Jeanne Tai, who influenced the careers of a generation of lawyers around the globe, retires

Woman with short gray hair wearing a navy blue sweater and purple shirt

Credit: Martha Stewart

Jeanne Tai, who as a senior administrator at the HLS Graduate Program and International Legal Studies has deeply influenced the careers of thousands of lawyers and legal academics around the world, will retire on June 15 after 24 years at Harvard Law School.

Tai, who joined HLS in 1997 and was named assistant dean of the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies in 2006 after serving as its director of admissions and financial aid, oversaw all its academic programs, admissions, financial aid, and policy matters. Her devotion to the students — assisting with questions about scholarly work, courses, adjusting to life in the U.S., and careers in the law — is remarkable, her colleagues and mentees say.

“I’m very grateful to Jeanne Tai for the exceptional contributions she’s made to the Graduate Program and to generations of students during her distinguished career at HLS,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. She has helped build a vibrant, collegial community of graduate students from around the world and helped countless students secure the financial and academic resources they needed to succeed here at HLS. She has also served as an invaluable mentor to students from their arrival on campus and throughout their careers.”

“HLS and our students have been blessed by Jeanne Tai’s leadership and presence these past 24 years,” said William P. Alford ’77, co-vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies and the Jerome A. and Joan L. Cohen Professor of Law. “Our graduate program is generally considered the best in legal education here and abroad, and nothing we have done would have been possible without her. She is extraordinarily talented, has bedrock integrity and excellent judgment, and is unbelievably dedicated to what is best for the school and our students.”

Among her many accomplishments, Tai played a central role in building the program’s commitment to need-based aid and to admissions without regard to a student’s resources. Tai was also instrumental in increasing the size and diversity of the graduate program’s applicant pool and, among other things, greatly expanding the countries of origin represented in the program.

Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01, S.J.D. ’03, co-vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies and the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, has known Tai since Blum was a student in the Graduate Program.  Tai “has steered the Graduate Program through good times and tough times, from the financial crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, always with passion, compassion, and wisdom,” said Blum.

“For me, Jeanne Tai is Harvard Law School. She was the first person I spoke with before I decided to attend HLS in 2000 and also made it possible for me to attend Harvard,” said Dr. Menaka Guruswamy LL.M. ’01, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India who will be arguing a case for marriage equality before the Delhi High Court. Tai “has been actively involved with picking the very finest students from all over the globe,” Guruswamy said. The LL.M. and S.J.D. students “make HLS what it is — a law school that shapes the international legal landscape all over our planet.”

At every significant point in Guruswamy’s career, “I have always reached out to Jeanne,” she said. If she prevails in the marriage equality case, Guruswamy added, “I very much hope Jeanne will be here whenever it is that I can finally get married in my country.”

Xiaoqian Hu S.J.D. ’19, who is from China and is an associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Law, emphasized that the HLS program has sent many more graduates into legal academia than any other S.J.D. program, with alumni teaching at top law schools around the world. From organizing colloquia to assisting students with the academic job market, Tai’s influence on the S.J.D. program is “enormous,” Hu said. “She dedicated her life to the Graduate Program and to our success, and to Harvard’s success.”

“I’m proud to see so many of the LL.M. and S.J.D. alums I’ve worked with go on to achieve so many great things, especially in public service and public sector work and in academia,” said Tai, a native of Hong Kong who holds a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and has taught modern Chinese literature in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Many of those students would have been unable to attend HLS without the financial aid it offered, Tai noted.

Tai said she is especially proud of increasing the number of students in the LL.M. class from developing countries, including those from sub-Saharan Africa. Tai’s generosity of spirit “was one of the reasons for my well-being and success while studying at Harvard,” said Nasredeen Abdulbari LL.M. ’08, the Minister of Justice in Sudan. “Her spirit, enthusiasm, vibrancy, and calm temper and personality never changed. She has remained the decent, kind, responsive, and helpful person I had met when I first arrived at Harvard as a student.”

“Jeanne has been a true lifeline for my academic and professional success,” said Mekonnen Ayano S.J.D. ‘16, who is from Ethiopia and will be teaching at SUNY Buffalo this fall. “I cannot overstate her influence on my work and life. She has been my generous mentor, coach, and true confidante.”