The 2015 edition of the Harvard Law School Semester in Washington has now ended. During our semester, we escaped the worst winter in Boston’s history; saw the convening and first 100 days of a new Republican-controlled Congress and later, the first days of the 2016 presidential campaign; struggled in class to find genuine policy solutions to the long-term problem of police/community relations; worked in government offices across the city and across the political branches; and had a time full of learning and new experiences.
In these three months, we have tried to model and learn from great government policy lawyers. We’ve done so by exploring issues arising from our placements and our work in government, and also from the headlines and our own interests: from the structure of elections to marijuana policy; from labor law to human rights; from crime, policing and justice to education policy. We’ve learned from one another, from government lawyers and policy makers in our placements, and from leaders in government and the private sector. We met fascinating people, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Senator Mike Lee and his Counsel, Benji McMurray, Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Ebola Czar and Policy Guru Ron Klain, and Google Public Policy Director Adam Kovacevich.
We’ve looked at what policy making means and the building blocks that make up rigorous and thoughtful policy making. We’ve tried to expand our thinking about policy making to include “nudges” and changes to the bureaucracy and governmental leadership. We worked on some critical skills for the policy lawyer and heard some pretty good elevator pitches and PowerPoint presentations. We visited the Supreme Court and watched two terrific oral advocates argue before the Court. We set goals for ourselves; met many; and missed a few too. We worked hard at our placements and shared and learned from each other’s experiences. We thought about the ethical responsibilities of the government lawyer and what it means to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, while the President and the Attorney General were regularly being criticized for failing to do so (and a new Attorney General waited the entire semester to be confirmed because she agreed with the President on this issue). We read about what makes a great organization in the social sector great and how leadership figures into that. We ventured outside the Washington of tourists and monuments and served some of the people who call Washington home. We shared a few meals together and got to know one another a bit better. For each of us, there were expectations met, expectations missed, and surprises too.
As always, what was most gratifying for me was the chance to get to know each of you a bit and to create a small community of learning away from Cambridge. I have enjoyed learning from you and seeing your energy and passion for justice over the past three months. I hope I have helped channel that energy and passion and that you will now take your places as leaders who will contribute in real and measurable ways to improving our country and our world. In whatever you do next and throughout your career, there will be opportunities for you to serve.
Please don’t hesitate to call on me if there is ever anything I can do for you. For our graduating 3-Ls, my congratulations to you all on a job well done. For our 2-Ls, I will be in Cambridge in the fall to recruit for our Semester in Washington Class of 2016, and I hope to see some of you there. For all of you, if you are ever near the Main Justice Building, please drop me a line and let’s find time to catch up.
My best to you all. Enjoy the summer!