Fenno: Ignore These Lessons at Your Own Risk

As the longest-serving member of the Harvard Law School student body, I am happy to offer a few words of advice to incoming 1Ls. As you embark on this exciting new phase of your life, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. The law is a terrible profession.

Judicial opinions are nothing but a mix of bad philosophy, amateur sociology, and half-remembered historical anecdotes. They are appallingly written as a genre, and reading too many of them will inevitably make your own writing much worse. Unfortunately, only those who fully steep themselves in this cesspool of verbiage will ever manage to become judges, and thus the hideous cycle of unreadability perpetuates itself forever.

“The law is a noble profession,” your professors will say. But as everyone knows, “BigLaw” lawyers are miserable alcoholics who consistently miss their children’s birthdays/baseball games/funerals/etc., while public interest lawyers spend the majority of their time weeping in rat-infested offices because they have 300,000 clients and no pens. It’s important to remember that all your professors went into academia precisely because they didn’t want to be real lawyers.

Your best option is to learn as little law as possible while you’re here, and then try to get a job in something else.

  1. You are not special.

You are at HLS because you performed well on a standardized test whose hardest questions involved devising seating charts for hypothetical dinner-guests. Intellectually speaking, we are all glorified wedding planners, and it’s time we accepted this.

  1. Enemies are all around you.

Be careful whom you trust. Some of your classmates could be part of America’s next generation of villains. One day, a sectionmate of yours may well end up poisoning a river, defrauding widows and orphans, or hosting their own talk show on a cable news channel. NOW IS YOUR CHANCE TO FIND THESE PEOPLE AND THWART THEM WHILE THEY ARE STILL WEAK.

Sabotage them by any means necessary. Videotape them at a brothel! Trick them into eating a beloved childhood pet that you have cunningly disguised as a pot roast! Encourage them to write ill-advised, career-ruining op-eds in The Record!

  1. You won’t remember anything that you learn in your 1L classes.

Don’t worry about it, though: nothing you learn your first year is remotely useful anyway. The Dean will go on about the importance of scholarship and analysis in these uncertain times, but the fact is, when the Day Of Calamity comes — and it will likely come during your lifetime — your nuanced understanding of the Erie doctrine will not matter a damn. The Imperator, as he conducts his judicial purges, will not be particularly interested in whether you are a strict textualist or more of a purposivist, and his Secret Police, once they have beaten down the door of your panic-room, are unlikely to order you to cold-recite the facts of Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Company in exchange for your life. Nor will the Resistance arrange to meet you at dawn in the swaying shadow of a dilapidated bridge, and there implore you to explain the dark secret of Chevron deference, for upon Chevron depends the fate of the revolution. So relax!

  1. Boston is a great town.

I strongly recommend that you spend no more than one hour a day in Cambridge. You are young! You are strong! Go join a drum circle in Boston Common. Challenge someone to bare-knuckle boxing at a Dropkick Murphys concert. Hijack a Duck Tour Boat and pursue terrified rent-a-kayakers up and down the Charles. Visit Modern Pastry in the North End, eat as many cannoli as you can, vomit on the plinth of Paul Revere’s statue, and then check out Mike’s Pastry across the street. Hide out in the Boston MFA at closing time, wait till everyone leaves, and then move all the mummies just a little bit out of their sarcophagi.

Don’t let The Reasonable Man get you down. Don’t let The Dead Hand write your story. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you work at WilmerHale, and the day after that you die.


Fenno has been a student at Harvard Law School since at least 1961. He has no current plans to graduate.
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