J.D.s and LL.M.s: An HLS divided cannot stand

BY MATT HUTCHINS

A Party Without Polarization

In addition to being an educational institution, Harvard Law School is a community. Throughout its history, the Harvard network has been renowned for its breadth and depth as well as its ability to open doors and create opportunities for its members. As the publisher of the Harvard Law Record, I have taken great satisfaction this year in being an active participant in the HLS community and opening a window into our experience for the outside world. But as a journalistic observer, I have come to view with increasing cynicism the claim made by Dean Kagan ’86 that HLS is the “New York of Law Schools”. Although Kagan intended this statement to reflect the cosmopolitanism of one of the world’s greatest global cities, there is a darker truth latent in this analogy.

Our academic community is fractured and stratified, its population balkanized into self-sufficient groups that avoid communication with each other. Perhaps the most shocking example of this phenomenon is the ghettoization of LL.M. students behind a wall of social ignorance. Most J.D.’s are mystified by the presence of LL.M.’s in their classes. Instead of branching out, it seems that J.D.’s gravitate toward organizations oriented to a common interest or shared background. These organizations are structured to give 2L’s and 3L’s a superior position of decision making authority, and newcomers are more than happy to “pay their dues” by doing mindless work or else take a free ride, enjoying the events subsidized by law firms and general activity funds.

Interacting with the international students has been one of the most positive experiences I have had this year, and it has given me the opportunity to make friends from countries ranging from Argentina to Uzbekistan. Some of these individuals have overcome great challenges to study at Harvard, and many of them are both highly skilled legal practitioners and warm, friendly individuals. The LL.M.’s are friendly, engaging and actively seeking to build connections with their classmates. These are people who have practiced law and returned from the professional world to continue their studies, something no American J.D. student can say. But practicing law has not made them arrogant. Rather, the LL.M.’s have generally learned that, in the professional world, people skills matter. When they arrive at HLS, these students enjoy an embarrassment of diversity, and in the process of learning about each others’ interests they bridge the gaps between their different backgrounds and form a tightly knit community.

Socialization with other students at Harvard Law School should be a means toward creation of open dialogue and intimate relationships that enrich our lives both during and after law school, but too often we find ourselves cabined into a homogenized group where some task or common interest becomes a barrier to the discovery of our differences and initiation of transformative communication. Indeed, our future career plans are too often a wedge which divides rather than a common ground that unites, and our insular student groups too frequently become self-centered cliques. Why should it matter if I plan to work at a law firm after graduation, or for that matter, which one I plan to work for? Shouldn’t that be all the more reason for me to seek out classmates that are interested in public service, so that I can learn why they are considering a different path?

And why should it matter if I am from the South, or you are Asian or either of us is married? Why are any of these self-identification criteria necessary as a basis for socialization? Aren’t we all attending the same school and entering into the same profession?

Writing for the Record has in part been a way of identifying myself as a writer, but for me this has been a way of exposing my thoughts and ideas without hiding behind a label or organizational hierarchy. Next year, I become Co-Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, we will be seeking to recruit writers to join us in examining our school and our society with a critical eye. We want to encourage a dialogue which will play itself out week by week in the pages of this paper and spill over into classrooms and onto Facebook and G-chat. Anyone who wants to join us in this project, to bridge the gaps between our insular law school neighborhoods, is welcome to contribute with an op-ed, news piece, point-counterpoint or feature article. Our community needs more vigorous communication and dialogue if Harvard Law School is to be more than just another mark on our stellar resumes and another step in the process of isolation behind self-imposed labels.

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