At a welcoming event for the incoming class at Harvard University’s ornate Sanders Theatre, Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85 imparted several pieces of advice meant to help new students navigate law school, their careers in the law, and their lives beyond.
Speaking to a group of students representing more than 60 countries, the dean shared “three simple rules for success in law school and the legal profession.” Manning assured students that they will succeed in law school and in their careers despite the challenges ahead or whatever jitters they may be feeling as they begin their journey.
Manning’s first rule was advice his mother gave him when he was a 1L: “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.” As the first in his family to graduate from college or attend law school, Manning recalled feeling anxious and a little out of his depth when he first arrived at HLS. He described such feelings as an “occupational hazard of highly motivated people.”
“I know I’ve felt it every time I’ve started a new school or a new job, including this one,” he said. “It is not unique to you.” Despite the fact that all around you might appear confident on the outside, nearly everyone experiences similar feelings.
For his second rule, Manning urged students to “listen generously to others, especially those who disagree with you.”
Opening your mind to others’ perspectives is also key to learning and growing, both in the law and as a person. “No law school has a greater diversity of perspectives, approaches, methodologies, backgrounds, aspirations, lived experiences,” he said. “So, take advantage of it while you’re here; hone your excellence by listening, truly listening, and then engaging, truly engaging, with all sides of an issue and all kinds of people. You’ll also have more fun if you do.”
Dean Manning’s final rule: “Don’t forget to live in the moment.” He noted that people who had made their way to Harvard Law School were expert in deferring gratification to pursue long-term goals, but urged them not to miss experiencing life in real time as a result.
“I spent so much of my time in law school—and after—worrying about what lay ahead,” he recalled. “Sometimes, in doing that, I forgot to live in the moment, to appreciate what I was experiencing in real time. It’s not an ideal way to go through life.”
“There will be many moments in life, happy and sad, when you will have the chance to be there for—and with—friends, family, loved ones,” Manning said. “Do it. Make time—in large and small ways, and even when it feels like you have none—to be with those you care about and who care about you.”
Manning concluded by expressing thanks for all the things his Harvard Law School education has given him and by wishing the latest group of new law students similar success.
“I am grateful to Harvard Law School,” he said, “for enabling me to live dreams neither I nor my mother nor hers could have imagined. I am also grateful to be here with you as you begin your journey.”