Whatever, I’m Getting Cheese Fries

First of all, I KNOW that’s not a Legally Blonde quote 🍟 But I can’t pass it up because today I want to talk about lunch. More specifically, HLS Lunch Talks.

Here’s the basic idea; at noon, you go to a designated place on campus. the school feeds you. someone talks to you. you soak up free food & incredible info. and then occasionally, take home leftovers. This happens EVERY. DAY. with multiple speakers. on the widest variety of topics imaginable.

HOW BOMB IS THAT!?!!! 🌮🍕🙌🥪🥗

I believe we have Supreme Court Justice Kagan, then-Dean Kagan, to thank for this minor miracle (but don’t quote me, I could be misinformed). She saw that students weren’t getting the “big picture” of life outside of law school – everyone was stuck in the HLS bubble, stressing about grades and which Big Law Firm would hire them. So she said, okay – no classes between 12 and 1 pm. Morning classes will start at 8 am instead of 9, but let’s give the students an hour during lunch to do some soul-searching career exploration. And you know what, they’re broke, so let’s feed ’em occasionally.

Ten-ish years later, “occasionally” has turned into “always,” and one lunch talk a day has turned into several. Of course, HLS is still Pre-Kagan in some aspects (Anxiety goes with law school like icing on a cake…can’t get rid of it). But interest outside of Big Firm careers exploded since she implemented Lunch Talks, as have student organizations, clinics, and journals.

I go to at least two Lunch Talks a week, no matter how busy I am, because there’s ALWAYS someone or something I want to hear. It’s not easy to pick a talk, but it’s easy to know what’s available. The school automatically enrolls 1Ls into an “HLS Calendar at Law,” which sends daily emails about the Lunch Talks. Here are my five favorites so far…

1. Judge Margaret Ryan

Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces – on military law

The CAAF is the highest military court, right under the Supreme Court, and Judge Ryan has been sitting on it since 2006. Unfortunately, those terms are 15 years, so she’s almost done – but there are rumors she was/is being looked at for SCOTUS. AKA, I was fangirling HARD at this talk, where she ran the room through ten important differentiation between US mil law and regular US law. Did you know the mil law pre-dated independence?!

2. Attorneys James Chavez & Sean Driscoll

Federal Defense Attorney & Federal Prosecutor – Panel on Federal Work

I went to this one because at some point as a Judge Advocate, I’ll take both defense and prosecution roles. I really got some interesting new perspectives on each role, including

  • Defense – It’s much harder morally to plead for someone you know is probably innocent, than to defend someone you know is probably guilty
  • Prosecution – You spend less overall time in a courtroom as a federal prosecutor, but when you do, it’s more “Court-like.” Instead of just running through multiple crimes a day, these trials are heavily prepped and VERY stressful.
  • Defense – When I AM a prosecuting attorney, always be open & honest, & get evidence to the defense in a timely manner. They always know when you’re being shady…

3. Dr. John Park

Leader of the Korea Project at the Harvard Kennedy School – on American relations with North Korea

Wowowowowow. This one was SO cool, especially considering my mil background. It was all about how we, America, are handling North Korea; how it’s maybe not the right approach; how Kim Jung Un is really changing things up, and no one knows what’ll happen when he dies; how other countries are treating the situation; and ways forward.

4. John Bellinger III

Former Legal Advisor at the Department of State, Firm Partner – on careers in National Security and International Law

John Bellinger has had THE dream career in national security law; private firm for a few years, then government work with the National Security Council and Department of State, then back into private law representing various countries and at least one Ambassador in the impeachment hearings. He was ALL about JAG, which was comforting – sometimes I worry about the transition from mil to civilian, but he assured me it would be all good. Amazing.

5. Adam Mortara & Professor Randall Kennedy

Lead counselor in the recently decided Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University & HLS Professor – A debate on Affirmative Action

If you thought “oof” when you saw “Affirmative Action,” thinking THAT must have been contentious…it was. Basically, Harvard was recently sued for admissions discrimination against Asian students and won. On one side, we had the lawyer representing the students and (generally) arguing against Affirmative Action; on the other, a Harvard professor arguing vehemently for it. The room was PACKED and it was absolutely fascinating.

And to be clear, these are just my top five Lunch Talks. There have been SO many more, on everything from gun rights to book-burning, career advice and incredible life stories, from judges, professors, government officials, and Justice Kagan herself. And every single one ends with a Q&A and meet-and-greet, which builds incredible connections on the spot. More importantly, these talks help me understand what I’m learning in the context of Real World Law. Justice Kagan wasn’t wrong in her observations; it’s too easy to get sucked into the law school bubble, where my biggest concern is prepping for each class. The Lunch Talks remind me that Harvard is a tiny, tiny piece of the overall puzzle I’ll encounter in three short years. In my opinion, Lunch Talks are one of Harvard Law School’s biggest selling points….and not just because I never have to buy lunch again.

Btw…did I mention then-Dean Kagan also made sure students always had access to free coffee? 😍☕