By Olivia Clarke
As an editor of this publication I found it to be almost my duty during my recent trip to Boston to visit Harvard Law School.
On an unusually rainy, chilly day in June I made the trek on the "T" to Harvard Law School. No one recommended, encouraged or required me to visit. But, to me, it always seems like the first law school anyone can name, whether familiar with the legal profession or not. Movies like "The Paper Chase," "The Firm" and "Legally Blonde" helped introduce popular culture to this law school. And Chicago's very own lawyer-author Scott Turow wrote a book about his first year at Harvard Law School and how it influenced his career.
Many local lawyers proudly reveal during interviews that they graduated from Harvard Law School — both for its historical tradition as well as its present-day reputation for creating skilled lawyers who often become major rainmakers, litigators, law firm leaders and politicians. Some even become president, i.e., President Barack Obama.
But I would brag too if I graduated from such a high-achieving school. Harvard Law's Class of 2013 looks like this: 7,610 applications received; 833 earned admission and 561 enrolled. The class' GPA 25th to 75th percentile range is 3.78 to 3.96 and its LSAT 25th to 75th percentile range is 171 to 176. (The most points a student can get on the LSAT: 180).
Founded in 1817, Harvard Law School says it's the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States. It educates about 1,900 students each school year.
Harvard Law reports that:
- Six of nine current U.S. Supreme Court justices studied there.
- Seven U.S. solicitors general graduated from there.
- 12 Harvard Law grads served as U.S. governors.
- 149 current federal judges are Harvard Law graduates.
I hoped during my visit and in subsequent conversations to discuss the connection between Harvard Law and Chicago — the obvious connection being Obama who graduated from there and practiced and lived in Chicago. But I knew that many more Chicago lawyers claim Harvard Law as their alma mater.
David B. Wilkins, Harvard Law's vice dean for global initiatives on the legal profession and faculty director of the program on the legal profession, said many people attribute the law school's popularity to "either being the oldest or one of the oldest law schools in America and it's one of the largest. There is a large and longstanding alumni base of terrific lawyers and I think you're proud to be part of the school. It's also a law school that's played an important role in the model of legal education today."
Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean from 1870 to 1895, believed, according to the law school, that the study of law should be an interactive and disciplined form of education, where teachers directly challenged students, and through which they learned to analyze for themselves. Today, this method is called the Socratic method.
"If you think of the Socratic method, Christopher Columbus Langdell was … one of those who certainly pioneered that and gets credit for that," Wilkins said.
My first introduction to the Socratic method was not in a law school classroom, rather it was during an interview I conducted with a former dean from one of the Chicago law schools when working on a story for Chicago Lawyer . He peppered each question I asked him with a series of questions that questioned why I asked the question. I can only imagine what that experience would be like every day.
Wilkins said Harvard wants to help mold a new model of legal education, one that includes regular discussion on globalization and international law, changing regulations and legislation and the importance of problem-solving and working as a team.
"There are lots of innovative things going on at Harvard and we hope these things will be important in reshaping legal education not just in the United States, but around the world," he said. "Much of legal education has remained relatively unchanged for the longest period of time.
"If Christopher Columbus Langdell walked into a law school of the late 20th or early 21st century he would recognize a lot about the curriculum and the legal education. And that's quite different frankly from most other professional school programs. Medical school education, business education have been revamped a few times just in the last 50 years. And this is, I think, the first real major rethinking of legal education certainly since the introduction of critical education in the 1960s or negotiation training of the '70s or '80s."
Wilkins said he considers Chicago to be a vibrant legal community and one of the most studied legal communities in the country, due in part to the location of the American Bar Association, but also because of Chicago's label of being the quintessential American city.
"I think we can learn a lot about what's going on in the legal community in general by looking at what's going on in Chicago," said Wilkins, who is from Chicago. "I'm very proud to be part of that community and I look forward to building more bridges between what we are doing at Harvard with Chicago."
Jack S. Levin, a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis, not only graduated from Harvard Law, but also served for six years on the law school's visiting committee and has taught there part-time for the past 15 years.
"Shortly after I graduated someone asked me if I enjoyed Harvard Law School and after a moment's thought I said, 'Well, it was a little bit like having the measles. It wasn't all that much fun at the time when there was so much work and studying to do, but when I was done I knew I would never have to do it again,' " said Levin, a 1961 Harvard Law graduate.
All joking aside, Levin said he's pleased with his decision. Harvard taught him how to think like a lawyer and how to consider an array of substantive legal topics, he said. He also got exposure to top legal minds and earned a top clerkship position with the chief judge of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.
