Dear Class of 2015,
Congratulations on completing your first semester of law school. Here are a couple things for you to keep in mind as we approach the time for grades to be released:
First, you are at Harvard Law School! Enough said.
Next, grades are important, of course, but they aren’t everything. HLS offers all kinds of engaging and robust opportunities that are invaluable for cultivating lawyering skills, encouraging innovation, building relationships, and expanding our horizons. Work hard at your coursework, but get involved outside of the classroom too.
And a few more things worth noting:
Former Dean Elena Kagan received several B’s during law school, especially her first year. She went on to become the first female dean of Harvard Law School, the U.S. Solicitor General, and the 112th Supreme Court Justice.
Tax Law Professor Daniel Halperin received his worst law school grade in: tax.
Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove received a Property exam back that had a note from the professor saying “this is exactly what I warned you not to do”—followed by her lowest grade since kindergarten. She went on to work at a top law firm before becoming a dean at Harvard.
Professor Joseph Singer earned a B- in Property. After graduating, he clerked, worked at a law firm, and has written one of the leading casebooks and treatises on—wait for it—Property. He has also authored two theoretical books on property and teaches Property courses at Harvard.
Professor Jeannie Suk received her worst grade in law school—and ever—in Criminal Law. She went on to practice and research in criminal law. No employer has ever asked about her grade, and her Criminal Law professor has remained a powerful mentor and reference for her throughout her career. “I care much more about students’ preparation and performance in a course throughout a long semester than about performance on one timed exam taken on one day,” she said.
Professor Jim Greiner received his worst grade on the exam he felt best about after finishing. And he nonetheless was retained as a research assistant for the course’s professor.
Professor Hal Scott got a D in Constitutional Law. “We do some of that here,” Justice Byron White told Scott when he went for a clerkship interview. Scott nonetheless was selected to serve as one of Justice White’s few Supreme Court law clerks.
In the second semester of his two-semester Contracts course, Professor John Goldberg earned himself a B-. The next year, his former Contracts professor hired him as a T.A. to help 1Ls with the class. Years later, as a Vanderbilt professor, Goldberg was awarded a teaching prize for teaching … Contracts.
Professor Mark Barnes received a Pass on his Trust and Estates exam while a friend whom he tutored received Honors. Upon review of their exams, Barnes realized that his friend had given the obvious answers while he had read nuances into the questions that were not intended. He learned two important lessons: one, when you hear hoof beats, think horses first, and not zebras and, two, the line between “Honors” and “Pass” is blurred.
Professor Einer Elhauge said “I know a guy who got mainly C’s his first year at Harvard Law. He went on to become general counsel of a major federal agency, leading lawyer in his field, and author of the leading casebook in his field. It is much more about the passion you have for your field than anything.”
Your Harvard Law School Student Representative Board