They took different paths to get here and are headed in different directions as they leave. Here, a look at six graduates in the Harvard Law School Class of 2008.
Judge advocate Captain, United States Marine Corps
Twentynine Palms – California
In November 2004, Robert Merrill was on the front lines of the biggest, bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. Part of the first wave of Marines to invade Fallujah, he was second in command of a company of 160 Marines and more than 200 Iraqi soldiers in an intense house-to-house fight to clear the city of insurgents. (He later took full command when his company commander was wounded.) The first two weeks were dirty, exhausting, chaotic and stressful—eight hours of peace would alternate with four hours of mass chaos. The third week brought some stability and news of his acceptance to Harvard Law School. He remembers joking, "This means I'm going to die." By the time he left Iraq in February 2005, 50 men in his unit had been killed and many more were left wounded. Merrill, who joined the Marines in June 2001, when he graduated from the University of Chicago, came to HLS with the goal of becoming a military criminal defense lawyer. His criminal law classes, and his legal internships on a North Carolina military base and as special assistant to the counsel to the commandant of the Marine Corps, prepared him well to be a judge advocate, he says. He especially enjoyed the practical experience his criminal law clinical afforded, acting as lead defense counsel in criminal cases in Dorchester and Roxbury district courts. He hopes to return to HLS for an LL.M. degree. As a combat veteran at HLS, Merrill says he felt his classmates often didn't know how to react to his Iraq service. "They'll either start asking questions or they'll be awkwardly silent," he says. For his part, he knows his Fallujah experience has changed him. "It changes everyone—for better or for worse," he says. "I would like to think it's changed me for the better. It's much easier to keep perspective on things. I don't get stressed out really by much of anything."
Jean Margaret Flannery
Associate Skadden Arps
Analyzing a prospective borrower's securities filing convinced Jean Flannery she wanted to be a corporate lawyer. "I loved it," says Flannery of the due diligence work she did during her 1L summer. "It was taking this very complex document—like gibberish—and breaking it down and understanding what was beneath it." By the time she took Corporations in her 2L year, she knew she had found her calling. It was a shift from the academic path she thought she was on when she graduated from Harvard College in 2004 and enrolled in the London School of Economics. She wrote her dissertation there on "The Role of Philia in the Life of Aristotle's Excellent Man." But Flannery, whose father is a political theory professor, came to realize that an academic career at that juncture wouldn't satisfy her, and she decided to pursue law—her mother's profession. She spent her 2L summer at Skadden Arps in London and says the firm's global perspective—with global deals, questions of international law and collaboration with European colleagues—perfectly aligned with what she hopes to do. She expected law school to be competitive but found it to be collegial. She knows there's a divide between the theory and practice of corporate law ("It's like reading about golf"), but, she says, HLS has given her incredible mentors and a solid grounding in legal concepts—one of her favorite classes was a negotiation workshop with Clinical Professor Robert Bordone '97. What she didn't expect was to make such great friends: "I can honestly say they're the best people I have ever met."
Clerk U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels
Southern District of New York
Nefertiti Johnson grew up in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., the fifth of six children, in a neighborhood she says is known as "Pov City." Her family instilled the importance of learning, but it was through dance that she discovered the path to higher education. From the age of 10, Johnson danced with the Marie Brooks Pan Caribbean Dance Company in New York, performing liturgical, African and Caribbean dance—in a trajectory that took her to Grenada, Martinique and Ghana, West Africa. In 1996 she performed at the Olympic Games. She was awarded a dance scholarship to New York University and, after graduating in 2004, decided to pursue law. She doubted she could get into Harvard, and when she did, she was apprehensive about being able to fit in. She says the socialization process was rigorous ("learn how to walk the walk, talk the talk"), and she worries whether she'll still be able to connect with people from her background. But, she says, it's also "an amazing opportunity to serve as a go-between, between worlds that almost never intersect in a positive way." Classes at HLS that addressed race and class resonated deeply with her. In a Poverty Law class, she facilitated a discussion between low-income students and others who were initially uncomfortable talking about their privilege. She believes the exchange opened up relationships: "There are always unconscious biases. There are always unchecked assumptions. Putting those things on the table can really transform the lawyer and transform the client." After clerking for Judge George Daniels, she will clerk for U.S. District Judge Joseph Greenaway '81 in New Jersey. While her long-range plans are not settled, she hopes to stay involved in the low-income community in volunteer grassroots community legal education and counseling.
