What is the experience of attending Harvard Law School? HLS is one of the nation’s largest law schools. It matriculates 550 students per class, which means that at any given time 2,000 or more students are studying at the law school (counting LLMs, SJDs, visiting scholars, etc). At this size, HLS has often received criticism for feeling a bit like a factory machine pumping out diploma holders. Despite the large size of the community, Harvard’s reputation and brand name continue to drive applicants and students into the machine in droves. Credentialing yourself with a bit of crimson often leads people admitted to the Trinity (Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) to choose Harvard over other institutions.
HLS actually promotes its class size as a selling point. I remember during orientation that various professors referred to HLS as a “intellectual supermarket” and like a city within itself. And when Elena Kagan was the dean prior to joining the US Supreme Court, she marketed HLS’s size as a key part of the Harvard experience. In her annual welcome speeches to the 1L class, she would famously refer to HLS as the “New York City” of law schools. She would say: “Other law schools may be in New York. But Harvard Law School is New York.” And in acceptance letters to admitted students just before she left to join the Obama administration, she wrote:
“Harvard Law School is a big city, not a small town. It’s a place where there is always something new to do and someone new to meet. It’s a place where faculty members and students work on—and courses and activities relate to—the broadest possible range of legal and policy questions, and where students can prepare themselves for every imaginable career (and even some career options as yet unimaginable), whether in this country or overseas. Most of all, it’s a place of enormous energy, constant surprise and great adventure.”
So is Harvard just a big factory that churns out JDs, LLMs, and other law graduates? Does classroom or student life quality suffer from a less intimate feel compared to smaller elite law schools? Or does the “supermarket” atmosphere create special opportunities absent at smaller law schools?
I’ll be discussing some of these issues in the posts that follow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, feel free to check out our law school admissions guide “How to get into Harvard Law School (whether you have the highest scores or not)” for in-depth tips and strategies on admission!