EVERY YEAR has its highs and lows, but the peaks and valleys of the past academic year seem to have been more pronounced than usual. September began as any other, as Dean Elena Kagan ’86 announced the recruitment of yet more faculty members, the renovation of yet more buildings, and the offering of yet more clinicals. Yet little more than a few weeks into the fall semester, both Harvard Law School and the world were left reeling from the onset of the global financial crisis. While it seemed at first that the onslaught might only affect the current crop of 2Ls going through OCI – the same 2Ls who were facing the strange reality of a hybrid grading system come next year – it soon became clear that Harvard’s crown jewel itself, the legendary endowment, was in serious jeopardy.
Jobs grew scarce, anxiety over financial aid grew heightened. HLS struggled – without much choice – to match other law schools’ race to the law firm recruiting bottom, asking 1Ls to return in August for a preemptive interview drive.
Students continued to procrastinate in class, but not with the same insouciance as before: they turned from wedding sites to financial sites, and, if they stayed on legal gossip mainstays like Above the Law, from triumphant salary hikes to unprecedented layoffs.
For once, the law was no place to weather a storm, and many enthusiastic but nervous HLS students audaciously hoped for a solution to the nation’s economic woes when they joined the rest of the country in sweeping Barack Obama ’91 to power. The school’s slightly battered ego must have recovered from the October hiring drive when so many of its alumni – and more than a few professors, including even our transformative Dean – began to pack their bags for Washington. Not since the days of John F. Kennedy were so many Harvard graduates entering the upper echelons of government, so much so that neither the administration, nor the Politico, nor even the Record, which we think has its ears pretty close to the ground, could keep up.
“Change” was the diffuse, all-purpose motto of Obama’s campaign, and, cliché as it is, change was the leitmotif of the year, for HLS as a whole and for the Record in particular. We began by debuting color on the first, middle, and last pages of every issue, and experimenting with other layout upgrades to jazz up our presentation and our content. We introduced new features, including Jessica Corsi’s adventures in the Cambridge LL.M. program and Together Girl, our new advice column.
We also breathed new life into the old: Fenno, a mainstay of the paper since the 1950s, was sent back to the books for a challenging 2L year. Our international students brought a global perspective to our op-ed page. Our efforts to cover events large and small, many of which go overlooked by the stewards of the school’s official channels of communication, vindicated the claims of those, like Harvard Board of Overseers candidate Harvey Silverglate ’67, that we were the antidote to the selective narratives of university publications. Significantly, our coverage also earned us some serious attention from the world far beyond Harvard Law.
This has made it increasingly obvious that our content delivery systems required serious overhaul in order keep up with the fast-paced world of online journalism. As this issue goes to press, the Record is poised to finally jettison its antiquated website and begin breaking stories throughout the day and week, hopefully restoring the paper to the prominence it once had when a young Barack Obama was forced to write letters to the Record’s editor to defend his policies as president of the Law Review.We have already begun our digital facelift by launching a Twitter account; check out, if you haven’t already, at www.twitter.com/hlrecord.
These changes have been necessary in the wake of serious challenges to the Record’s long-term viability and the chances of survival for newspapers in general. For most publications, the combination of free internet news and the global financial crisis has driven ad revenue to historic lows. In this, the Record is no exception, and our reduced publication schedule – from weekly to biweekly – is in part a reflection of this problem – although we think it has also resulted in an improved news product.
But we face additional challenges. Our visibility on campus, for example, severely diminished after the administration made the decision to relocate student mailboxes out of the Hark and into the basement of Pound – probably condemning them to be ignored in favor of email for all time. We were forced to think of other schemes for publicity and distribution, and the large poster we have placed in the center of the Hark is in part a recognition of changes in student behavior. It has also brought in more writers – but more, still, are always necessary to build a newspaper reflective of the vast HLS community and all that goes on within it. We encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in writing, journalism, seeing their name in print, participating in a community institution, or simply putting the arguments they make in class on paper, to send us an email.
Those who write for us will be investing in a publication that we have done all we can to help ensure will continue to be relevant, informative, and fun. They will join the company of a group of Record contributors who have spanned the ideological spectrum, from perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader ’58 to former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. They will be able to influence an Acting Dean who seems open to our views and a successor who, hopefully, will be as well.
And while we can be a serious publication at times, we do not believe that being so requires quasi-religious devotion to a code of citation, or ceaseless hours of unpaid toil. We remain, as always, the watchful eye over an institution that means well, but often gets tripped up in its bureaucratic entangelements, a humanist antidote to the rote severity that can characterize legal education and the law.