From bankruptcy to constitutional law, from torts to criminal justice, to the legal issues in healthcare, technology, entertainment, and so much more, Harvard Law School is a place where aspiring attorneys can study just about any subject in the law. The only question is, with such an incredible variety of choices, how can students be sure to uncover their biggest interests?
According to Harvard Law faculty and staff, they don’t have to worry. Sometimes a passion stems from an earlier hobby, a previous job, or personal experience. And sometimes it arises by pure chance: a course selected because it sounded interesting turns into a lifelong fascination, a class taken out of necessity becomes the basis of one’s legal career.
Read on to find out how some professors, lecturers, and staff members found their way to the subjects they are most passionate about — and why they stay there.
Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law
My interest in election law dates to when I took the class with [Yale Law Professor] Owen Fiss as a 2L. Owen had never taught the class before, and it was a novel and exciting experience to learn the material simultaneously with the professor. During the semester the Court also decided Vieth v. Jubelirer, its most important partisan gerrymandering case in two decades. Discussing Vieth before and after the decision came down sparked an interest in gerrymandering, which has remained one of the focal points of my scholarship.
Molly Brady, Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law
I was totally adrift during my 1L year, but I discovered my passion during a seminar I took on a whim during my 2L fall. I really started to see how property law blended my interests in history, humor, architecture, and social development. I have not looked back, and I am the luckiest person alive to do what I do.
Kenneth W. Mack ’91, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law
I’m a legal historian who is interested in issues of race, civil rights, property, and capitalism. I found my way there, first, by figuring out the things that didn’t elicit passion or great interest. I started my career as an electrical engineer and had a fairly bright future ahead of me in that field. But I couldn’t imagine doing what I was doing in the long term, and what really seemed to interest me was politics/public policy. So, I came to law school. In law school, I happened to take a course in legal history, in which I had some interest although I hadn’t ever devoted a thought to becoming a professional historian. But I loved the class and kept taking more like it. Then, I was hooked.
Tara Kole ’03, Lecturer on Law
My parents never had anything like screentime limits, and I was an only child and I didn’t play sports, so I spent most of my childhood watching film and television. When I was graduating college, I figured out that there was a job in that, and worked in the film business. When I went to law school, the plan was to be an entertainment lawyer.
Michael McCann LL.M. ’05, Visiting Professor of Law
I became interested in sports law when there was an effort to prohibit basketball players from jumping from high school to the NBA. This was back in the early 2000s, and I was a law student. I’m a Boston Celtics fan, and because the Celtics were bad in the 1990s, they often picked high in the NBA draft, so I knew the draft very well. I researched the topic and learned about labor and antitrust law, and ended up writing a law review article on the topic and it played a major role in joining a lawsuit in which a college football star, Maurice Clarett, sued the NFL over its age eligibility restriction.
Hannah Perls ’20, Senior Staff Attorney with the Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program
I came into law school knowing I wanted to work at the intersection of environmental law and human rights but had no idea what that looked like. After two summers testing out different kinds of lawyering — community-based advocacy, policy analysis, and litigation — Prof. Tyler Giannini urged me to do an independent writing project on climate change-related displacement. My process was very messy, and I wrote at least five different papers before I found my focus, but the end result was the discovery that I wanted to work on federal disaster law and think through how federal and state governments can better prepare for and respond to climate change in a way that centers the rights of people and communities most at risk.
Aminta Ossom ’09, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic
I was introduced to the topic of human rights in a foreign policy class in undergrad. I grew to love the field in law school: through experiences in my clinic, in my international law classes, and during internships. My current area of work was inspired by life after law school: I saw that human rights advocates could fight for social belonging and economic wellbeing in addition to fighting for everyone to have a voice and freedom from violence.
I. Glenn Cohen ’03, James A. Attwood and Leslie Williams Professor of Law
I was in the 8th grade at a friend’s house and her sister was in med school doing a small course in “bioethics” — I had never heard the term, got interested. Little did I know that much later in life I would have an opportunity to study it as an undergrad and then combine it with my legal education.
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