2014 Alumni Message

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
—Nelson Mandela

January 24, 2014

Dear Alumni and Friends of Harvard Law School,

Best wishes for the New Year! 

As we join the University in planning events to remember Nelson Mandela and to consider his legacy, his example and his words remind us to measure our significance by the difference we make in the lives of others. It’s a good time, as a new year starts, to consider and salute ways in which people involved with the Law School made a difference in 2013, and to look ahead at efforts coming here soon.

We began 2014 with the announcement that Sumner Redstone ’47 has established a $10 million endowment to provide the Sumner M. Redstone Fellowships in Public Service for graduating Harvard Law School students who wish to go out into the world and assist the underserved. In making this magnificent gift—the largest we have ever received in support of public service—he rightly said, “The need for public service today is greater than ever, demanding innovation and progress to make a fundamental impact.” Sumner Redstone’s own work has been characterized by innovation and impact as he has reshaped modern media. Now, his vision and generosity will inspire and enable our students to carry forward Harvard Law School's legacy of working to expand access to justice. (As you read this message, click on the highlighted words to learn more.)

Making a Difference: Advocacy

Our students have long been a driving force in the Law School’s efforts to make justice more accessible. One hundred years ago, a dynamic group of students formed an organization to provide legal aid to the poor and in so doing, created the first student-run legal services program in the country. In November 2013, that organization—the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau—marked its centennial. 

Fifteen of our graduating students and recent alumni, all of them public service visionaries and social entrepreneurs, were selected as inaugural recipients of grants from our new Public Service Venture Fund, and they are right now hard at work. This unique program will award another $1 million at the end of this school year to help graduating 3Ls and recent graduates obtain their ideal jobs in public service. 

In October, the Law School welcomed a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for oral argument in the Ames Courtroom on a case concerning procedural barriers to a claim by a decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Students from our new Veterans Legal Clinic argued on behalf of the veteran, and a few weeks ago, in a precedent-setting ruling that will aid thousands of veterans, the court ruled that the veteran was entitled to file an appeal of his disability claim. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities relied extensively on an amicus brief written by our colleague Michael Stein ’88, director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and visiting professor, in issuing a landmark decision on the voting rights of persons with intellectual disabilities. Our S.J.D. candidate János Fiala-Butora LL.M. ’10 initiated this suit on behalf of six Hungarians who were not allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections of 2010. 

These are but a few examples of recent efforts by our students, faculty, and instructors in our clinics and research programs to assist refugees and asylum-seekers, people with HIV/AIDS, and others; to reshape schools and services for schoolchildren who have experienced trauma; and to protect victims of predatory lending. Faculty and students were also engaged in important research and advocacy in 2013 in the areas of human rights law, environmental protection, food regulation, Internet monitoring, access to online information and education, and reform of the NSA's electronic surveillance program.

Making a Difference: Interdisciplinary Collaboration

In 2013, scholars and advocates at the Law School pursued interdisciplinary collaboration and research—especially in human psychology and behavioral economics—to explore important questions. Professor Cass Sunstein ’78 (recently elevated to the post of University Professor!) and the School’s new Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy convened the Social Media and Behavioral Economics conference in February, drawing together scholars from across Harvard University and experts from Facebook, Twitter, Socialflow, and Microsoft Research for a live-streamed discussion of the potential effects of social media on voting behavior, electricity consumption, and privacy. The Program on Law and Mind Sciences, under the direction of Professor Jon Hanson, held a conference last April, “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law,” to illuminate the psychological tendencies that render humans vulnerable to manipulation and to examine the strategies and tactics of the public relations industry affecting commerce, elections, and other practices. 

Professors Lucian Bebchuk LL.M. ’80 and S.J.D. ’84 and Allen Ferrell ’95 released a study highly relevant to an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling on securities law in the case of Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. Based on their review of substantial research about market efficiency in finance, they explain that fraudulent distortion of the market price, rather than the “efficiency” of the market for the company’s security, should be the focus for judicial determination of class-wide reliance, and they develop analytical tools to enable implementation of their approach while avoiding problems with current judicial practice. 

