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Note: Making Docile Lawyers: An Essay on the Pacification of Law Students

  • Author(s): Dolovich, Sharon
  • et al.

Harvard Law School (HLS) occupies a privileged place in the American cultural imagination. Notwithstanding its persistent second place showing in the annual U.S. News and World Report law school rankings, Harvard Law School continues to represent, for many people both inside and outside the legal community, the pinnacle of legal education, the breeding ground for the nation's leaders. Given this status, one would expect to find HLS full of confident, enthusiastic, optimistic students who are thoroughly comfortable with themselves and fully prepared upon graduation to take on the world.

In fact, one finds quite the opposite. Far from brimming over with  personal and intellectual self-confidence, by the second (2L) year, a surprising number of Harvard Law students come to resemble what one professor has called "the walking wounded": demoralized, dispirited, and profoundly disengaged from the law school experience.  What's more, by third (3L) year, a disturbingly high number of students come to convey a strong sense of impotence and little inclination or enthusiasm for meeting the world's challenges head on.

How are we to explain this "pacification of law students"?  Arguably, many students arrive at HLS already partially pacified.  But another substantial portion of students arrives feeling confident, entitled  to be here, and equal to any challenge. And although Harvard is a place one would expect to confer a sense of confidence, poise, and agency on even the most self-effacing students, members of both these groups become subdued, withdrawn, and uncertain of their own selfworth over the course of their legal education. If Harvard Law School routinely generates students who feel insecure, disengaged, and fatalistic about the world and their future in it, one must look to the institutionitself for an explanation. In this Note, I do exactly that.


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