From the Dean:

Making Meaning

 

The past year was among the hardest our Harvard Law School community has faced in recent memory. It was also one in which our students, staff, and faculty showed exceptional resilience, commitment, creativity, and generosity.

Like so many others, members of our community faced great challenges arising from the COVID pandemic, including illness and loss, significant new child or elder care responsibilities, and, for some of our students, learning remotely from halfway around the globe. This year also brought sharp focus to so many grave and persistent injustices: racism, abuse of power, inequality, poverty, intolerance, threats to democracy. All of this has touched our community deeply and has also highlighted the important role law and lawyers play in furthering the rule of law, equal justice, and democracy.

Even with all of the challenges they faced, our students committed themselves fully to the important work of learning and of meeting the growing needs of vulnerable clients. Our faculty, too, worked hard to adapt the distinctive elements of law school classroom and clinical pedagogy to the best practices of online teaching. At the same time, they continued to dedicate themselves to teaching, research, and new initiatives that confront the urgent issues of our time. The Institute to End Mass Incarceration, featured in this edition, is one such effort. And our staff have worked tirelessly and thoughtfully to sustain and further the law school’s mission. I am filled with gratitude and pride for what our community has achieved and for its members’ hard work and commitment.

Looking ahead as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we ask: How do we make meaning of this most difficult year? Ours is a profession of service and contribution. A common passion I see in our students year after year is a deep commitment, in many different ways and with many goals in view, to doing something larger than themselves, to making the world always better. That aspiration has never been more evident than in this past year.

In the time of COVID, when navigating school and life was just plain harder, one might have thought the extraordinary number of service hours typically performed by Harvard Law School students would fall off, at least a bit. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. Members of the J.D. Class of 2021 each did an average of 662 pro bono hours during their time here. That’s a new record, and it represents a cumulative total of 393,384 hours of service for this class alone. A record 91% of graduating J.D.s took at least one clinic, and our LL.M.s – pursuing their studies from every corner of the world – enrolled in clinics at a 50% higher rate than usual.

In a world that feels broken, with so many problems to fix, your voice, and your service, and those of our newest graduates, will be crucial.

This commitment to service is not only inspiring; it is vital. This is, in part, because our newest alumni, like all of you, have chosen to join a profession that is dedicated to guarding the rule of law, checking abuse of power, giving life to equal justice under law, and preserving the hard-fought right to govern ourselves. It is also because, in a time of division — when people aren’t listening, when they cannot agree on facts much less policy — we lawyers have a special role to play. Our work consists of facts and reason and argument, and we cannot make our best case unless we listen generously to the other side’s. In a world that feels broken, with so many problems to fix, your voice, and your service, and those of our newest graduates, will be crucial.

Thank you for all you have done and all you will do to make meaning of this challenging year, for bringing your best selves to the worst problems, and for showing once again the importance of the service lawyers and the law can render, especially when times are hardest. We will watch with pride as our newest graduates take their places by your side, among the generations of great Harvard lawyers and leaders who have dedicated themselves to making progress and to doing the always unfinished work of advancing the ideals of law and justice.

John F. Manning '85