Global transformations in the delivery of legal advice and representation provided the focus for the work of the Program on the Legal Profession, which released preliminary results about gender differences in lawyers’ careers, launched a study of access to justice for individuals facing financial distress in the United States, and shared ideas about new structures, measurement of quality, and uses of technology. The Program hosted a session of the International Bar Association’s annual conference, the largest gathering of international lawyers each year, attracting more than 5,500 participants from 134 countries. Professor David Wilkins ’80 delivered a keynote address. 

Students from HLS and Harvard Business School worked together closely in “Running a Federal Agency: Lessons from Business, Technology and Game Theory,” a course offered by Julius Genachowski ’91, who served as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2009 until May of last year. Genachowski is the inaugural holder of the Steven and Maureen Klinsky Professorship of Practice for Leadership and Progress and a Visiting Scholar at HBS. Because of the vision and generosity of Steven Klinsky J.D. ’81 M.B.A. ’79 and his wife, Maureen Klinsky, this unique new visiting chair will enable us to explore leadership and career paths in business, government, NGOs, and other fields.

Coming Soon

Looking ahead, on January 28 at HLS, Cass Sunstein, who served as a member of the President’s Review Group on Communications and Intelligence Technologies, will present and discuss the group’s recommendations for reform of U.S. surveillance policies as President Barack Obama ’91 and the Congress debate next steps.

On February 19 and 20, led by Professors Tomiko Brown-Nagin and Gerald Neuman, the Law School will provide a sustained examination of the Supreme Court’s handling of constitutional questions created by the emergence of an American colonial empire a century ago and related issues in the legal treatment of territories. The Honorable Juan Torruella of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit will give the keynote address. The agenda will include consideration of the status of Puerto Rico. 

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics will hold a conference on February 21 addressing “New Directions for Food Safety: The Food Safety Modernization Act and Beyond.” 

On March 6, the Program on the Legal Profession will host a conference, “Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services,” with keynote addresses by Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School and Chris Kenny, Chief Executive, Legal Services Board. The following month, PLP will convene leading academics from around the world for a roundtable discussion of trends in global pro bono legal services. 

On March 28 and 29, the Harvard Environmental Law Society will host the annual meeting of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies. Co-sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, this major conference will feature Professors Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus and other leaders in the environmental justice field, including Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice,” and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. (Jackson's successor, Gina McCarthy, chose Harvard Law School as the venue for her inaugural address as EPA Administrator last summer.) 

A conference at Harvard Law School on April 4 and 5, “Religious Accommodation in the Age of Civil Rights,” organized by Professor Mark Tushnet and colleagues from other institutions, will bring together respected scholars in the fields of sexuality, gender, and law and religion. They will address current controversies over religious freedom and the rights of women and LGBT individuals in the contexts of marriage, employment, anti-discrimination law, and the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

Making History

Sometimes, the work to make a difference in the lives of others involves remarkable intersections of life at HLS and issues in the larger world. Last September, it was a particular thrill for us to host our Celebration 60 reunion of alumnae and to mark six decades of progress since the School ended its male-only admissions policy—six decades in which women have made Harvard Law School, and the world, a better place.

At that event, we unveiled a portrait of our first woman dean, Elena Kagan ’86. A few weeks later, Justice Kagan welcomed Professor Kenneth Mack ’91 to Washington, D.C., where he delivered the Supreme Court History Society’s 2013 Leon Silverman Lecture. Professor Mack focused the lecture on Bell v. Maryland (1964). In that decision, the Supreme Court vacated the convictions of 12 African-American high school students for a sit-in at a racially segregated restaurant in Baltimore and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Maryland anti-discrimination laws passed after the students’ arrest. Appellant Robert Bell ’69 later attended Harvard Law School where, even before he graduated, an HLS course syllabus included the 1964 case bearing his name. He went on to become Chief Judge of Maryland’s highest court, and he was present at Professor Mack's lecture.

Addressing the audience afterwards, Chief Judge Bell gave credit for the sit-ins to other students who had organized the protests, adding that he was simply grateful for the opportunity to be part of it. “We did something that was intended to be meaningful,” he said.

 Each day, our studies and actions at Harvard Law School aim to be meaningful: We work to ensure that our students can make a difference while they are here and after they graduate. 

Thank you for your ideas, advice, and counsel. Let us know what you are doing, and please share your ideas about how we can enhance our work. Please come see us—I look forward to welcoming you back!

Warm regards, 

Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor 

Last modified: February 25, 2014

© 2014 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.