As a former athlete at Harvard College and a gold medalist at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, Hayley Isenberg ’24 has long been a champion on the basketball court. And last fall, as a student at Harvard Law School, she dominated a different kind of court altogether when she and her teammates won the Ames Moot Court Competition — one of the most prestigious contests of appellate brief writing and advocacy in the nation.

Although basketball and the law may seem disparate, there is one important throughline for Isenberg, who graduates this month: the importance of teamwork. “I’m proud to have been part of my team’s collective effort and success,” she says. “I think so highly of my teammates. They’re all brilliant, kind, and inspiring people.”

No doubt they think the same of Isenberg, who served as one of the team’s two oralists, successfully arguing their case before a distinguished panel of judges that included United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Isenberg, who hails from Dallas, Texas, says she was inspired to go into law from an early age by her father, a criminal defense attorney and former state district judge. “I grew up with conversations at the dinner table being about different cases, trials, and other stories from the courthouse,” she says.

She attended Harvard College, where she majored in government and played for the school’s varsity basketball team. When she was a rising junior, she won first place at the World Maccabiah Games — which she dubs the “Jewish Olympics” — as a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team.

After graduating, she first worked for McKinsey & Company, and then moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a legislative assistant to Pete Sessions, the U.S. representative for Texas’s seventeenth congressional district. At the capital, she helped the congressman prepare for votes; communicate with constituents, lobbyists, and interest groups; and worked on foreign affairs.

But Isenberg kept returning to the idea of practicing law. “I’ve always been very ethical, very concerned with fairness and trying to do what’s right,” she says. “I’ve also always been an advocate for both myself and other people, even for very small things.”

She decided to apply to law school and says that she knew Harvard was right for her as soon as she got her acceptance call. “The joy that I felt about getting into Harvard Law School far surpassed how I felt about anywhere else.”

One thing Isenberg prized was Harvard Law’s ideological diversity. “I had heard that HLS was a really great place to be a conservative/libertarian law student,” she says. “I understood there to be an openness to having different viewpoints represented on campus and a conscious effort placed on having a diversity of opinions expressed in class. For me, that was a very important feature for a law school to have.”

Also, with access to world-class faculty and opportunities for hands-on learning, Harvard’s an “unrivaled learning experience,” says Isenberg. But she adds that it also fit her career goals. “When deciding between different top law schools, I was told that Harvard was excellent at training students on how to be practicing lawyers, and that a majority of graduates were practicing attorneys.”

As a student, Isenberg’s passion for criminal law has endured, but she says that her education has exposed her to new subjects as well. “I found myself very interested in classes like Legislation and Regulation, Administrative Law, and Federal Courts. I also loved learning the constitutional law side of criminal law in Criminal Procedure: Investigations,” she says.

As part of the Criminal Prosecution Clinic, Isenberg spent her third year at Harvard Law conducting trials and arguing hearings and motions under a supervising district attorney. “Getting to serve as a prosecutor and conduct jury trials on my own has been extremely impactful. It was a preview of what a career as a prosecutor would be like,” she says.

“Getting to serve as a prosecutor and conduct jury trials on my own has been extremely impactful. It was a preview of what a career as a prosecutor would be like.”

The clinic helped her better understand how prosecutors make charging decisions — including how much discretion they can wield — which confirmed the gravity of the work she is considering pursuing. “I recognized how important empathy would be in this role,” she says. “Watching and participating in criminal court proceedings allowed me to see first-hand some of the mental health problems, substance abuse issues, and family trauma that people have gone through that might put them in a position in life that’s different than others.”

Isenberg has been busy outside of class, as well. She is an active member of the Harvard Federalist Society and served as the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy this year. “I’m proud of the role that I’ve played in shaping in the journal’s content and in mentoring the first- and second-year students that participate in the journal,” she says.

She has also continued to play basketball, participating in the Courtroom Classic, an annual competition that pits Harvard Law students against their professors, and catching pickup games at Hemenway Gymnasium. “It’s been a fun way to connect with different groups of people on campus,” she says.

But perhaps her happiest moment came in November, when she and the five other members of the Judge Laurence H. Silberman Team won the 2023 Ames Moot Court Competition. “Having the chance to argue in front of real judges, including a Supreme Court justice, was a surreal experience that I would not have had at this stage of my career had it not been for Ames,” says Isenberg. “It was truly special.”

“Having the chance to argue in front of real judges, including a Supreme Court justice, was a surreal experience that I would not have had at this stage of my career had it not been for Ames.”

As one of the team’s two oralists, Isenberg undoubtedly played a vital role in her team’s success — but she is quick to share the credit. “I learned as much from my teammates about how to be a good lawyer and an effective writer and oral advocate as I have in my classes or clinics,” she says, adding that the experience made her more interested in appellate work in the future.

Her teammates have also become some of her best friends, she adds. “I don’t think I can even count the number of hours that I spent with them. And while a good amount of those hours were spent working, a lot of them were spent talking, getting to know each other and having fun.”

In her free time, Isenberg loves legal podcasts — “Advisory Opinions” is a favorite — and going for a run around the Charles River or Fresh Pond. As a Dallas native, she enjoys rooting for the Mavericks, and she was thrilled to watch women’s basketball gain a new following in recent months, thanks to former Iowa Hawkeyes player Caitlin Clark.

Following graduation, Isenberg says she will head to Miami, Florida, to serve as a law clerk for Barbara Lagoa, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Then, she will clerk for Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

After that, Isenberg is planning to work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., but also remains interested in doing criminal or appellate work in the public sector in the future. It’s clear that no matter what she chooses, her future coworkers will be gaining a valuable teammate indeed.

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