"Several years later my contacts with Harvard caused the solicitor general of the United States, Archibald Cox, to call and offer me a position as his assistant in Washington, D.C., which I accepted and then remained on as assistant to his successor, Thurgood Marshall," he said. "While the professors I knew when I was there have retired, my connections with the law school have enabled me to meet their successors and to continue to have a strong relationship with the equally great people who have become deans and professors of the law school."
Craig Martin, co-chairman of the litigation department at Jenner & Block, said he decided to attend Harvard Law because it's the best school in the country.
"I think the school obviously has a reputation and mystique to it and ultimately what the school does is it produces a lot of very high-quality, high-integrity lawyers who are necessary for our legal system to work and probably for other legal systems to work," said Martin, a 1988 Harvard Law graduate. "That is probably the school's greatest contribution to society.
"Harvard opens opportunities to anywhere in the country and probably anywhere in the world. It allows you to not foreclose on opportunities. Whereas other schools tend to be more regional or local, Harvard's scope and breadth of scope is national and international at this point."
Martin said Harvard taught him that the law is about people. It impacts real people and real circumstances.
Some of his favorite law professors included Arthur Miller, who taught civil procedure; Alan Dershowitz, who taught criminal law; Victor Brudney and Oliver Williamson, who taught an international governance class; Charles Ogletree, who taught trial advocacy; and Derrick Bell, who taught constitutional law.
In addition to his legal education, Martin said the other important part of his time there was that he met his wife, Laura, at a dinner party at the school. Laura Keidan Martin practices at Katten Muchin Rosenman.
His firm, Jenner & Block, also maintains a strong connection to Harvard Law because of the firm's leaders. A study room in Harvard's Wasserstein Hall is now known as the "Jenner & Block Study Lounge in Memory of Jerold S. Solovy," a Harvard Law alumni and former law firm leader who died this year.
Laura Keidan Martin, a 1989 Harvard Law graduate, applied to four law schools: Michigan, Berkeley, Harvard and Yale. But she said she wanted to attend Harvard Law because it offered a mix of academic experiences and opportunities to network with professors and students.
"The most surprising was that I didn't feel like it was the paper chase," she said. "I made many very, very close friends who I stay in touch with to this day. People can get caught up in the paper chase aspect. But I also find that there are people there who enjoy going out, who have a play-hard, work-hard mentality."
She said a Harvard Law education gives new lawyers an initial advantage during interviews because of the presumption that Harvard graduates possess a certain academic aptitude and a certain ability to succeed. The alumni connections also help when it comes to mentoring and client development, she said.
"Every year about 20 to 30 people start out in Chicago from Harvard," she said. "For my class, about 20 people settled here."
Stuart Berkson, a DLA Piper partner and global chairman of its' Latin American practice, said Harvard Law was always a part of his plan.
"I always had it in my mind that if I was going to law school then I was going to Harvard Law School. Period," said Berkson, who graduated from the school in 1980. "But I certainly believe that there are many, many law schools that provide a wonderful education and equally good training.
"For me, it was a great choice. I thought it was intellectually stimulating. I learned a tremendous amount. It really does teach you a way of thinking, which is wonderful."
Berkson said he still utilizes the lessons he learned in his 1L contracts class and an international business transactions class he took as a 3L influenced the career path he chose.
"It's clear that all these institutions are eye-opening," he said. "They provide a great grounding for you as a lawyer and as a person. I highly recommend law school. It's something that's useful in your life no matter what you do. I think the training is invaluable."
Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow said, "Harvard Law School is in many ways the first and most influential law school. There is some debate of who was first, Harvard or Yale."
Minow said she attributes this reputation to Langdell's contribution to legal education curriculum, as well as the size of the school, and its education of such a large number of legal professors.
She said many of the Harvard law professors either attended school in Chicago or grew up in Chicago. She is the daughter of Newton Minow, who works at Sidley Austin in Chicago and has led a very prominent career in legal and political arenas.
"Having grown up in Chicago I feel grateful for learning to have a strong sense of the possibility of civic engagement," she said. "I also have a gratitude to the city of Chicago for contributing to my own appreciation of diversity. Studs Terkel was someone I both knew and someone whose work influenced me."
She said Chicago also taught her to possess unpretentious openness to strangers she meets, which she said, "is so much a signature of Chicago. I find it's present in the rise of our students from Chicago and in our colleagues and it's something I'm glad to have part of my own life."