Exploring Identity at Harvard Law

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” 
― George R.R. MartinA Game of Thrones

Executive Editor for HNLR Online, Yaseen Eldik, and Victoria Abraham introduce the Special Edition HNLR Identity Series.                                      
Painting by Anne-Valerie Prosper

The first year of study at Harvard Law School has been portrayed in different ways ranging from the comical Legally Blonde to the less cheery Paper Chase. Despite their obvious reflection of artistic interpretation, what they generally communicate is that law school is a process of identity transformation where a law student learns not only how to think like a lawyer, and be a lawyer, but also gains a deeper understanding of who they are. In the midst of this transition, the individual experiences of students can be overlooked. In the spring of 2014 (our 1L year), we proposed collaboration with the Harvard Negotiation Law Review to produce an essay competition that asked first year Harvard Law students to describe their transition to law school. It was titled the “Negotiating My 1L Identity Competition.” Of the essays that we received, two were selected for publication: The Interminable Search for Gold Stars,” written by Ariel Eckblad, and “IL as a Gemini,” written by Deanna Parrish. These essays fantastically and honestly capture the experiences of these two students as they adjusted to law school. While these pieces reflect their individual interactions with their peers at Harvard Law, we found their overall narratives captivating in their insightful ability to capture what 1L can feel like generally.

Anne-Valerie Prosper, a 2014 graduate of HLS, is the author of the third piece included in this series. Her essay, “The Matching Game”elegantly portrays her overall experience as a woman of color in law school beyond the first year transition. As captured by the narratives of these three women, every human being journeys through life facing experiences that challenge their sense of self. Such challenges usually instigate a reflective process. For most students who choose to study law in the United States, the first year of law school offers space for exponential growth. 1L at HLS can be a veritable trial by fire, that melts, molds, and reshapes even the most sturdiest of students into newer, more hardened, and wiser versions of their former selves. 1L can make us lose ourselves among flames of doubt, producing fearful questions that may make us question our self-worth. We then attempt to redefine success in specific ways that often include an attachment to academic accomplishment. This is the challenge of 1L. It lies not only in learning how to manage the workload and think, read, and write like a lawyer, but also in staying true to who we are and finding personally meaningful measures of success and achievement.

While navigating 1L, it is crucial to stay focused on our personal goals and desires, while not succumbing to the self-perpetuating stress machine that whirs and hums underneath every first-year interaction like a malfunctioning fan. This negotiation of identity is crucial to becoming the kinds of lawyers, leaders, activists, citizens, and global shapers that we all strive to become. It is the unexpected gift of 1L that bonds law students in the United States no matter how different our past lives and our future paths. Harvard Law School holds a dear place in our hearts, because it is an institution that tremendously invests in the experience of its students.

We hope that law students at Harvard and across the country will use these essays as an opportunity to reflect on their own transitions to law school and realize that they are not alone in their feelings of confusion and discomfort. Much time and energy has been invested in these three pieces and their authors have been brave in sharing their intimate thoughts. We hope, if nothing else, these pieces inspire you to think more critically about who you are and who you want to be as you transition into a respectful profession whose ultimate mission is to service the needs of others. After all, if one is going to serve others they should also be sure to serve themselves.

Yaseen Eldik and Victoria Abraham are second year J.D. students at Harvard Law School.

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