Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zenterview: Harvard Law School from 1L to Law Review

Our second follow-up interview is with a reader who just finished her 1L experience at Harvard Law School, choosing Cambridge over New Haven and New York. She was recently accepted to the HLS Law Review, so we are excited to post her first interview about her law school experience.
  • What one thing do you wish that someone had told you about at the beginning of your first semester, but didn't?
If you have no background in law (I didn't), you may be dismayed to find how slow your reading and note-taking are at first because almost everything you're learning is unfamiliar. Don’t worry—the learning curve is steep. Reading gets faster and easier after just a few weeks; similarly, you pick up pretty quickly what's relevant and what's not for note-taking.
  • How was the transition from the working world back into academia, and law classes specifically?
The workload was overwhelming, especially the first semester, so the most difficult adjustment was the drastic reduction in the amount of free time I had. I was grateful to have a supportive spouse who pretty much took over running the household.
  • How would you compare and contrast undergraduate courses to law courses?
The most obvious difference is the use of the Socratic method in law school; I certainly never experienced anything like cold calling in undergraduate courses. What this meant for me was that I had to do all of the reading before every class, which I didn't always do as an undergraduate. Of course, there were people who didn't do the reading but still came to class and managed to bluff their way through a cold call (or not).
  • What do you think about your school's grading system?
HLS’s adoption of an H/P/LP grading system was one of the primary factors in my decision to turn down YLS. Three categories are plenty--you don't need to be agonizing over whether you're getting an A- or a B+, and instructors don't want to (and arguably can't) make such fine distinctions. Plus, now potential employers have to pay more attention to who you are and what you've done; there's no GPA by which to judge you.
  • What extracurricular activities did you take part in during your first year? What else do you wish you could have done at the law school?
The only activity I took part in outside class was a journal, and I didn't start that until the spring semester. I was accepted to the general board of a journal that reflected my political and intellectual interests, and I really enjoyed it. There was some subciting involved, of course, but we also got to read and discuss lots of really interesting submissions, both in small roundtables and in big general meetings.

I also wanted to participate in a service organization, but all of the court times conflicted with my class schedule, which, as a 1L, I had little control over.
  • How did your first semester compare to your second semester?
The second semester was vastly better than the first. I had the same number of courses, but I got to pick two electives (one completely open and the other from among seven international law courses specifically for 1Ls), both of which were extremely interesting and one of which turned out to require little work outside class, even though it was an upper-level course. Plus, LRW became somewhat less demanding the second semester, partly because I had a better idea of what I was doing and partly because we had only one big assignment, an appellate brief, which we worked on in pairs. And, finally, my grades improved from just average to quite good.
  • What are you doing this summer?
I am working for a private public interest law office in Boston. The position involves mostly research and writing. I've worked on a variety of writing assignments, from basic (internal) legal memos to a civil complaint to memos in support of or opposition to various motions. I have also gotten to observe several types of federal court proceedings, including hearings on a motion to dismiss (we won), on a determination of attorneys' fees (it's complicated), and on two class action settlements (both were preliminarily approved).
  • How did you secure the position?
I found it through HLS's public interest employer database. Other students who had worked there had reviewed the placement very favorably, and the subject matter matched my interests perfectly, so I submitted a cover letter and resume. The fact that the law office got me free for eight weeks (HLS gives everyone who wants it Summer Public Interest Funding) made me a pretty attractive candidate, I'm sure, and I was offered the position shortly after my interview in January.
  • What are you excited about when you return as a 2L?
I am very excited about Law Review, although I know it will require a good deal of my time. I am also looking forward to working in a clinical placement, which is something you can't do at HLS until you're a 2L.
  • Has your career trajectory changed or been clarified?
My job experience this summer has helped me to realize that I don't want to work in direct client services--not because I don't want to help people but, in fact, because I want to help LOTS of people at once. Providing direct services allows you to effect reform only incidentally and incrementally; I'd like to work on a wider scale, whether that means working for organizations that improve the system from without or working within the system itself.