1L Orientation

“WELCOME TO HARVARD LAW! 1L Orientation will familiarize you with law school. In the next four days you’ll meet an overwhelming amount of people, hear about seventeen mental health resources, and increase your anxiety by 100%!”

They didn’t actually say that – I’m just providing a synopsis for the week.

1L Orientation: DAY 0

After picking up my ID, I began to feel the pressure. What in the world do I wear tomorrow? Yes, this was real – after seven straight years in uniform, I was concerned!! Google said law school is business casual, but other students claimed orientation was just casual…I needed a good compromise. Also, how could I time my arrival to avoid looking clueless/friendless/loser-ish? I didn’t want to be the first one there, but also didn’t want to be late…and what if I missed my bus? Or it didn’t show up?

Finally, I just went to bed. Those were problems for Morning Me.

1L Orientation: DAY 1

Spoiler alert, I made it to campus without issue, in an perfectly acceptable outfit. I got to the school halfway through breakfast, grabbed a coffee, and settled into the Section 7 lecture hall.

Sitting between Becca, hailing from L.A. but last living in D.C., and Kathryn, whose long-term boyfriend was formerly Army, we began with introductions. Our Board of Students Advisors (older law students, commonly referred to as BSAs) had everyone say their

  1. Name
  2. Pronouns
  3. Hometown
  4. Favorite “guilty pleasure” tv show

There were many Bachelor fans in our crowd of 80, so I confessed my love for MTV’s Catfish instead. Next we sat through sessions about professionalism, Title IX, and prioritizing well-being during 1L – we heard a lot about unhappiness/stress/mental health in that last one. As someone whose main concern has thus far been outfit choice, I got a bit worried. Was law school going to be way harder than I thought???

Mental wellness aside, the day concluded with the most important event: OUR SECTION 7 PHOTO. While I don’t have the pic yet, I am happy to report I’m on the end of the second row, far left, flaunting the pink blazer. READY TO DIG OUT WHEN I BECOME FAMOUS (seriously, that’s what they told us.)

1L Orientation: DAY 2

We started in sections to meet our respective Section Leaders, professors simultaneously in charge and teaching us a course. The Section 7 Leader is Professor Rakoff, a ’75 Harvard Law graduate and Contracts expert with a reputation as “someone’s nice grandpa.” Here he is explaining the case method of law school teaching and learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwPOVyvGvo8.

See what I mean about ‘nice grandpa?’

He waited until we noticed him and quieted down, then tapped his mike and said, “You all ready for law school?” Head nods all around. “Okay, good. Let’s start now.”



Frantic whispering, awkward shuffling…panic among the masses. Everyone steeled themselves for exposure as HLS frauds. Ignoring this, Professor Rakoff walked to the blackboard and revealed a sign saying

“$500 fine for leaving trash on the beach.”

Then he walked to a different board and revealed five items: a diamond ring, a book, empty clam shells, a coke can, and a McDonalds wrapper. “Now,” he said, “suppose you have a video proving who left each item (and it’s admissible). Based on this sign, who do you fine?”

This turned into an hour-long discussion as we tried to figure out…what is trash? What constitutes ‘leaving?’ Do we care if someone is coming back for an item, or left it accidentally? Is an item ‘trash’ based on its monetary value, or the intent with which it was discarded, or both? Does sentimental value matter? Furthermore, what is the intent of the ordinance? Is it to keep the beach beautiful, or clean, or natural? And how many signs are there? Just the one – written only in English? What if the people in question didn’t see it? What are the consequences of enforcing this fine for everyone, or no one, or a combination? And the best question (because it was mine) – IS THE COKE CAN FULL OR EMPTY?!

FYSA: most ultimately agreed the ring and book should not be fined, the McDonald’s wrapper definitely should, and the coke can and clam shells probably should. We had a great time and no one left feeling like trash; however, Professor Rakoff warned that not all scenarios would be so fun or easy to discuss. However, each new case would be uniquely fascinating and complex, and create similar Socratic-style discussions for class. That was a glimmer of hope for us, despite ending the day with more talks of depression/hard times/frustration/high anxiety. Yikes.

