In a theater district alley in downtown Boston, dozens of Harvard Law students line up to get into the New Orleans-themed Big Easy club.
At the rope line in front, the party’s organizer, T. J. Duane ’02, greets guests with a smile or a handshake and a free pass inside. Downstairs, most partygoers congregate near the bar for free drinks while a few finally start dancing around 10:30 p.m.
“There’s so much going on because of T. J.,” said Caren Van Winkle ’03, who stands on the edge of the dance floor with a mandarin tonic in her hand and Mardi Gras beads around her neck.
It’s all in a night’s work for Duane as he builds a friendlier law school one drink at a time.
He’s earned a reputation among new students as Harvard Law’s social czar. His informational Web site, HLCentral.com, averages 8,500 hits a month and landed him a profile in the Wall Street Journal.
Yet initially, Duane says he was just trying to make Harvard Law a little less competitive for himself and other 1Ls.
“If on a Thursday night you’re sharing a drink with them, they’re ten times less likely to stab you in the back in class on Friday morning,” Duane said.
So when he arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1999, Duane started organizing small gatherings at bars near campus and parties in Law School dorm lounges. As the crowds grew to include students from other area schools, the venues switched to some of Boston’s largest clubs.
Last May, he rolled out the Web site, initially called HLSCentral. Duane switched the name to HLCentral after the provost’s office suggested his original name violated the University’s policy about using Harvard’s name in Internet addresses.
At the site, students log on to a calendar of upcoming gatherings or look at pictures from previous parties. They can also find class notes and exchange information about off-campus housing.
Most students attending the Big Easy party said they check the Web site at least once a week.
“It’s easy,” said Anca Cornis-Pop ’03. “When you’re in school all the time you don’t have time to think what to do on weekends.”
In the fall, HLCentral expanded into a nonprofit campus organization with 50 members. Eventually, Duane says he’d like the group to move beyond parties and organize everything from trips to Boston plays to bus transportation to Logan Airport on holidays.
To pay for it all, law firms, including Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, as well as the bar review firm Bar/Bri and Lexis have kicked in thousands of dollars as sponsors. Next fall, Duane says HLCentral may help law firms organize recruiting receptions.
All the money, Duane says, goes toward HLCentral activities, including donuts in first-year classes on Friday mornings.
Dean of Students Suzanne Richardson had nothing but praise for Duane’s community-building efforts.
“T. J. is a very energetic, committed, and good-hearted person, and I think his role, and his goal, is to be a positive contributor to whatever community he’s in,” Richardson said.
Duane says he learned his social planning skills as an undergraduate at Cornell University, where he served as program administrator for a dorm of 540 students. He created his first business, which focused on graphic design, in high school.
After graduation, Duane says he plans to practice law but would one day like to open another business.
“I have a ton of ideas,” Duane said. “I’d like to run with them.”