A conversation with John and Lynn Savarese

 John and Lynn Savarese

Credit: Lynn Savarese John and Lynn Savarese

John Savarese ’81 and Lynn Ashby Savarese ’81 met as first-year Harvard Law students after John had graduated from Harvard and Lynn from Mount Holyoke. But it wasn’t until a few years after graduating from HLS, when both were working in New York City—John as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Lynn as an associate with a Wall Street firm—that they became a couple, marrying in 1987. Over the years, the Savareses, whose three children are graduates of Harvard College, have remained very active in the life of HLS: They served as co-chairs of the HLS Annual Fund several years ago, and John is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, while Lynn has played a leadership role in Celebration 60 and earlier events celebrating women graduates.

Today, Lynn, who left law practice after five years to raise their family, is a professional photographer. One of her social justice photography projects, the “New York’s New Abolitionists” campaign to fight human trafficking and modern-day slavery, was exhibited at HLS last fall. She has taken formal portraits of several HLS faculty and alumni for the project, including Laurence Tribe ’66, Samantha Power ’99, and Charles Ogletree ’78. For the past 25 years, John has been a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where his experience in complex litigation and white-collar criminal cases includes major investigations arising out of the financial crisis of 2008 as well as accounting fraud, insider trading, and criminal antitrust allegations. Chair of the board of trustees of the Vera Institute of Justice and former president of the board of trustees of the Brearley School, both in New York City, he was a lecturer on law at HLS in the fall, teaching the course White Collar Criminal Law and Procedure.

How did you meet?

John: I will never forget the moment when Lynn walked into the first day of our first-year Civil Procedure—she was beautiful, smart and a little exotic, but she was also going out with someone else, as was I at the time. As a result, we were simply friends and acquaintances during law school.

Lynn: Our HLS classmate Kathleen Sullivan ’81 rightfully takes credit for reconnecting us in New York City. As a classmate, however, it did not escape my attention that John was brilliant, appealingly left-leaning, and insanely handsome, and I am very grateful to HLS for the initial introduction.

What were some high points of your time at HLS?

John: A few that stand out especially for me include serving as a research assistant to Professor Duncan Kennedy during the summer between my 1L and 2L years; Professor [Alvin] Warren’s federal income tax course—intensely demanding but also completely wonderful; and Professor [Laurence] Tribe’s Advanced Constitutional Law course—he was inspiring, brilliant, and always pushing the envelope of how to think about constitutional interpretation.

Lynn: Classes with Duncan Kennedy, Larry Tribe, and Roberto Unger [LL.M. ’70 S.J.D. ’76] were absolute high points. Never before or since have I enjoyed that kind of intellectual engagement and excitement. Discussions with classmates, especially when Kathleen Sullivan was present, were also extraordinary. Receiving a better-than-passing grade on my third-year paper from my adviser John Ely was also a high point, especially given the times he questioned the soundness of my thesis—that the 13th Amendment provides the best constitutional basis for recognizing a woman’s right to abortion—and the number of times he reminded me that I would need a passing grade from him in order to graduate.

Advancing human rights and social justice has been a primary concern of mine for decades. The three years spent at HLS focusing on fairness in myriad complex contexts helped fuel and shape this endeavor.

Lynn Savarese

How did HLS prepare you for your current work?

Lynn: Advancing human rights and social justice has been a primary concern of mine for decades. The three years spent at HLS focusing on fairness in myriad complex contexts helped fuel and shape this endeavor. Although I enjoy pursuing fine arts projects as well as some commercial work, much of my time as a photographer is spent helping not-for-profits further their missions through strategic photography projects. Recently, my “New Abolitionists” portraits were exhibited at a national judiciary conference held in NYC to address human trafficking, with the chief justices of almost half of the country’s state supreme courts in attendance.

John: HLS instilled habits of discipline and rigor, making sure that you really did all the necessary digging to understand an area of law, and that you not only dug deep but also roamed broadly in search of strategic angles and potential analogous areas that could provide support for an argument.

Why have you chosen to be actively involved in the life of HLS?

John: Lynn and I feel profoundly indebted to HLS. Not only did it bring us together, but it also has given us habits of mind and shared interests that have enriched our lives. We also care passionately that the school remains available to students in need of financial aid, that it maintains a diverse student body, that it continues to be on the cutting edge of legal research and scholarship, and that it continues to be able to offer the extraordinarily broad array of courses, clinics, and research opportunities that it is rightly famous for.

Lynn: I sincerely believe that there is no other institution better positioned to cultivate leaders possessing the skills and means necessary to effectively address the full spectrum of major challenges facing us at home and worldwide. A ­cursory look at the number of alums who go on to become key decision-makers in all branches of government both here and abroad—as well as profoundly influential scholars, social justice leaders, community leaders, business leaders, and leaders of the bar—makes it clear that HLS plays a unique and extraordinarily impactful role in the world. Given HLS’s mission to provide its students with the training, skills, inspiration, and confidence needed to take on these many critically important roles, I can’t imagine another institution more worthy of my loyalty and support.

Could you describe how HLS has changed since you were students here?

John: The changes, in my view, have been absolutely all for the good. Indeed, the current law school is almost unrecognizable compared with the school we attended over 30 years ago. Everything from the physical space—imagine, comfortable sofas and fireplaces!—such comforts were utterly unimaginable in the late 1970s when we arrived. The food is approximately 1,000 percent better. And, far more importantly, the space available for student-led organizations; the proliferation of clinical education; the increase in the size, intellectual breadth, and diversity of the faculty; and the dazzling variety of courses are all wonderful to see, and important for all of us to support.

Lynn: There is now a much broader, deeper, richer curriculum; smaller class sizes permitting more meaningful interaction; an amazing proliferation of wide-ranging legal clinics; vastly improved physical facilities that encourage and facilitate student interaction and group endeavors; and far more generous financial assistance for students while on campus and post-graduation. Our recent HLS deans not only have transformed the law school; they have transformed the role of dean itself, by seeking far more active engagement and genuine dialogue with students.

What is your greatest hope for HLS going forward?

John: That it continues to be a stimulating laboratory for new ideas; that it continues to be a training ground for future leaders across a broad array of disciplines; and that it continues to stretch to do new things, teach in new ways, introduce new generations to bold ways of thinking about the law and society.

Lynn: My greatest hope is that HLS remains committed to its ambitious mission and that alums continue to provide the support needed for its fulfillment, so that HLS continues to be a force for good in the world.