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Carter Hall, HLS ’15

I love Harvard Law School like I love the United States—as an affectionate outsider. Perhaps I can’t help but see one as a microcosm of the other. I spent two years teaching English in rural Japan before coming here, and had barely gotten over my jetlag when 1L orientation started last August. My new classmates tactfully disregarded my odd habit of bowing as I introduced myself, which only added to my amazement at the genuine friendliness (and intelligence, and accomplishment) of people here. Not to mention the (fairly narcissistic) implication that I too must be pretty cool to be in such company.

Still, as a person of ambiguous race/ethnicity who does not obviously fit with any of HLS’s myriad affinity groups, and certain that I want to pursue a public interest career, I must admit that my goals and experience run counter to the dominant narrative around here. I don’t fault HLS for having such a narrative. It has certainly become more inclusive of all sorts of diversity since Professor Montoya’s 1L year, and the fact that HLS has a loan repayment program for students not pursuing more lucrative careers proves that people like me are far from completely marginalized here. I would very much like to alter this narrative, though. You can probably guess what changes I have in mind: to make us less concerned about grades and prestige, even more engaged with the social problems upon which lawyers can have real positive impact. Not coincidentally, these concerns echo some of my broader qualms about this country—that we’re too concerned with economic growth for its own sake, not nearly mindful enough of social inequality and ecological sustainability. The same animating values that make me feel an “outsider” here are the ones that inspired me to apply to law school in the first place, and I imagine this to be the case for a lot of my fellow “outsiders.” It almost seems banal to say that people seeking substantive change can’t feel completely comfortable with the status quo. For all its exclusivity, HLS reflects the world it occupies such a prominent place in.

I take my stubborn sense of otherness as a sign that my ideals remain intact in the face of the lawyerly cynicism I’ve had to cultivate. I’d be sad to see it go.

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