An Interview with I. Glenn Cohen ’03

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

The Record: What is the first thing you would want an incoming 1L to know before they start?

I. Glenn Cohen: You belong. There is a huge tendency to self-discount and to feel ill at ease. You come from probably being the most successful person in the milieau in which you grew up or in which you went to college, to suddenly being surrounded by a huge number of other high achievers, and for me, I feel this pretty acutely. I’m a first-gen student myself. Neither of my parents finished high school. I remember feeling hugely intimidated when I walked through the doors of this place. The fact of the matter is our admissions office is amazing. They truly do pick amazing people with something to contribute, and there are a million different ways to contribute. People tend to be at their worst when they are feeling the anxiety of not belonging or measuring up, and at their best when they feel there is a vibrant community to support them.

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Take Advantage of Opportunities to Learn at HLS

The world you have entered as 1Ls is both daunting and exhilarating. Daunting mostly because ours is a time of broken politics, and – as most of you no doubt already know – the legal and political systems are densely interwoven. Exhilarating because you’re embarking on an adventure of learning about the most challenging puzzles of the legal process and the most innovative ways of tackling them, the areas in which human rights and needs are most neglected or overridden and the most effective ways to contribute to solving the problems underlying such conditions. As you’ll soon discover, those puzzles mix questions about history with moral and ethical challenges; questions about economics and behavioral science with inquiries into the limits of precision, modeling, and quantification; questions about geopolitics with matters of justice both domestically and internationally.

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An Open Letter to the Class of 2021: On Mental Health

Welcome and congratulations, incoming 1Ls! We upperclassmen are excited to have you join us and begin contributing to the vibrant HLS community. As a rising 2L, I have 1L year fresh in my mind, and write on behalf of the Student Mental Health Association (SMHA) with five pieces of advice for you all at this commencement of your law school experience:

    1. If you feel overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. A 2016 study by the American Bar Association found that 17% of law students experience depression and 37% experience anxiety.  It is unfortunately common to feel overwhelmed at points during law school. You have to adjust to a new way of thinking and a new style of instruction. Many incoming students have been out of a classroom for years when they enter HLS. Some come with families, and all with relationships and obligations pulling in different directions. Whichever particular stressors affect you, remember that they are a product of your environment. Feeling stressed, sad, or confused is not an indication that you don’t belong here. It’s normal to have these feelings, and we hope to help students understand the ways that they can mitigate and manage them.
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Do Good and Do Good Well

Dear 1Ls, 

By now, you have presumably had your first encounter with the Socratic method. Regardless of your thoughts on it as a pedagogical tool, however, I encourage you not to consign the spirit of rigorous self-examination to the classroom, and to instead apply it to your beliefs on how to benefit your fellow creatures.

Socrates was, of course, famous for quipping that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. He would seek out those who claimed to know, and show them that they, in fact, did not. When I was in your place, I thought I knew how to do the most good with my law degree. I subscribed to the public interest orthodoxy that doing the most good after law school meant working for a public interest organization, or perhaps government, to advance Americans’ civil rights. Inspired by the legal heroes whose portraits adorn this campus, I dreamt of one day fighting the many injustices that still plague the United States, thereby bending the arc of the moral universe ever more slightly towards justice.

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Class of 2020, Welcome to HLS!

Dear 1Ls,

Welcome to Harvard Law School! You are about to begin your legal career in the most momentous era of recent memory.

As a lawyer and a law student, you will have the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. Whether in courts of law, in the halls of legislation, or in the public discourse, lawyers have changed and will change the course of history. Your path now joins that of so many others before you who have helped make our society what it is.

The links below contain pieces to help you navigate those difficulties and make the most of your 1L year. They contain a variety of viewpoints from a variety of people. Some of the advice here may be even be contradictory.

Nevertheless, we hope and think that this issue will inform, comfort, and maybe even inspire you. Know that you, your voice, and your actions can and will make a difference.

Again, welcome to HLS. We are so excited to have each of you join our readership and the legal community.

Sincerely,
Jim An, editor-in-chief

P.S. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @hlrecord to keep up with our latest stories and HLS news.

