Throughout my legal career, the Harvard Law grads of my generation and after have bewildered me. The ones I met practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, more often than not, were distinguished by two things: lousy legal skills and strident aggression. I was pretty sure that this perception on my part wasn’t simply the sour grapes of one who didn’t go to an Ivy League law school. For example, I’ve always had the highest respect for Yale Law grads, although I think they tend to be almost obsessively detail-oriented. It really was something about those Harvard grads.
I admit that I met a very narrow spectrum of Harvard grads. The “white guys” were almost all pre-1984 grads (meaning that they pre-dated me by a lot). They were stiff and pompous, but they were decent lawyers. The ones I worked with (and against) were the younger folks. The only white males were (1) a guy who claimed to be half Native American, although this genetic legacy was not apparent; (2) and the other guy who claimed to be a quarter Native American and who was trilingual. (He also had a serious drug problem, but that’s a story for another day.) The rest of the Harvard folks I worked with were female, obvious ethnic minorities (that is, they didn’t have to tell everyone about their unique, non-white ethnic background), or gay. Or all three of course. I know Harvard was graduating white males, but they seemed not to be landing in my small circles.
For the most part, the small group of Harvard lawyers that I met were not good lawyers. They were aggressive, but their research and analysis skills were significantly less good than the same skills I saw in those who graduated from other law schools, be they very famous (Yale or Boalt) or less so (Baylor, Hastings, Santa Clara, etc.). Since many of the Harvard Law grads were indeed very bright, they buffed up their basic lawyering skills with the years, but none seemed to tone down that bizarre aggression.
Let me stress again that, working in and around San Francisco, I was looking at a self-selected group of Harvard lawyers. San Francisco, after all, was then, as it is now, a magnet for Leftist political extremists. I didn’t know the word “Progressive” back then, but I bet they did. It’s just that, in this world, the Harvard grads were even more Progressive than the others.
David French, who arrived at Harvard Law in the year that Obama left (Obama left in the spring, French arrived in the fall), tells what the environment was like back then. If that was the same environment that existed during the mid- and late-1980s, it goes a long way to explain those, to me, mysterious Harvard grads.