Yale Law v. Harvard Law: a first-world problem.

Lat here. It’s March, so you know what that means: prospective law students, those wise or foolish people who have decided to ignore the warnings of law school’s many critics, are deciding where to matriculate. And they want our — and your — advice.

Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal offered advice to 0Ls who were considering such schools as Columbia, Chicago, NYU, Michigan, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Minnesota. In case you missed the post, you can check it out here.

This year, Elie and I are going to offer conflicting advice — yes, it’s an ATL Debate — to a future law student with a real high-class problem. He’s choosing between Yale Law School and Harvard Law School.

Grab yourself a drink, make yourself some popcorn, and sit back, as Elie and I argue against our respective alma maters. And then, at the end, cast your vote in our reader poll….

Here’s what our reader, whom I’ll nickname “180 Problems,” wrote to me:

I’ve been looking for advice on choosing between YLS and HLS, and I figured you’d be one of the best people to ask.

I’m thinking about turning down Yale for Harvard for a couple of reasons: (1) I’ve never gone to a small school before, so I’m worried Yale will feel claustrophobic. (2) I have a couple of good friends in Cambridge/Boston who I’d like to be close to. (3) HLS has a stronger alumni network, especially internationally, which I think could be useful since I hope to spend at least part of my career abroad.

I guess I’m trying to figure out how much of an advantage YLS really has over HLS. A couple of people have pointed out to me that Harvard’s on the rise and might surpass Yale in the next decade. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Note that this email came in before the 2013 U.S. News law school rankings, in which Harvard fell to #3 behind Stanford Law School. But, as law school deans love to remind us, the U.S. News rankings are not the be-all and end-all of legal education.

So back to our advice-seeker. I asked 180 Problems: What do you want to do with your legal career? For example, do you want to become a law professor?

As for my career goals, I really have no idea at this point — I’d love to work in the Hague, or for the ACLU, or clerk, or even go into Biglaw — so I’d definitely just like to keep as many doors as I can open, if that makes sense.

[Becoming a law professor is] just one of many options. In fact, academia is actually pretty low on my list.

My reservations about Yale come down to a couple of things. For one, I get the impression that Harvard’s alumni network is — apart from being more extensive — simply stronger than Yale’s. I’d love to be proven wrong here, but it seems like HLS invests a lot more into its alumni association (http://www.hlsa.org) than YLS does (http://www.law.yale.edu/alumni/alumni.htm). I have no idea how much this actually matters in the long run, though.

More importantly, I don’t know, I just get the feeling that being at HLS means being at the center of the law school universe, if that makes any sense. Part of it is the influence HLS has had on our country via its faculty and alumni — Obama, Kagan, Lawrence Lessig, all of those senators and Supreme Court justices. HLS, unlike YLS, is everywhere. I feel like I’m hearing about it all the time.

Aside: although he’s a Harvard Law professor, Lessig is a Yale Law alumnus. The two schools are pretty incestuous, and there are a number of such crossover figures. Harvard Law professors who graduated from Yale Law include Alan Dershowitz, Noah Feldman, Jack Goldsmith, Lani Guinier, Duncan Kennedy, Randall Kennedy, Larry Lessig, and current dean Martha Minow. Yale Law professors who graduated from Harvard Law include Jack Balkin, Amy Chua, Owen Fiss, Christine Jolls, John Langbein, Jed Rubenfeld, and former dean Harold Koh.

Here is the final point of 180 Problems:

I was also looking at the two schools’ events calendars earlier today, which only confirmed my impression that HLS is a more exciting place than YLS. There are so many things going on at Harvard that Yale looks humdrum by comparison. Again, I’m not sure how much all of this matters in the long-term, which is why I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What? You weren’t excited by my upcoming appearance at Yale Law on Monday, March 26? (In fairness to Harvard Law, I spoke there last month — where I availed myself of the Falik Men’s Room.)

That’s the setup, a classic choice: Harvard versus Yale (which makes for better debate than football). Let’s hear both sides and then vote….


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