How to Make Professors Happy, Says a Professor by D. James Greiner, professor of law
Nervous 1Ls at Harvard Law School Should Open Up by Hector Grajeda ’18, vice president of communciations of La Alianza
Lean Into That Sense of Discomfort by Ariel Stone ’19 and Kamala Buchanan ’19, social chairs of Lambda
Making Time for What’s Important by Peter Im ’18 and Liz Gyori ’19, co-presidents of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association
Speak Now by Jim An ’18, editor-in-chief of The Record
Resist the Cult of Smart, Embrace the Call to Citizenship by Pete Davis ’18, online editor of The Record
Embrace Your Weirdness by Leilani Doktor ’19, president of the Native American Law Students Association
The Top 5 Pieces of Advice for 1Ls by Aya Gruber ’97, visiting professor
Five First-Year Survival Tips by Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, visiting professor
Be Yourself – It’s What Got You Here by Briana Williams ’18, communications director of the Black Law Students Association
Navigating the Gothic Castle of 1L by Jennifer Reynolds ’07, visiting professor
1Ls, Prioritize Mental Health by Ariella Michal Medows, health and educational consultant
Keeping the Real World in Mind by Kate Thoreson ’19, deputy editor-in-chief of The Record
Welcome Jewish Students! by Gideon Palte ’18 and Benjamin Helfgott ’19, president and community engagement chair of the Jewish Law Students Association
Take Work Seriously, Not Yourself by Sarah Catalano ’19, vice president for membership of the Federalist Society
Remember Your Values at HLS by Lauren Stanley ’18, president of the American Constitution Society
Be Yourself and Find Your Voice by Dalia Deak ’19 and Niku Jafarnia ’19, co-presidents of the Middle Eastern Law Students Association
Remember Your Hobbies by Mary Goetz ’19, co-president of the Chamber Music Society
Female Leadership Matters by Isabel Finley ’19, vice president of the Women’s Law Association

 

Female Leadership Matters

On behalf of the Women’s Law Association, welcome to HLS! I am one of the Vice Presidents of the WLA, which is one of the largest student organizations on campus. Our 22 committees encompass everything from promoting professional development by connecting members with alumnae, to conducting research on the status of gender equity at HLS, to building community through social events. Our mission statement defines the WLA as “a diverse, non-partisan, feminist organization committed to building a vibrant and supportive community for women during their time at Harvard Law School and beyond.” Accordingly, we “advocate for gender equity and bolster women in pursuit of their professional and personal goals. We empower our members with academic resources, mentorship, and professional development opportunities while providing members and alumnae with a lasting community.”

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Remember Your Hobbies

Welcome to HLS! The HLS Chamber Music Society is a network of musicians at HLS and in the Harvard community. We aim to create a community of music-loving people and to provide opportunities for people to maintain their musical interests amidst the rigors of school. We are here as a resource for you, to help you find other musicians, to put you in contact with people and groups seeking musicians, and to inform you of musical events that may be of interest to you.

Our advice to all of you as you start law school is to keep doing something you love during your 1L year (and beyond!). Whether it’s playing music or something else that brings you joy, do something that will give you perspective as you navigate this crazy year. We found that continuing to play music helped us bring a bit of balance to our hectic 1L lives. It might feel like you don’t have time for it, but you’d be surprised how staying healthy and balanced can actually make you more productive in your work.

Feel free to contact us with any questions about musical life at HLS — you can find us at the student orgs fair or send an email to our presidents, Amy Chyao (achyao@jd19.law.harvard.edu) and me, Mary Goetz, (mgoetz@jd19.law.harvard.edu). We look forward to meeting you!

Be Yourself and Find Your Voice

The best pieces of advice for “surviving” 1L is 1) do not feel like you have to follow the herd and 2) stay in tune with yourself.

To the first, there will be masses of first years (and second and third years) headed in the same direction, sometimes with the encouragement of faculty and advisors. You do not have to blindly follow them. You are a valuable person who is here for a reason, and whatever that reason may be, you have lived and have experienced, and you know better than anybody else how to be the best you can be this year.

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Remember Your Values at HLS

Welcome to HLS! My name is Lauren Stanley and I am the president of the Harvard Law School chapter of the American Constitution Society, more commonly known as ACS. We are an organization of progressive lawyers and law students who seek to promote individual rights and liberty, genuine equality, and access to justice.

