Lincoln’s Inn: A Tough Past but a Bright Future

BY ANDREW GASTON

The bar at Lincoln’s Inn.

Lincoln’s Inn is not a house. Lincoln’s Inn is a society. It’s a group of students. It has alumni. It has parties. Big parties. But it’s also a mess.

One would have to question whether three sitting Supreme Court Justices, Stephen Breyer ’64, Anthony Kennedy ’61, and David Souter ’66, and countless leaders in the legal, business, and academic arenas would still join Lincoln’s Inn today.

Few students realize the important place Lincoln’s Inn holds in the history of Harvard Law School. But ask resident Harvard Law historian, Professor Dan Coquillette ’71, he was a member. Maybe he will tell you Lincoln’s Inn is approaching its 100th anniversary. He will probably add that the house at 44 Follen St., held by the Inn for 60 years is 140 years old and is included on the national register of historic landmarks.

To commemorate the society’s anniversary, Lincoln’s Inn is engaging in a revitalizing Centennial Capital Campaign, aimed at bringing both the organization and the house to new heights, yet unseen by its members, past or present. The Governors are taking ambitious steps towards modernizing the Inn and rejuvenating the organization, with an emphasis on tradition, fellowship, and, of course, refreshment.

The Governors seek to raise at least $300,000 to revive the house structurally and aesthetically, and reconnect with alumni. Why such a large figure? A brief tour of the historic building demonstrates worn carpets, stained walls, and a heating system that has received inquiries from the Smithsonian. Though many members take pride in the Inn’s gritty image, for the institution to maintain its place as Harvard’s premier social club, it must keep law school students excited about its celebrated space. The Campaign includes plans to update the ailing heating system, repair the leaking roof and replace the ancient, inefficient windows. The Governors also need to restore the basement and its infamous bar to its traditional role: serving the membership, alumni, and their guests.

Impressively, the current membership has operated the Inn without benefit of the traditional alumni board, but the Governors recognize the critical role its past members will play in restoring the Inn to its days of glory. For the first time in years, numerous alumni have reached out to the leadership. Several alumni have offered to join the recently-restored alumni board. The alumni board is critical to preserving institutional memory, providing managerial oversight and steering the direction of the organization. The Governors have also begun actively engaging alumni in the Capital Campaign and have been rewarded with a number of generous donations.

But all this is big talk from a group of leaders that made the excruciating decision to cancel this year’s Winter Dinner due to financial constraints. Rumor has it that the Inn has struggled to deal with the rising obligations of maintaining a house in Cambridge in a manner representative of the Inn’s rich history. Word is that there’s a group of 1L’s looking for answers. However, many understand that they will see the benefits of this fiscal responsibility next year. They have been closely tracking the Inn’s development success at the organization’s website (www.lincolnsinn.org).

Though the immediate news is bleak, alumni and member support have created the promise of a new dawn for the organization. Alumni from the across the country are rallying to support the institution where they found friends and respite from the sting of the Socratic method and the tempestuous atmosphere of Harvard Law School. With hard work, alumni support and a little luck, Lincoln’s Inn will again raise a clamor heard far beyond the reaches of Follen Street.

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