‘I felt so strongly that this was the right place’

Jackson Beard, a graduating J.D. student, has had a passion for the law since she was 14

Jackson Beard ’22 has known she wanted to be a lawyer since she was 14 — and she can recall the exact moment that set her on her path to Harvard Law School and her future career.

It was during a high school history class, when Beard’s teacher was giving a lesson on international war crimes and the International Criminal Court. “I remember being shocked and horrified by what had happened in the past, and what was continuing to happen,” she says. “I approached my teacher asking, ‘Well, what do we do about this? We know who is responsible for so much of what has happened, so what are the consequences?’”

Beard, who will graduate on May 26, says her teacher told her that the courts were one avenue used to hold war criminals accountable — but that justice could still sometimes be elusive. For Beard, that was not good enough. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought it would put me on a track to do something about it,” she says.

A proud native Chicagoan — she was born and reared on the city’s Near West Side – Beard studied international relations as an undergraduate at Stanford University, where she was elected student body president. There, she helped promote mental health and wellness, and pushed for better sexual violence policies and practices at the school.

All the while, Beard continued to think about law school. One, in particular.

“I only applied to Harvard Law School. I remember talking to my dad, and he said, ‘Why would you only apply to one school? Especially if that one school was Harvard?’ But I don’t do well with choices. I know that about myself,” she jokes. “I also felt so strongly that this was the right place. I liked the size of the school. I wanted to be near a real city. And it had the things that I wanted in terms of opportunities, types of people — people with really broad interests.”

Beard’s bet paid off — she was admitted, and she says she knew immediately that Harvard Law was the right choice. “There is this mystique about law school and all these rumors about your 1L year being difficult, but I really enjoyed my big doctrinal classes. Everything was new. Everything was interesting. My professors were just so brilliant. My classmates were so smart.”

In addition to exploring an array of classes — “I don’t like to pigeonhole myself,” she notes — Beard says working in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic shaped her view of litigation and client advocacy. “It’s been inspiring to have clients who are open and vulnerable with someone like me, who started off as a total stranger,” she says. “It was one of the best parts of my law school experience, and in fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the best experiences of my adult life so far.”

Working in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic … was one of the best parts of my law school experience … I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the best experiences of my adult life so far.

Outside of her coursework, Beard has been a member of the Black Law Students Association and the Women’s Law Association, and she assisted with submissions to the International Law Journal. But she says her most significant commitment has been as an editor of the Harvard Law Review for the past two years. “One reason I really enjoyed it is the sense of community,” she says, adding that she appreciated the opportunity to meet and work with students from other class years and sections. “It’s a relatively small group of people who are doing a lot of work together, and you naturally become close.”

Law Review gave Beard the chance to help steer the direction of legal scholarship and shape the broader conversation around important issues. “We get to think about what ideas to elevate, what should be on people’s minds,” she says. “We get to curate a view of what’s important within the legal academy, and what law students and lawyers should be excited about.”

Beard also enjoyed writing pieces of her own, on topics as diverse as asylum policy for victims of gender-based violence and philosophical questions about the Supreme Court’s institutional legitimacy. “One piece focused on the recent tendency of the Court to issue unanimous opinions on very narrow issues of law. In other words, situations where the question is important enough for the Court to hear, but the issue is narrow such that it gets all the justices to sign onto the decision. I wrote about whether that was a positive trend.”

Last spring, Beard says she undertook a critical task for Law Review: designing the competition to select the next volume of editors. “That was one of the more meaningful parts of my law school experience. It was interesting to think about how to build a competition that was engaging and fair, and that gave people a sense of what awaits them if they join the Law Review community — a community that I care about.”

In her spare time, Beard, who describes herself as an “avid coffee drinker with a massive sweet tooth,” says she has enjoyed exploring Cambridge and Boston’s restaurants, bakeries, and other offerings. “Another perk of being in Boston and on Harvard’s campus is that there are a ton of opportunities to visit different museums.”

After graduation, Beard says she will clerk for a year for Judge Jia M. Cobb ’05 of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — a decision she made only after finding a judge for whom she is truly excited to work. Then she plans to move to New York City to work for Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a corporate firm. “Corporate law is interesting to me because, at its core, it’s about representation, authority, and how to best accommodate the interests of people impacted by corporate action.”

Beard says her area of focus may be different than she had imagined as a 14-year-old, but she hopes to bring that early interest in justice and advocacy to her future work. “That spirit of wanting to make an impact on someone’s life, and to pursue what strikes me as just and right, remains,” she says.