably does keep a file for students they counsel, but I’ve never visited them so I didn’t check. The Pro Bono people also keep a file to make sure everyone completes their 40 hours of service before the deadline which, by the way, is only like five weeks away for people who think they’re getting out of here in June. Since the Class of 2005 is the first to have this pro bono requirement, it remains to be seen what will happen to any deadbeats. Hmmmmm.
The admissions office was by far the most cagey when talking to me about my file. As a preliminary issue, no way, no how is any information from the committee members who evaluated your application retained in those files. So forget that. Even if it was, you’d never see it. Second, unless you didn’t waive the right to see your Letters of Recommendation, you of course can’t see those, either. The only other thing they keep up there is your LSAT score, which I assume most people can recall without assistance.
In conclusion, the moral of the story is this: find out what “the man” has on you, get your own copy of it, and make sure it’s correct. An ounce of diligence is worth a pound of… ignorance. I just made that up, but it sounds about right.
Melinda McLellan is a 3L who asked for a file cabinet for her 12th birthday.