Fenno and the 3L Paper Non-Requirement


Fenno took a sip of his coffee and checked his e-mail one wintry December morning, the first of several breaks from his half-hearted stab at completing his take-home professional responsibility final. But the first message in his inbox made him gasp so hard he almost spilled his lukewarm-but-free beverage.

It began: “During our curricular review process, faculty and students alike suggested reassessing and revising the Law School’s current written work requirement.” Finally! After all these years in which Fenno had tried and failed to find a 3L paper advisor, could it be that he’d finally be able to graduate and to move onto the firm job he regarded as his birthright? He settled down to read the e-mail. He could do this. He really could!

* * *

Two weeks later, at the start of the January term, Fenno stumbled blearily into Langdell North only to be greeted by the sound of many perky people clapping.”Welcome to Negotiation Summer Camp!” shouted Prof. Mnookin, to general cheering from the gaggle of TAs clustered behind him.

Someone in the front row must have pointed out that it was (a) January and (b) 15 degrees out.

“It’s always summer when you’re creating value through negotiation,” he admonished the student sternly.

Later that afternoon, as Fenno was making a collage out of pieces of bark he had picked up in Harvard Yard, he realized that he might have finally found his class.

“Very good, Fenno,” his working group instructor told him, leaning over to brush his collage then trying to pick a splinter out of her hand. “I think you really have a good sense of what we do here.”

That night, Fenno worked hard on his journal entry. Or, at least, he muted American Gladiators while he wrote it. And three weeks later, as he munched Sodexho spinach and artichoke dip at the end-of-course party, he realized he had completed one half of his 3L paper. Fenno had never even gotten close to that before. A milestone, indeed.

When he returned from his intersession and set his mind towards the other half, however, he realized there were some inherent difficulties. He spent one (rather short) afternoon sifting through his old seminar response papers. While, on some level, it was pretty impressive he had managed to get through a multitude of purportedly writing-based classes without ever having to write more than 12 pages, it was hardly helpful to his current predicament.

Then, Fenno had a sudden flash of inspiration. Student-run journals. They were all desperate for content, right? And how hard could writing a 10 page article be? Even the most somnolescent of his professors seemed to manage it from time to time. (Okay, maybe the ones with tenure didn’t publish much anymore, but he was sure they had back in the day, like when their office decor had still been on-trend.)

Figuring there was no reason not to shoot for the top, he started with Gannet House. Besides, Fenno had never been one to miss a chance to browse through the “secret” outline bank.

Two hours later, Fenno limped toward the basement of Hastings and had to concede that that hadn’t been the best idea he ever had. And since he had no intention of sifting his way through 18 levels of CR-CL bureaucracy, he headed straight toward the ILJ office.

“You know, I’m really interested in international law,” he heard himself saying, “particularly involving Canada.” Wait – that counted as international right?

“Well, Fenno, we have a lot of LLMs publishing this semester,” the serious-looking editor told him. “I mean, you could always submit after you graduate . . . .”

Damn. This might be harder than he thought. Giving silent thanks to whatever administrator had been responsible for approving applications to create new journals back in the 70s and 80s, Fenno resolved to work his way down the list.

Fortunately – and Fenno was nothing if not adaptable – he refined his pitch a bit more with each journal he applied to. Still, he was coming up empty handed. Just like ILJ had rejected Canada, the Environmental Law Review rejected endangered Canadian geese, JoL rejected legislation to conserve their winter nesting grounds in Minnesota, and the Latino Law Review refused to be persuaded that the Quebecois, as speakers of a Latin-based language, totally counted as Latinos. Kind of narrow minded of them, he thought.

Finally, he reached the Human Rights Journal. As the door opened, he began to speak very quickly, determined not to get cut off in mid-sentence again (thank you very much, JOLT).

“You know,” he said, “I hear Canadian geese have started pecking to death indigenous Canadians up north. I think Alberto Gonzales might have something to do with it.”

“Really?” said the earnest looking editor-in-chief. “I think we may have a lot to talk about, Fenno.”

* * *

A couple of months later, Fenno sauntered into a Nunavut web cafe. It was nice of HLS to fund his Spring Break research trip, and Canada was so bracing in the Spring. Best of all, Fenno was finally ready to e-mail in his student note. He had finally done it! He had completed the 3L writing requirement!

He opened up MyMail. Under the pile of “mailbox is over quota” messages, an e-mail caught his eye. He clicked.

“Dear Fenno,

This is a note to inform you that our records show you have not yet completed the mandatory pro bono hour required of all students prior to graduation.”

Well, damn it.

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