Celebration of the successful completion of the Harvard Law School campaign

Harvard Law School, Holmes Field, Cambridge, Mass.

As prepared for delivery

Good evening, everyone, and thanks for inviting me to be with you.

Our gathering takes place at a turbulent time. As Octobers go, this one seems destined to be remembered – though not, on the whole, as a time of celebration, either in the world at large or even, alas, at Fenway Park. But tonight, at this place, and in this company, we have a great deal to celebrate. And I want to begin by saying, simply, to every one of you – thank you. Harvard Law School would not be what it is – it could not aspire to do all that it does – without your thoughtful engagement, your constructive commitment, and your farsighted support. Your work on behalf of this school means the world to us – just as the work of this school means so much to the world.

This campaign has attracted record-setting support, thanks to all of you here. But, ultimately, what counts the most is not what’s most easily counted. The real measure of success lies in what this campaign will enable this school to do – for our faculty, our students, our programs, our capacity to serve the profession and the world. By that measure it’s hard to overstate what you have helped make possible.

The quality of the student experience has been transformed. A generation ago, books like The Paper Chase and One L could be found on the current nonfiction shelf. Now, thanks to changes you’ve helped enable, they seem well on their way to the history section.

There has not only been a striking elevation in the mood of our students – a heartening progression from angst to enthusiasm. We’ve also seen the most ambitious reforms of the HLS curriculum since the days of Langdell. There’s a new emphasis on legislation and regulation, on international and comparative law, on creative problem-solving and clinical work, on curricular connections with science, with economics, with management and other fields.

The campaign, as you know, has also helped us to augment the faculty and expand its intellectual reach beyond that of any comparable law school. Some of you may have seen the April Fools’ Day issue of the Harvard Law Record, whose lead story began like this: “Harvard Law School's communications office announced today that Harvard Law School has hired every law professor in the country, solidifying its position as the preeminent law school in America.” Modest exaggerations aside, we have much to celebrate in how the campaign has helped to enlarge the faculty’s extraordinary range and power, in fields both traditional and new.

And there’s so much more. The prospect of a dramatically changed campus – as the Northwest Corner building moves from drawing board to reality. The school’s increasingly global outlook. The intensified commitment to student access and opportunity through enhanced financial aid. The efforts to link our academic programs more purposefully with the profession they serve.

There’s one aspect of the school’s trajectory that I’d like to pause on – because it goes to the heart of what the school is about, and because it powerfully connects the school’s history with its ambitions for the future.

When Josiah Quincy, Harvard’s 15th president, came to the Law School in 1832 to dedicate Dane Hall as the school’s new home, he hailed the members of the legal profession for what he called their “noble exertions and personal sacrifices ... in the interests of the age and of society.”

In different terms, in different times, that spirit of service continues to animate this school.

Think about our alumni.

By our latest count, Harvard Law School has graduated 10 attorneys general of the United States, seven solicitors general, and scores of members of Congress. It has educated governors galore, including four of the six recent chief executives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, both Democratic and Republican. More than half the current members of the nation’s highest court today were educated here. They have an extraordinary legacy to uphold – following in the path of graduates like Brennan, and Frankfurter, and Brandeis, and Holmes.

And, in case you somehow hadn’t noticed, it’s quite possible that 12 days from now, if the opinion polls are to be believed, Rutherford B. Hayes may no longer be the only right answer to the trivia question, “What graduate of Harvard Law School was elected president of the United States?”

Senior government service is just a sliver of the story. Countless graduates have served the public interest in other ways – some highly visible, some seldom noticed. They represent indigent clients. They lead public-interest firms. They create nonprofit organizations like Appleseed Foundation and City Year. They’ve guided organizations like the World Bank and Common Cause. They help shape legal systems and institutions abroad. They help ensure that private firms sustain their commitment to pro bono work – and they do that work themselves.

Think about our faculty. They include leaders in shaping our understanding not only of American constitutional law – but of constitutional principles in societies as diverse as South Africa and Iraq. They include some of the nation’s most influential thinkers on how to safeguard the economic interests of working-class families and how to achieve the ideals of racial justice – how to reform corporate governance and how to secure the openness of the Internet. They include eminent experts on how to protect human rights in repressive societies and how to promote the sustainability of the planet – how to reconcile civil liberties with security needs and how to achieve educational equality in our public schools.

Think, most of all, about our students. In their years here, they on average far exceed the hours they are expected to devote to pro bono work. They staff 29 different legal clinics – twenty-nine of them – focused on topics from child advocacy to war crimes. They provide free legal services that benefit thousands of low-income clients close to home. They defend human rights in Rwanda and Haiti and Bangladesh. They advocate for religious liberty and for campaign finance reform, for tenants’ rights and for criminal justice.

Thanks largely to many of you here, they now have much-improved resources for advising on public-interest careers. They have significantly greater access to summer and postgraduate fellowships for public service work. They have the benefit of expanded resources for clinical programs – and the promise of major new facilities for clinical work in the Northwest Corner building. And, starting with JD students entering this fall, they have the prospect of a tuition-free third year if they commit to five years of public service after graduation.

I hope and trust they have a sense of Harvard Law School as an institution profoundly devoted to serving the public good. It’s critical that they leave here with the habits of mind and the understanding of legal concepts and methods essential to productive careers in the law. It’s no less critical that they leave here with a vivid sense of the law not just as an occupation but as a calling. We owe them, in return, not only an education in parsing precedent and interpreting doctrine and mastering techniques of advocacy – but an education that helps them see how, in Quincy’s words, their “noble exertions” can advance “the interests of the age and of society.”

Speaking here in 1886, 20 years after his graduation from this school, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described the law as the “branch of human knowledge … more immediately connected with all the highest interests of man than any other which deals with practical affairs.” His juxtaposition of “the highest interests of man” with “practical affairs” is worth underscoring. What better way to think not just of the law but of the role of a law school – uniting the university’s transcendent commitment to knowledge and learning with attention to the pressing concerns of the world?

Every moment in history is unique. Every moment has its own perils and its own challenges. And in recent weeks I think we have come to recognize that our present moment will warrant its own distinctive chapter in the history books of the future – at least if there is still such a thing as books with chapters a century from now.

This law school and this university have a special responsibility at such a time. They have responsibilities rooted in a past rich with the kind of examples of public engagement I just described. Responsibilities focused on the immediate present, as faculty from this school and the larger university offer advice and comment on the crisis before us. And responsibilities aimed at the future, as we educate students to assume leadership roles in addressing the web of complex issues we now confront: issues of regulation and its proper extent, of legal prerogative and accountability, of national and international financial structures and systems, of fairness among stakeholders and across generations – issues that will take not just months but years to resolve.

There are few times in our history when there has been greater need for effective, enlightened public service – and for talented and dedicated public servants. With Holmes, let us remember that their task – the task for all of us – is not simply a matter of what he called “practical affairs.” It is to help shape and envision practical solutions with a conscious concern for what he called “the highest interests of men” – not mere self-interest, not just the pursuit of professional status or personal gain, but rather the larger ideals that inspire this school and the profession that it serves: ideals of justice, of equality, of freedom, of respect for the rule of law, of dedication to advancing the common good.

Like my predecessor Josiah Quincy, 13 Harvard presidents ago, I stand before you tonight both to celebrate and to anticipate the Harvard Law School community’s “noble exertions and personal sacrifices ... in the interests of the age and of society.”

For all that you do to help this school, I thank you very much.

- Drew Gilpin Faust