Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan ’86 shared lessons learned from her career and offered a glimpse into the Court’s private world in a talk with HLS Dean Martha Minow.
During their wide-ranging conversation, which took place on Sept. 8 before an overflow crowd at Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall, the former and current deans engaged in easy banter about Kagan’s stint as solicitor general and her experience on the Court.
Kagan’s comments ranged from insight into the Court’s inner workings and procedure to light-hearted anecdotes, such as how she and Justice Stephen Breyer ’64 played a violent video game in Breyer’s chambers to inform their opinions in a 2011 case ruling that video game makers enjoy First Amendment protection.
Kagan, known for the skill and clarity of her opinions, stressed to students the importance that they learn not just to think about law, but how to write about law. “Learning writing is the thing that will reap benefits over and over and over again for the rest of your career,” she said.
She also encouraged 1Ls to get to know really well at least one professor, and to understand that their peers could teach them at least as much as their professors. “So get your head out of the books sometimes and make really good friendships,” she said.
Kagan told students to “soak it in. I loved the first year of law school,” she said. “Although there were plenty of times I thought it was too hard for me.”
Kagan served as Solicitor General of the United States from 2009 to 2010, and before that as dean of Harvard Law School from 2003 to 2009. She also served for four years in the Clinton Administration, as associate counsel to the President and then as deputy assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.
Kagan has returned to campus many times since joining the Court in 2010. For the past several years, she has led a Fall reading group at Harvard Law School that examines a series of decisions from the Court’s previous term.