Sachs tells Class of 2013:
‘The really interesting stuff is going to begin when the precedent runs out.’
Professor Benjamin I. Sachs, a specialist in labor and workplace law, was this year’s winner of the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an honor bestowed each spring by the Harvard Law School graduating class. The award recognizes teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school.
In preparing his speech, Sachs told the audience he had done what lawyers are trained to do: He looked to “relevant precedent.” But he told the members of the Class of 2013 that they are “graduating into a world where the following of precedent will not be enough. … There are big-league crises out there, and the people who have come before you do not know how to solve them.”
It will take creativity and invention, he said. And the best lawyers—like artists and musicians—are able to integrate what has come before into the process of creating something new.
“In the end, Class of 2013, the world is giving you a graduation gift,” he said. “That gift is a long list of problems to solve and no guide for solving them.”
It’s a gift, he added, “because, when it comes to your lives as lawyers, the really interesting stuff is going to begin exactly when the precedent runs out. When you don’t know what to do. When you can’t come up with an example of someone who has faced the decision you face, or who has made the move that you think needs to be made.”
Sachs joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 2008 as an assistant professor. He received tenure last year. Previously, he was the Joseph Goldstein Fellow at Yale Law School, where was awarded the 2007 Yale Law School Teaching Award. From 2002 to 2006, he served as assistant general counsel of the Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C.
His most recent scholarship includes “Unions, Corporations, and Political Opt-Out Rights after Citizens United” (Columbia Law Review, 2012) and “Despite Preemption: Making Labor Law in Cities and States” (Harvard Law Review, 2011).
Dean Martha Minow:
‘You will be counsel for situations to come’
In her Commencement address, Dean Martha Minow urged graduates to take inspiration from the life and work of William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. ’43, who was awarded the 2013 Harvard Medal, one of Harvard University’s highest honors. Minow reflected on the success Coleman achieved in his life and career, despite a number of obstacles. Coleman, one of only three African-Americans in his law school class, served on the Harvard Law Review and ranked first in his class, although his academic achievement wasn’t recognized by the law school until decades later. He was the first African-American to serve as a clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He co-wrote the legal brief for the appellants in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case and served as a member of Thurgood Marshall’s legal team at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he later served as president. He went on to work on behalf of several presidents, most notably as secretary of transportation under President Ford. Minow described Coleman as someone who aimed to be a counselor, negotiator and problem-solver, while maintaining the highest standards of ethics, serving the public interest and never taking a barrier as a reason not to try. She told graduates: “Now it is your turn. You, the Harvard Law School Class of 2013, will be counsel for situations to come. You will define law, business, policy, leadership, in the days and years ahead. Will you take risks? Will you grab challenges? Will you invent new approaches to tough problems? Your influence reflects what Harvard Law School is and who you are and who you will become. I ask you to use your influence to better your communities and the world.”
Class Day speaker:
Jeffrey Toobin ’86
Author, lawyer and Emmy Award-winning legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin ’86 served as Class Day speaker on May 29. Currently a staff writer for The New Yorker and a senior legal analyst at CNN, he is the author of five books, including “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” and “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court,” which won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and was a New York Times best-seller. He won an Emmy Award for his coverage of the Elián González custody battle in 2000.
Each year, one student from the J.D. and one from the LL.M. class are selected to reflect on insights they have gleaned from their law school experience.
J.D. speaker Josie Duffy ’13 urged her classmates to “embrace the gray area,” and become not only lawyers, but “fighters, peacemakers, preachers and engineers.” Duffy reminded her classmates to help people on a daily basis, especially people whom they might not expect to help.
Leonidas Stasis Theodosiou LL.M. ’13, this year’s LL.M. Commencement speaker, said: “Among the lessons we have learned at Harvard is that law can serve as a tool for social change, a guarantee of fundamental rights, as a means to combat discrimination and social injustice ... In Greece, for instance, as a result of the protracted economic crisis, we witnessed the rise of Neo-Facism. In response, new laws are being prepared to afford greater protection to minorities and other vulnerable groups against discrimination, violence and hate speech.”