Skadden Fellow Public Counsel
Ever since elementary school, when he first helped organize lunches for the hungry in Los Angeles, Brandon Weiss has been drawn to the plight of the homeless. At Stanford, he joined a night outreach program that brought food and supplies to that population in San Francisco, and he edited Street Forum, a newspaper on homelessness and poverty. "I believe we're all responsible for the conditions of our neighbors," he says. He chose HLS hoping to become an advocate for the homeless and soon broadened his focus to affordable housing policy. "I realized there's a much larger constituency teetering on the edge of homelessness," he says. He enrolled in a joint-degree program at the Kennedy School—where he has taken classes from experts at the top levels at the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HLS's public interest program and the resources it dedicates to public service work, he says, far exceeded his expectations. He was a fellow at Greater Boston Legal Services, an advocate on a tenant advocacy project, an intern at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and a summer associate in a firm's affordable housing and real estate practice groups. For the next two years, he will be working with a community development group helping tenants and owners preserve affordable housing in Los Angeles, where a number of properties are being converted to market-rate units as federal funding contracts supplementing rents for low-income tenants expire. After his fellowship, he hopes to continue to work with nonprofits or for the government on issues related to community development, to help bring resources to areas that haven't traditionally had them.
Associate McKinsey & Co.
New York City
With a passion for problem solving, David Moss is headed to a large global consultancy firm. It's a world he's familiar with, having worked as a hedge fund analyst at J.P. Morgan and as a trading associate at Banc of America—where, at the age of 24, he was part of a small team investing more than $1 billion in hedge funds for the bank's outsourced proprietary trading platform. Moss applied to law school after working with a mentor who credited his distinctive edge in business to legal training. A self-described "numbers guy" (he earned a degree in finance from Indiana University in 2001), Moss says the transition to reading hundreds of pages of case law was a struggle. He was impressed by opportunities at HLS for students to design their own law school experiences. During his 1L year, he helped develop a new student group, the Harvard Association for Law and Business. By his 2L year, he was president. Drawing on a large network of alumni business leaders, he developed a speaker series and helped gain corporate sponsorship for the organization, which now has 600 student members. He says he's going to miss the dialogue inspired by a classroom of people facing the same challenge: "Where else will you be exposed to so many different points of view on a single issue?" Thinking about issues from different angles and recognizing the breadth and validity of others' arguments have also changed his approach to problem solving, he says, making him more analytic. "I used to do more of the shoot from the hip, go with my gut," he says. "I think that's appropriate at times. But in a lot of situations, you're better off sitting down, thinking through your alternatives."
Richelieu Edwin Lomax LL.M
Integrity Officer World Bank
The story of Richelieu Edwin Lomax is a tale of survival against all odds. By age 7, the Liberian boy had lost his father. Six years later, after Liberia erupted in civil war, he and his mother were displaced to camps in the heart of rebel territory, facing malnutrition and the constant threat of execution. When he traveled to the front lines with a Nigerian major who had befriended him, they were ambushed by forces loyal to then President Charles Taylor and spent six months in a Nigerian hospital. The major became Lomax's guardian, and the major's wife took on the Herculean task of readying Lomax for a post-conflict life. He finished high school (earning first place in the state national exam) and supported himself through computer jobs before enrolling in the law program at the University of Jos. In 2005, he returned to Liberia, later landing a job as a judicial system monitor for the U.N.'s Mission in Liberia. Frustrated by the lapses in his country's legal system, Lomax applied to HLS, believing an LL.M. would give him a real chance to influence Liberia's legal profession. Now, as one of the few Liberian graduates of Harvard, he is amazed to find himself part of a group that includes the country's president, the president of Liberia's bar, the solicitor general and Harry Varney Sherman LL.M. '82, whom Lomax describes as "the best lawyer in Liberia." Since graduating, Lomax has become an integrity officer with the World Bank, investigating corruption in bank-supported projects around the world. His long-term dream is to return home to fight corruption in the public sector. "Having the Harvard degree will give me a voice in Liberia that I'd never dreamed of having," he says. "I must use this opportunity to help my country."