James Hart: the quintessential struggling law student from The Paper Chase that so many 1Ls identify with. But who really is he, and does he ever manage to make it through law school?
According to the film, novel and TV series, James originally hails from rural Minnesota and has come to Harvard to specifically to study contracts under Professor Kingsley, who is a leading authority on contract law. His first day doesn’t go to well- expecting a class session just going over the syllabus, he is quickly taken off guard by Kingsley calling on him to analyze the famed “Hairy Hand” case.
James’ 1L year is just as harsh. He joins a study group, but it eventually falls apart under the stress of competition among the members. He slowly gains experience, trying and striving until he ultimately lands a 93 on Kingsley’s final exam, but James never looks at the grade and it only comes after he has both broken into the law library to read Kingsley’s personal notes from his student days and cursed out Kingsley himself in person.
Thankfully, the rest of his legal career goes a little smoother. Working at a pizza parlor titled called Ernie’s Tavern, James joins the Harvard Law Review, and by the end of his 3L year is offered a clerkship with the Second Circuit, a position in a private firm, and asked to apply for the Thompson Endowment for Constitutional Law faculty position. He opts to become a teacher, only to find his appointment blocked by Kingsley, who says that while James is an exceptional student and will make an outstanding lawyer, he has no experience or resources to draw on as a teacher. It’s a disappointing outcome, but James does make peace with his former contracts professor, who he praises while giving the commencement address.
James’ story is, admittedly, a long one- the TV series alone ran 4 seasons- but it’s overall it’s a story that perhaps continues to ring true for many students experience in law school: rough at the start, doable as the years go on, and ultimately concludes with a sense of both accomplishment for the things gained and peace with the things lost. Which isn’t that bad of an ending, is it?