Kelly Ganon is a current 3L and one of our Admissions Fellows. We recently sat down to hear her reflections on her HLS experience. Read on to learn about how she navigated the opportunities at Harvard, and her advice for prospective students!
Tell us about your path to Harvard Law.
When I was a high school freshman, I joined my high school’s mock trial team. I know how corny this sounds, but it’s true: the first time I stood up in a courtroom and gave a (fake) opening statement, I knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life. As I headed to college, my primary goal was to see the law from as many angles as possible. I attended Northeastern University, in part because the school has a robust internship program built into its undergraduate curriculum. Through that program, I spent half of my third year working for federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, and half of my fourth year in Switzerland helping to train public defenders in developing countries with a Geneva-based NGO. When I returned stateside, I finished up my classes and returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston full-time as a paralegal. I provided litigation support in the Economic Crimes Unit there for two years before shipping off across the Charles River to start at HLS.
Why did you pick HLS?
Like many prospective HLS students, at the end of my admissions cycle, I was faced with a choice between a Harvard education and some sizable scholarships elsewhere. As fortunate as I felt to be in a position where I couldn’t make a bad choice, for a period of time I was paralyzed with fear that I wouldn’t make the best choice. I reached out to every HLS alum in my personal and professional networks (and even some folks I’d never met before) and asked them for their thoughts. They were at various stages of their careers, but each and every one of them talked about the many doors that this institution had opened for them. They talked about the career flexibility they felt they had as a result of the enormous Harvard network and the top-notch educations they received. In one conversation I’ll never forget, a prominent alumnus I was lucky enough to get on the phone said, “Kelly, let’s get real. If you go anywhere else, you’re going to be sitting in your 1L classes and day dreaming about being at Harvard.” In my heart of hearts, I knew he was right. I’ve never looked back.
Have you been able to work closely with professors? How are those relationships established?
My best working relationship with an instructor came through my 2L fall semester at the Consumer Protection Clinic at Harvard’s Legal Services Center (LSC). Like all of the clinical instructors at LSC, Roger Bertling is both a teacher and a practitioner, so he is able to bring theory and practice together in a way that I found to be incredibly exciting. In my view, the two best things about forging a good relationship with a clinical instructor are first, that they are able to provide immediate and constant feedback on your work in a way that academic professors who give one assessment at the end of a semester cannot, and second, that as they see you growing as an advocate, they are able to give you increasing responsibility in real time. But there are a lot of different ways that students can form close academic and/or professional bonds with professors outside of the clinical setting. For example, I have a friend who hit it off with a professor when she was a student in his 1L reading group. She worked as his Teaching Assistant during the fall of her 2L year, and he later agreed to supervise her independent writing project — so they’ve now worked together in three different capacities. Office hours are always an option, too. Every professor who is teaching in a given semester has office hours weekly, and many do not require students to sign up in advance. So if there is a professor whose work you find particularly interesting, you can often easily seek them out regardless of whether you are taking a class with them.
What do you pursue outside of the classroom? How do you balance activities with coursework?
In addition to giving tours and leading info sessions as an Admissions Fellow, I am an Executive Editor for the Harvard Law & Policy Review and serve as a committee chair for the Women’s Law Association. Off campus, I spend most of my time at the dog park with my 2 year-old Black Lab, Luna, and distance running. Of course, it can be hard to balance law school and extracurriculars. But even during the busiest times of the school year, I have found that I’ve been able to make time for the activities and people I love as long as I am disciplined about it. I block out time in my schedule every week to do non-law school things, and I hold myself to it — no matter if that means staying up a little later or waking up a little earlier to read that one last case before class. And for my fellow runners reading this blog, my best advice is to sign up for a couple of races for weekends during the school year! Having a race entry on the books will keep you motivated to hit the road even when the coursework starts to feel overwhelming.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is considering applying to HLS?
Make sure that the person you present through your application materials actually sounds like you! Given the kinds of accomplishments people tend to have if they are competitive candidates for admission at top-tier law schools, putting yourself in the running against them for a spot in the incoming class can feel immensely intimidating. You might be tempted to massage your application materials until you look like a “typical” candidate. But typicality is not a virtue for a school that is focused on being exceptional. Additionally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you’re not giving off the “I can be a successful law student!” vibe at all times. I was positive I’d blown my chances at Harvard because I made a VERY lame joke in my admissions interview. But here I am, a rising 3L, still making terrible jokes.