Always treacherous to start out on an uncool note, but here goes: I had a blast in my 1L year at law school. To be more precise, I had a blast in my 1L year at the Harvard Law School. And what I aimed to get out of it at the cusp of the new school year, in those muggy early September summer days, was something beyond a terrific exposure to the fundamentals of law and legal reasoning (check!). It was an improvement in my worldliness. I was craving greater worldliness, believing then, correctly in retrospect, that one of the great assets of coming to the extraordinary educational bazaar that is HLS is widening in spectacular (and often unexpected) ways one’s view of the world.
Before turning to the “wise counsel” portion of this essay, let me begin with some autobiography: I came to law school from Southern California, having been educated at a college which I soon learned was unknown to every one of my classmates. A first gen college grad before that was a thing (and so I took care to not to confess this), I trekked by train from L.A. to Boston, this my first journey to the mysterious east coast, and showed up just before the first day of law school with apprehension for sure, but with the excitement that comes from embarking upon a grand new adventure. Harvard Law was a new, exciting, intense world, the pieces of which I could scarcely apprehend with my own very different experience in a much more limited world, so far away to me in every meaningful sense.
Worldliness comes in many forms, and I encourage all of you to think about absorbing new experiences. The wide, diverse, and bafflingly far-flung world of The Law will give you a good start on this experience-grabbing. And do not neglect to see the ways in which law is embedded in, and reflective of, our best and worse perspectives on politics and social policy (which is a bit of a spoiler alert for my spring course in Leg-Reg where I will happily to get to see many of you).
As a 1L, your worldview will steadily expand as you spend time with classmates and teachers, and find in their own experiences, their journeys, their perspectives, and the many qualities which has brought you all together to Cambridge. In its diversity, in its intensity, and in its size and scale, Harvard Law is an important part of the world. And while I cannot promise you that Harvard Law will rock your world (whatever exactly that means!), it will surely expand your world in meaningful, and perhaps unimaginable ways. So, use this remarkably busy year to increase your worldliness and, with it, increase the worldliness of your community.
Whatever your background and experiences, you will bring new experiences to this HLS world and take new experiences from those around you. My sense of wonder at my extraordinarily skilled law professors and what they could inspire in me was matched by an equal wonder in the incredibly interesting classmates with whom I learned and laughed and whose support and advice were critical to a poor Latino kid from SoCal.
The quest for worldliness is an eclectic one, but it need not be evanescent. Think of your time as 1L law students as focused not only the accumulation of knowledge, but also the accumulation of experiences. Experiential learning has become something of a bromide, a curricular commitment to getting some modicum of exposure to the real world along with book learning. But the entirety of your educational journey in this precious first year can be experiential. Some specific advice about how to make this so:
Go deeper in your study of cases and statutes and regulations. Time permitting, learn more about the people involved and, where the principles and source materials are somewhat more abstract, reflect upon how this particular law, legal rule, and judicial outcome grew of a real dispute or, as in a piece of legislation, a real set of concerns that apparently warranted an action of our busy (and often fractured) government. To a great degree, enhanced perspective, and what I am calling here worldliness, can be found in your course materials;
Occasionally leave your 1L bubble and get to know students from across the Law School. 2Ls and 3Ls for sure, but also the remarkable group of foreign LLM students, individuals who have studied law across the globe and who bring diverse perspectives to this mix of cultures;
See what is happening outside of the four corners of the law, maybe by attending a lecture elsewhere across the Harvard campus, or somewhere in the larger Boston area (rumor has it that there a bunch of colleges in these parts). Law is embedded in larger social frameworks, and it draws upon lessons and insights from other disciplines and fields. It is one thing to be told that in a law class, but it is another to experience this by actually going outside the Law School and seeing how law is truly of and in society;
Reflect your experiences at HLS through some extracurricular writing. There are myriad opportunities for expression made available through blogs, social media, modern journalism outlets in which the perspectives of a 1L HLS student are interesting and valuable. (And, of course, the Harvard Law Record is one terrific medium of expression). Worldliness means engaging actively in the world, and you can do that by finding and expressing your voice. I enjoyed writing haiku during my first year, a habit that I have carried along ever since my IL year. Ok, since you asked . . .
Forums for odious disputes
Trials by ordeal!
Beware of ipse dixit
Justice lurks nearby
Classmates converge in breaktime
HLS can contribute to your worldliness in ways that you will impact you forever as a citizen of the world. You are at a very special place. I urge you to make the most of it!