I thought I’d be excited to go back to school. I really did. Break was incredible, I like having a schedule, and missed my first semester
fellow survivors friends. Plus, HLS doesn’t even shove 1Ls right into the deep end. Instead, we get the shallow end stairs via a three-week January term, or ‘J-Term.’ According to everyone, they were some very, very chill stairs.
Alas, the chill factor didn’t matter. I still thought I was going to barf when I rolled back onto campus.
Before diving into J-term, two quick things. First, I haven’t gotten my grades back – but apparently the top few students from each class have been notified, and recruited to do research for those professors? Guess how many e-mails I’ve received!
Second, I just finished Memoirs of a Geisha (which, upon careful inspection, was actually historical fiction and not the most amazing non-fiction ever) but I would still highly recommend. Now I’m starting on one of my five 2020 goal books, So You Want To Talk About Race? I’ll keep you posted. But now, onto class!
What is J-Term?
GREAT QUESTION, tbh. January term is a three-week period with only one class, which meets daily. There’s no final and the course load is WAY more reasonable than a normal class. J-term is mandatory for everyone, but 2Ls and 3Ls can work as TAs or do special research projects instead of class. But in the interest of 1) ensuring we’re all alive and 2) sucking more money away (let’s be honest), HLS requires 1Ls to participate in a course on campus. In November we were given a list of nine choices and told to rank them from most to least preferred. To be honest I don’t remember most of my choices, but the classes fell into two categories:
Cat I – Negotiations. An incredible course, meets from 9 am to 5 pm every day, one of the things HLS is best known for, requires a lot of work, supposed to be very fulfilling.
Cat II – The other 8 courses. Meet from 9 am to 12 pm every day, kinda bs, pretty much a waste of time, supposed to introduce us to different areas of law not extensively covered in standard 1L courses.
Of course, I went for Negotiations…as did ALL THE OTHER Type A personalities in the class of 2022. 🙄 Needless to say, I didn’t get it. I got placed in a course called Advocacy: Beyond the Courtroom, which was somewhere on my list (but again….we had to rank ALL NINE) and I literally didn’t know what “advocacy” meant. I figured it would be three weeks of how not to a jerk/hurt your client’s case further when you’re not physically in court.
Well, that was wrong, and so was my irritation at not getting my first choice. Advocacy has been REALLY cool, REALLY chill, and REALLY a great way to jump back into school. And I haven’t barfed yet.
What is Advocacy?
General ‘advocacy’ is exactly as it sounds – working for a change in law or policy, in an area you’re passionate about. When I first thought about advocacy, I thought immediately of protesters and lobbyists – but that was a VERY limited view. As I quickly learned, organizations for social and legal change are advocates; politicians themselves are advocates; speechwriters and opinion-piece writers are advocates; and all types of lawyers are advocates, for their clients. There are also as many ways to advocate as there are types of advocacy, and that’s been the main focus of our course.
Methods of Advocacy
Advocacy: Beyond the Courtroom is much more ‘hands-on’ than a standard law class, which is both good and bad. The good? We get to practice our writing, speaking, and organization skills. The bad? This means homework. (Luckily, I’m working in a team of five, and we are BIG fans of “divide and conquer”) Each person does the readings before class, but our assignments are done as a group AND due by 4 pm each day. While that sounds inconvenient, it forces us to a) just get the assignments done and b) not obsess over them. Here are the things we’re writing for class:
- A Letter to the Editor, which is usually a 200 word piece that responds directly to a recently-published article.
- An Op-Ed (which stands for “opposite the editorial page”) is typically a 500-700 word opinion piece, which responds to a current event, anniversary, or other ‘relevant’ topic.
- A two-minute speech, on a topic and to an audience of our choosing.
- A prosecution memo on a fictitious case
- Prep for a 1.5 hr, 5-way negotiation (that’s today!)
Our professors shaped the course around guest speakers, and on average we have about one per day. I LOVE it. The speakers are absolutely amazing, and their professional experience and stories are much better exposure than powerpoints on each advocacy career! These were the speakers from week 1 (and their bios, if you’re interested!), and I am SO looking forward to the rest.
- Justice Vicky Henry, from the MA Court of Appeals. Justice Henry worked with GLAD to get same-sex marriage legalized in the Northeast, and explained their national strategy all the way through (and beyond) the Supreme Court case that nationally legalized gay marriage. Biggest take-away: the best campaigns for change MUST be carefully planned and, most importantly, properly timed. Link to bio – https://www.mass.gov/service-details/associate-justice-vickie-l-henry.
- Registered Lobbyist Vince Sampson. I knew very little about lobbyists, except that they campaigned for changes to political figures. But Mr. Sampson is hired by companies to use his political connections to inform both the politicians about the companies’ views, AND report information about the politicians’ stances back to the companies. Biggest take-away: Never lie. As a lobbyist (AND lawyer), your representation is everything, and in the end fallacies will be exposed. Link to bio – https://www.cooley.com/people/vince-sampson.
- MA state Senator Eric Lesser. Senator Lesser graduated from HLS just five years ago, and did extensive work on President Obama’s campaigns before that. He was super down-to-earth, charismatic, and real with us; he was also super impressive, because his MA district has some very red parts and some very blue parts, but he has major support across the board. Biggest take-away: Meet with people face-to-face and show you care; most people want advocates who CARE, over those who share the same views. Link to bio – http://www.ericlesser.com/about-eric.
- Speechwriters Terry Szuplat and Stephen Krupin. Both of these men were writers for President Obama, and Mr. Szuplat actually wrote the speech that Pres Obama gave at my Academy graduation! Hearing about the process of a speechwriter was INCREDIBLE; basically, they would be given an occasion and a “go,” do tons of research, write the speech, send it to multiple agencies for approval, make changes, send to POTUS, make his changes, and then finalize. All in about 72 hours! Biggest take-away: when giving a speech, don’t underestimate an audience’s intelligence and overestimate their knowledge on a subject. Link to Mr. Szuplat’s bio – https://globalvoicescommunications.com/about/; link to Mr. Krupin’s bio – http://www.skdknick.com/staff/stephen-krupin/.
J-term is Pass/Fail, so basically we just have to do the work to not fail. We do have a final project within our teams, where we are supposed to pick a cause, set a goal, and create an advocacy plan to achieve it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of time to design this, so my group plans to keep it small and local – probably something to do with Harvard itself.
But regardless of how ‘small’ the issue is, we’ll still need to do some research. We’ll need to pinpoint the policy to change, come up with a media campaign to raise awareness, write pieces for local newspapers, figure out the process of actually making said change, and work to persuade the ‘right people’ within that chain (Looking at you, Dean Manning!) Overall, it seems like a reasonably good way to practice each section and test what we’ve learned without the full-blown panic of a final.
Final Rating: 9/10
My favorite part about Advocacy will undoubtedly be the speakers, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m wasting my time. I think that’s the best you can hope for in a course that lasts less than 15 days! There’s a whoooooole wide legal world beside reading contracts and yelling at juries, and I’m lucky to get a low-threat taste of just a few 💃