The first year of law school is challenging and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of advice about reading, outlining, study groups, etc. But in my experience, there is more than one way to be a good law student and certainly more than one way to be successful here. A lot of law school happens outside the classroom, and my advice is to 1) find your people, 2) be generous with your time, and 3) remember why you came to law school in the first place.

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Take Work Seriously, Not Yourself

Reminiscing about and perhaps overanalyzing the first year of law school lends itself to identifying valuable lessons learned. These tips range from time-management minutiae to big-picture generalities.

Watch Legally Blonde and The Paper Chase before you arrive

Not because these films provide great insight into life at HLS, but because attending class will ruin those movies forever. After sitting in class for one day, I realized that the school doesn’t resemble the background shots of either movie. Legally Blonde was filmed in Los Angeles and only a few scenes of The Paper Chase were filmed on campus. Additionally, unless you’re fortunate enough to have Bruce Mann for Property, the professors are not nearly as intimidating as one would expect based on these films. In fact, professors are approachable and helpful — especially during office hours. Further, my sectionmates were remarkably kind. I was expecting invite-only study groups but instead found people generously sharing outlines and class notes. The films will be ruined forever. Watch them before it’s too late.

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Welcome Jewish Students!

Dear New Students,

Welcome to Harvard Law School! On behalf of the Harvard Jewish Law Students’ Association (JLSA), we would like to congratulate you on joining the Harvard Law School (HLS) community. JLSA is a cultural, social, educational, and religious organization that reflects the varied interests of the Jewish student community of HLS.

JLSA organizes a wide variety of activities throughout the school year. Our annual events include a Law School Shabbat Dinner, a Bagel Brunch, and religious and social events that pertain to Jewish holidays. We also host many notable speakers, both from the Harvard community and elsewhere. Please visit our website at hlsorgs.com/jlsa to review our upcoming events, sign up for our weekly email newsletter, and learn more about our organization.

HLS is an amazing place with a vast array of incredible resources and opportunities. We have a great lineup of events and programming scheduled for the upcoming school year, and we look forward to meeting you. If you would like more information about JLSA or Jewish resources in the Cambridge area, please email us at jlsa@mail.law.harvard.edu.

Keeping the Real World in Mind

Welcome to Harvard Law School! If you’re anything like me, even next year you’ll probably still be shaking your head in disbelief as a 2L.

I could give you general life advice, like “don’t judge people by the first impression,” or “say what you need to say,” or “don’t buy polyester suits or plastic shoes,” but those are easy enough, so I’ll give you some longer ones. Like all terrible things, my advice comes in threes.

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1Ls, Prioritize Mental Health

Congratulations on your acceptance to Harvard, and best of luck as you embark on the new exciting chapter of your life. Whether it was Atticus Finch or Elle Woods who inspired you to pursue a career in law, you have successfully achieved high academic scores and made your families proud. While you bask in this hard-earned euphoric glow and prepare for the first week of classes, it is equally important to focus on maintaining your well-being, and to develop an awareness and action plan to promote your mental health throughout the next stages of your career.

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Navigating the Gothic Castle of 1L

Make a List

Many law students are surprised to discover that the law is not as settled as they thought it would be. As it turns out, the law is an ungainly and ever-changing accretion of precedent, opinions, rules, and custom, not entirely beholden to context and personalities but also not independent from interpretation and ideological bents. Much of what you study requires an understanding of things you have not yet studied, but because you cannot study everything at once, you are always operating in an incomplete, contingent state.

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Be Yourself – It’s What Got You Here

1. Breathe 

You’ve just been accepted into one of the top law schools in the country. Chances are, you’re feeling a whirlwind of emotions — from disbelief to excitement and anxiety. My emotions were all over the place! 

I know that it can be overwhelming and even (yes, I’ll be the first to admit) quite intimidating. You’re entering a student body, largely comprised of —  wait for it —  people who are just like you! Whereas you’ve created quite an impressive admissions profile and are used to excelling and being at the top of your class,  now you’re in a section of 80 individuals who’ve been acclimated to similarly diligent academic performances. 

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