Date: 15 January 2017
Location: Logan International Airport, Boston.
“Ergh, I'm so sick of hearing how nice Michelle Obama was at law school. Smart, blah, congenial, blah, radiant blah blah blah.”
This is not a sentence I'd ever expected to hear, let alone find myself nodding along to, agreeing, like the most obnoxious person ever. But I do. We're at a cocktail party thrown by Harvard Law School at the end of a 2 day intensive kick off for Law Without Walls, an innovation project that my company, along with others like Latam Airlines, Microsoft and Spotify, sponsors.
The weekend had started on a perfectly crisp Massachusian day. The sky was cornflower blue and, having miserably failed in my morning mission to source tolerably passable coffee on campus (Starbucks-1, Alex-0), I walked across Cambridge Common, past the commemorative plaque marking the location of the Washington Elm, a tree under which legend claims George Washington stood as he first assumed command of the Continental Army, and into Harvard Law School. Yeah, it's a Moment.
And then, bang, there are twelve hours straight of Law Without Walls, or 'LWOW'. At the start it is cringe-worthy. I don't want to practise power poses or do trust exercises with these 200 strangers. Nor do I understand the point of doing survival exercises or what the hell a hackathon is or why I should care about ex-ovation. I definitely don't want to watch a corny lip sync video to terrible John Mellencamp song about walls Crumblin' Down to which we've all contributed.
By 5pm we've done improv, problem hacking, presented, played, learned, met lawyers, law students, business students and academics from Finland, China, France, the US, the U.K., Canada, Chile, Argentina and so many more. I've met the Dean of Harvard Law School (huge woman-crush right here) and a lawyer-turned Venture Capitalst by an inventive sweat-for-equity scheme born when he worked in a communal start up shared office space, and a mix of bright, fun others from around the world. I'm overwhelmed and exhausted. And now we're presented with a problem and asked to 'hack' at it for the next twelve hours and then pitch our solution, on stage, in 12 hours time. I've given the day every spark of energy I had — a resource which was, admittedly, scarce this month and this feels like a crushing task. Thankfully, it's the law students who are expected to do most of the work so, after two hours getting them on track, us team leaders and mentors traipse down to a dinner of local cuisine at the lovely Shepherd. It's great, but it's all I can do not to fall asleep in my Sam Adams, raw clams and marshmallows.
Then, so soon, it's Sunday evening and our pitches are done and John Mellencamp would be proud for we've well and truly broken down those walls. It's corny, sure, but I feel incredibly closely bonded to our team — which stands us in good stead got the next 3 months of virtual collaboration as we solve our team project. Bring it on.
After the cocktail party — the one where Michelle Obama comes up over and over and I meet Mike Pence's son and talk about innovation in legal education the head of Harvard's Executive Education program — we kick on at a downtown sports bar where I drink too much Sam Adams and practise my terrible French until 3am when I realise that I have to leave for the airport in just over and hour and, hey, hadn't I better get home and pack?
And here I am now, basically dead, typing this whilst sprawled over my suitcase in the departure 'lounge' waiting for the delayed 7am flight to Toronto with my seven millionth pastry of the weekend and a bad coffee (Starbucks-3, Alex-0).