It Was a Dark and Stormy Semester...

Portrayals of Harvard Law School in Literature

The depiction of law in literature is not a new phenomenon.  From The Illiad to Merchant of VeniceBilly Budd to The Bluest Eye, the law “has fascinated creative writers and literary scholars (not to mention filmmakers)” just as “literature has fascinated and even inspired” judges and lawyers (Posner, Law and Literature, 2009, p. 5).

Image of typewriter

Depictions of legal education, however, have been dominated by only a few relatively recent players – The Paper Chase and Legally Blonde come quickly to mind.  Despite the inception of formal legal education in the United States with the founding of Harvard Law School in 1817, many of our most well-known heroes of legal literature were not, in fact, law school graduates.  Atticus Finch, for example, was admitted to the Bar of the Alabama Supreme Court after serving an apprenticeship in a Montgomery law office.

This exhibit seeks to highlight the role of Harvard Law School in literature, whether the law school serves as the scene, the featured characters are law school graduates, or even when the law school has inspired its students to become novelists during their JD studies.   This exhibit is by no means an exhaustive representation of HLS in literature, many other Harvard Law School students, faculty, and alumni have taken on careers in fiction writing – still many other HLS graduates feature in any number of novels, television shows, and movies.  What this exhibit attempts to demonstrate is a multi-dimensional depiction of Harvard Law School, its physical and pedagogical footprint, its students, faculty, and alumni.  While the themes of such fictional depictions range from memoir to satire, and of course legal thriller, there are consistent threads that when woven together add to the rich tapestry of Harvard Law School – its history and future.

This exhibit was curated by Claire DeMarco and Ed Moloy and was on view in the Caspersen Room, Harvard Law School Library, May 6 - August 14, 2015.