1L Orientation: DAY 3

Everyone arrived tired on Thursday, but noticeably more comfortable with each other. The outfits devolved accordingly…I was now in a black tee with jeans and mules. Hallelujah. Luckily, Thursday morning was just as interesting as Wednesday’s trash discussion. Our speaker, an HLS grad and firm consultant, instructed us on building a healthy classroom environment. Now that may sound silly, or something well-suited for five-year-olds, but it was not.

For ninety minutes we discussed handling negative interactions with each other and our professors. We considered how our intentions could be vastly different than others’ interpretations of what we say, how to handle feeling uncomfortable in class, and how to give feedback to those who caused it. Most importantly, the speaker talked about unconscious bias and how micro-aggressions and micro-compliments can alternately tear down or build up a community.

This was huge for everyone, including me. When I chose Harvard I knew I was choosing a liberal environment; I was even aware some people might outright resent the military. But this speaker made us feel comfortable as a group, and understand how to express personal views while maintaining respect for others. These things are easier said than done, of course, but HLS worked hard to establish a positive foundation before we face the stresses of schoolwork and competition.

To lighten the mood, we then met Justice Kagan – an HLS graduate and Supreme Court Justice who spoke fondly (and casually) about her time at Harvard, her fellow justices, and advice for us. It was absolutely amazing, and a few people snuck pictures!

Low quality pic for one of the best guest speakers I’ll ever hear

That afternoon we learned more about our BSAs and Section Leader, and received a short case to study for the following day. We ended with a meet-and-greet dinner, where we encountered our other professors for the semester. This including a traveling Civil Procedure professor from UVA who is currently an Army reserve JAG!

1L Orientation: Last Day

Finally Friday, and everyone was ready for the weekend. My STUPID bus didn’t show up, so I had to call my first Uber of the week…I felt very foolish pulling up to campus while everyone else confidently navigated public transport. Oh well.

We began by discussing the assigned case (Wood v. Boynton), which scared me more than anything else – I missed a LOT in my initial reading. To be minimally prepared for class, Professor Rakoff advised, we needed to carefully read each case twice; to be fully prepared, we should ‘outline’ the important points (which takes forever). Despite my lack of understanding, I was relieved to have clear expectations for the first day of class.

Looks impressive, but…I completely missed the point.

By the time the last presentations ended (Introduction to Peer Advisors and TALK, personal stories presented by HLS students), Section 7 was TIRED. Orientation contained useful information but also a lot of “being talked at,” and we were ready to split. We also had reading assignments to complete for each course; 24 pages for Property and 35 for Civil Procedure on Tuesday, and prep for our other courses by Wednesday and Thursday. As a result, my whole weekend was dedicated to slowly working through these and relaxing. 1L Orientation showed me how exhausting this year will be, and the vast amount of time I’ll dedicate to reading, understanding and learning each complex subject.

But more importantly, it made me very excited to get started. I want to LEARN some stuff, dive into class discussions (no matter how confounding they are) and get to know my sectionmates better…and it finally starts tomorrow. Elle Woods is off to the races, everyone. Wish me luck!!

3 thoughts on “1L Orientation”

  1. A few comments for this entry:

    1) I’m upset you didn’t acknowledge your citizenship with Bach Nation, you missed a prime opportunity to indoctrinate our future world leaders.

    2) “Looks impressive but… I completely missed the point” is your best caption yet 😂😂

    A few questions for this entry:

    1) What pronouns did you request to be referred by??!?!?

    2) What did people say to you about your Elle Woods blazer??!?!!

    Please respond ASAP or you may lose my subscription.

    Love Bex

  2. Riley – I love this! Your excitement for your new adventure is amazing and infectious. I can hardly wait for your next post. You are a wonderful writer. I feel like I’m right there with you. I have to admit something to you….As I read your first post which covered your anticipated orientation activities, I became very emotional with how proud I am of you. My grandson asked me why I was crying and didn’t quite understand my explanation of “happy tears” for someone I know, respect and love. Looking forward to reading more of HLS life!

    1. Oh my goodness…now I’m the one with happy tears! This means the WORLD!!! As long as the blog creates joy and a few laughs…mission accomplished. But I never would have made it here without my OHS foundation!

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