BY GOUTAM JOIS
I’ve debated long and hard whether I should say this. But I’ll count on the open-mindedness of my fellow students, so here goes: I like Harvard Law School.
If you haven’t been reading the Record recently, you may not have noticed that criticizing HLS has become a cottage industry. I don’t presume that the authors actually dislike HLS per se. But a sense of complete disengagement pervades these authors’ pieces, and that is worrisome.
A prime example is a recent editorial, which proclaimed that “reading is for those with time and interest, and a good law student has neither.” This left me perplexed. Why come to law school if not with an interest in the law and (by definition) time to study it? “Ah,” some say, “but I don’t want to lawyer. Why ought I be subjected to this Socratic brutality?” Fair enough. But then are you only here because “HLS” looks good on a resume? Fine, but mere credential-grabbers have little to stand on when criticizing the school.
The “lack of interest” theme is picked up by Fenno while referencing her 3L paper. Fenno contemplates handing in a blank sheet of paper but eventually decides to write something “suitably worthless.” But how odious is the paper requirement? Are HLS students so devoid of intellectual curiosity that absolutely nothing interests them? If one has absolutely no interest in the law, it isn’t surprising that he would find HLS an unfriendly and uninteresting place. I’m sure I would feel that way at the Medical School.
Angela Yingling alludes to this “unfriendly” motif. She describes HLS as “alienating and cold and full of people eager to bring others down . . . [and] lack[ing] kindness.” I have not found this true in the least. People in my section are generally outgoing, interesting, and social. Sure, there are some I never talk too, but isn’t there always such a cohort for anyone, anywhere? And with an abundance of organizations of every stripe, is it that hard to find similarly-interested people?
Well, maybe it is. Betsy Zedek writes of her friends’ shock when she goes to a PLAP meeting: “Most of my friends would be taken aback that I forewent a dose of Access Hollywood and Extra in favor of a 7:00pm meeting with representatives of other [Student Practice Organizations].” Why is this surprising? I try to watch The Simpsons on a daily basis myself, but if a group that I’m interested in is meeting at that time, I’ll suck it up and go – not because I feel compelled by this stifling school and its groups but (gasp!) because I want to. I can’t imagine that HLS is filled with such vapid students, and to the extent that such people exist, it’s not the school or its organizations they should complain about.
Geoff McGovern’s review of HLS is even more scathing. “Students feel depressed, grow ever more argumentative at inappropriate times, obsess over uncertain desires to practice law, and often appear quite the shell of their former selves,” he writes. I find this not the case at all, at least with myself and those I knew (here and elsewhere) before entering law school. My friends are all interesting people and I enjoy spending time with them. They’re not inappropriately argumentative unless they’ve been drinking, and I’ll forgive them for that.
Mr. McGovern goes on to indict the whole law school project as a sham: “[T]hey hide the ball, [but] . . . by the time you learn that the ball is also the cage they put around you, you’re tired, defeated, [and] don’t care.” Is this true? I find classes interesting, professors engaging, and students fascinating here at HLS – far from a shell game. Sure, the work is challenging, but what else did we expect? I suppose when one finds his work difficult, he can write it off as a “ball and cage” game. But that’s not a criticism of the system; it’s a reflection on him.
I find the (required, first-year) classes here interesting, but Taylor Dasher devotes an entire article to the problems with course offerings. Interestingly, problem is that there are too many classes. He wishes classes were more like an “elementary school cafeteria” with “only one thing on the menu.” Of course, if there weren’t variety among courses, you can bet someone would be quick to complain about the horribly stifling curriculum, the dearth of opportunity, the conformist mindset foisted upon us, and so on.
Mr. McGovern’s piece captures perfectly a sense of “meritocratic entitlement.” He writes: “[S]tudents who have proven their ability by receiving offers of admission to HLS deserve a much better education.” Admissions proves little, and even if it didn’t, it would not mean one “deserves” anything, per se. Mr. McGovern’s argument is the cry of a petulant Oliver Twist, saying, “Dammit, Dean Kagan, I deserve some more”- as if the opportunity, intellectual stimulation, and prestige that HLS offers weren’t enough.
Mr. McGovern criticizes professors’ “little interest in encouraging a strong sense of community.” This is far from my experience. I have been to the houses of three of the five professors in my section this year, and section events abound. Granted, many people eschew these for being beneath them, but that’s like complaining about the president but never voting.
I do not intend to be an apologist of HLS. I too find problems with the school, though mostly in terms of form, not substance. But I worry that HLS students, so adept at griping about anything and everything here, forget that the study of the law can be an interesting, enriching, and even uplifting experience- if only we let it.
Goutam U. Jois, 1L