‘The Paper Chase’ at 40
It’s been more than 40 years since John Jay Osborn Jr. ’70 was a third-year law student at Harvard, balancing a strenuous workload while crafting the tale of an eager young law student and his tumultuous relationship with an austere contracts professor. In September, Osborn returned to HLS to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Paper Chase.” Published the year after Osborn graduated from HLS, the book and subsequent movie proved popular to generations of readers and moviegoers. In a conversation with Dean Martha Minow, Osborn said the character of Kingsfield, an imperious professor with a stern classroom style and zero tolerance for poorly prepared pupils, was actually a composite of several people. But, he added, “It wasn’t like it was hard to find role models.” Osborn now teaches at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
On Constitution Day, debunking myths about the document’s founding
At a September event commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Professor Michael Klarman, an expert on constitutional law and history, presented a lecture titled “Why the Tea Party Has It Wrong: The Story of a Multifaceted Founding.” Klarman said there is an insidious tendency today to venerate the Constitution and to revere the founders almost to the extent of deifying them. Reflecting on the Constitution’s creation, he said: “In sum, the Constitution provided for far less democracy at the federal level than most Americans had become accustomed to at the state level by the 1780s. In addition, it was ratified in a process that was stacked against democratic deliberation. It’s not obvious why we should want today to pay blind obeisance to a Constitution that was adapted in that way and with those substantive provisions.”
The legacy of Judge Henry J. Friendly
In November, HLS’s Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law Carol Steiker ‘86 moderated a conversation on the legal legacy of the late Henry Friendly, a longtime federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Friendly’s biographer, David Dorsen ’59, and former law clerks Judge Michael Boudin ’64 and Judge Pierre Leval ’63 joined Judge Jon Newman and Judge Richard Posner ’62, and Harvard Law School Professors Todd Rakoff ’75 and Dan Coquillette ’71, as panelists at the event.
A roundtable on corporate time horizons
A group of senior corporate managers; hedge fund, mutual fund and private equity leaders; and economics and corporate law academics from Europe and the U.S. gathered at Harvard Law School on Sept. 14 and 15 for a conference on the role of corporate finance and governance in encouraging or discouraging long-term value in public corporations.
HLS Professor Mark Roe ’75 said that the conference’s takeaway for him was to solidify the view that, while there’s evidence that financial markets can at times induce pernicious short-term corporate thinking, on balance there’s also much good evidence that key sectors of financial markets are generally more long-run oriented.
“The short-term view has had substantial influence on corporate law thinking, usually in supporting insulating managers and boards from financial markets. Corporate law judges have written sympathetically to the short-term pressures said to come from financial markets,” said Roe. “But the actual overall impact of financial markets on time horizons is much more mixed than is conventionally thought. Using the time horizons view to justify isolating firms and boards further from stock markets is much less warranted than influential corporate thinking has had it.”
Solicitor general at HLS
According to U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the defining feature of his job—the most challenging, rewarding aspect—is grappling with what the position of the United States should be on an issue. Verrilli explained that this task is harder than it might seem, involving a balancing of interests and making considered decisions on whether the U.S. should modify a previously held position. Francis Biddle LL.B. 1911, who was solicitor general from 1939 to 1940, once claimed that the solicitor general serves an abstract client, and has “no master to serve but his country.” But Verrilli said he has a somewhat different view: “Having been awakened more than once in the middle of the night by phone calls from angry general counsels from Cabinet departments about decisions I had made, [I think] the client is anything but an abstraction.” Verrilli’s talk, held Oct. 31 at HLS, was sponsored by the Law and Government Program of Study.