We Owe Each Other a Moral Community

Dear Harvard Law students,

Our law school is a community—but is it a moral community? Do we value kindness over perceived intelligence? Do we cherish each other as ends—as complicated, multifaceted beings—or use one another to further our own ends? During lectures, do we radiate sincere encouragement to our classmates, or silent yet disparaging judgment? Finally, is this a place that treats the law realistically—not as some Latinate dogma to be exalted, but as an instrument that, like a knife, is only as good as the person doing the cutting?

As a 3L I know that in some ways, but too many ways, the answer to these questions is no.

We can change that answer. To do so we need to talk to each other, to stop judging our fellow classmates—way too many of us are already judges—and to start empathizing with them instead. We must be honest about who we are. In the process, we can discuss what the contours of our “moral community” should approximate without needing a “stamp of approval” from any authority.

Since 1946, The Harvard Law Record has served as a forum for students to discuss and debate, honestly and openly, the shape of our moral community here at Harvard as well as that of the broader legal community. The end for all debaters has been identical: How do we become a better community? A moral community? What aspects of Harvard Law School do we chip away from the edifice, and which do we leave in place? And what does “better,” or “moral,” even mean, anyway?

I reiterate: This discussion is absolutely impossible through official means sponsored by the law school; it can occur only in an independent forum controlled entirely by students, like The Harvard Law Record.

Take last year as an example. Whether it was the dis-invitation of the head of the Bronx Defenders, using Biglaw as a tool for charity, Hong Kong’s stifling of free speech, what a fair sexual assault policy should look like, the prominent place “torture lawyers” have in legal academia, or whether HLS has been doing enough to accommodate minority voices … The Record published a diverse multitude of opinions, without pre-filtering through the Harvard administration. Indeed, we published several perspectives that would not have found an official outlet—for example, students who traveled to Ferguson in support of Black Lives Matter and felt Harvard Law was neglecting the movement’s weighty reality.

1Ls: Your time here is a multifaceted opportunity, not a one-dimensional academic ordeal to grind through within the dark depths of Langdell in order to land straight DS’s (though that would be nice). You are not bound by anyone or anything. But you can speak your mind, you can help shape our law school so that your three years here are defined by love, by mutual respect. By moral community.

Dean Erwin Griswold used to greet incoming 1Ls with the weighty sentence: “You are now members of the legal profession.” True. But that can be rephrased: “You are now members of a profession that presumes to control the life, liberty, and property of millions.” Will you use that profession’s tools to stifle life, to narrow liberty, to steal the property necessary for both life and liberty? Or will you use this frightening tool—the law—to build things rather than to destroy them?

The majority of Harvard Law students will choose to build. And I hope you will join The Record in debating just how to build by contributing an op-ed or joining our news staff.

Because we are not a perfect moral community just yet; but we can work to become one.


Michael Shammas

Editor-in-chief, The Harvard Law Record

J.D. Candidate, 2016

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