财新传媒 财新传媒


August in Cambridge, Massachusetts was blue, gold, and red. The azure sky and golden sunlight offered a familiar warmth as I settled into my new home in crimson land.


Yet, as a first-year law student, I am here for a different color. Even though what awaits me is perhaps a golden world with no short supply of exciting reds and blues, I must be comfortable, as a lawyer-in-the-making, to live in the gray.




Gray is not boredom. Instead, the past few months have taught me that living in the gray in itself offers a whole palette of feelings that often bring me back to my Claremont days.


As a politics major and Spanish minor at Pomona, I strove to deepen my knowledge of the social sciences on the one hand, and further my longstanding passion for foreign languages, literature, and creativity on the other. Writing was the centerpiece that helped connect the dots throughout my intellectual journey in Claremont.


As a first-year eager to continue the journalistic work I had been doing for the Huffington Postand South China Morning Post, I sampled virtually all of the 5Cs’ student-runpublicationsClaremont Law Journal (which would later evolve into the Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy, “CJLPP”) especially caught my attention, for law — full of tensions — attracted me in an indescribable fashion. Law is broad, for it is the most all-encompassing way in which society organizes itself; however, law is also narrow in demanding precise thinking and minute details in each case. Law embodies grandiose principles of justice, but even landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions may involve great injustice. Often, three-pronged tests that courts develop and the apparently inconsistent way judges interpret the law can feel frustratingly arbitrary. 


On a more personal level, law singularly magnified my internal tension between painstakingly precise academic writing on the one hand, and free-flowing creative writing on the other. To me, law clearly fits the first category, while being almost an antithesis to the latter, which has shaped much of who I am.


My early impressions of CJLPP confirmed these initial feelings about the law. I soon found that among the 11 student organizations that I had enthusiastically joined, CJLPP was the most efficiently-run: weekly meetings, which always started exactly on time throughout my four years, somehow defied the concept of “Claremont time”; we had a 48-hour response rule across the editorial team; my colleagues and I regularly exchanged long emails regarding all aspects of the journal.


Serving as an editor, and later, Editor-in-Chief, for CJLPP allowed me to sharpen precise thinking and writing skills, as I pored over our authors’ articles, sentence by sentence, word by word, and punctuation mark by punctuation mark. Throughout the editing process, I relished the communication between myself and our writers, and later, between the writers and our readers — all through written words. In Contracts class in law school, we learned about “meeting of the minds”; I think we can apply this doctrine to effective writing as well. It is quite an art, as I came to appreciate, to first internalize a large body of existing scholarship and black-letter rules for yourself, then to consider ways one can argue for both sides before finding your own position, and more importantly, to communicate such ideas in a logical, accessible way for readers who may not be familiar with the issue at all. 


As a freelancer and fiction writer, I had generally considered writing a mostly solitary activity; my experience with CJLPP challenged me to expand my philosophy on the writing/editing process. Gradually, I came to agree with my CJLPP friends that writing is not a solitary activity, as much as it has meant for my individual growth as a writer. It is a truly collaborative process where the writer and editor alike engage in deep conversations and learn from each other, often through points of contention.


Meanwhile, my obsession with creativity would not allow me to surrender my creative instincts. One of the most memorable moments in my academic career at Pomona was one where I slipped into a judge’s robe and held a gavel, fashioning myself into a Supreme Court justice in Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974), for my Spanish elective on bilingualism in the United States. If this presentation was painful for me in any way, the pain was purely self-imposed: for this final project of the class, students were free to choose any topic on bilingualism to present. I decided to do my first full-scale legal research project entirely in Spanish, and challenged myself further by making the format of my presentation as creative as possible, before writing an extensive research paper analyzing Lau.


I must admit that I had tons of fun working on the presentation. I had been inspired by Justice Sonia Sotomayor just one year prior when I had escorted her around our beautiful campus, and I daydreamed about the possibility of becoming a judge some day — I even started writing a novel partially set at the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, my professor’s comment was piercing to me at the time; while the audience and himself all found my presentation engaging, my professor questioned the value of my creative approach. Upon reflection, I agreed that I had been employing creativity almost exclusively for creativity’s sake. The creative elements had not strengthened the substance of my presentation. That A- on the presentation, admittedly, had me in tears when I shared the story with my best friends over dinner, given how much effort I had put into the project. This failed first attempt at juxtaposing my interest in the law and my commitment to creativity was a wakeup call. 


Can it be done?


Perhaps. To this day, I cannot claim that I have reached any sort of conclusion, but I do keep trying. With CJLPP, I actively rebelled against the notion that a law journal is supposed to be “dry and boring.” I constantly sought to add creative ingredients to the journal along with my wonderful fellow members of the journal. As one example, when my peers and I identified that there are just over 10 established undergraduate law journals in the U.S. and Canada, we encouraged our counterparts at other institutions to consider the relationship among our respective journals not as a zero-sum game for readership or strong submissions, but as a collaborative endeavor, especially having increasingly appreciated the collective efforts internally for CJLPP. As a result, the Intercollegiate Law Journal, a platform featuring the best undergraduate legal writing from across different North American universities, was born. As another example, when we kept noting staff turnover because juniors go abroad or do a semester in D.C., I created a new position, the D.C./foreign correspondent role, for CJLPP staff writers to take advantage of their experiences off-campus —a win-win situation for the writers and the journal alike.




In One L, Scott Turow’s notorious memoir on his “turbulent” first year studying at Harvard Law School, there is a chapter titled “Learning to Love the Law.” As HLS Professor Noah Feldman shared with my 1L section over lunch one day, 1L is a process of deconstruction, of seeing everything through an X-ray. Instead of reading cases as normal human beings do, we focus on abstract elements of the law; as Professor Feldman analogized, nothing can look that pretty under an X-ray. 


Although HLS has changed drastically since the highly competitive period when Turow studied here, I agree that 1L, and law school generally, provides a framework for one to “learn to love the law.” In my personal experience thus far, 1L has involved a whole spectrum of emotions that living in the gray evidently entails. 


Often enough, I find my heart pounding. Sometimes, it is a criminal law case that triggered consecutive nightmares, haunting me with ethical questions. Sometimes, it is an appellate brief whose fact pattern is very unfavorable to my assigned position and issue given the relevant caselaw. Like solving a jigsaw puzzle, working on the brief invited me to confront the messiness within the case that the control-freak in me found initially disconcerting. Distilling elements from facts and precedents and framing them in a way that would make my arguments as strong as possible for each section, subsection, and sub-subsection felt incredibly rewarding. Head over heels, I fell genuinely in love with the law during these times. Other times, I would fall out of love with the law, frustrated by a real fear that the law would once again stifle my creative tendencies, perhaps once and for all. This cycle would continue — like the color gray that is neither black nor white, the law and my sentiments towards it involve more complexity.


Turow would graduate from HLS, enjoy his legal practice, and become a celebrated master of the modern legal thriller — a real-world example of someone who successfully managed to embrace both the law and creative writing. 


As for you and me, I wonder what our future holds. Gold, red, blue, or gray? All of the above? Time will tell. In the meantime, I am grateful for CJLPP and my Claremont years for shedding light on my puzzle, and very much look forward to hearing about my fellow CJLPPers’ own questions — similar or dissimilar to mine — as you further your own academic and professional journeys. It is my sincere hope that CJLPP will continue to grow and prosper. Godspeed.


April Xiaoyi Xu graduated summa cum laude from Pomona College as the Phi Beta Kappa Graduate Award recipient of the Class of 2018. She was selected as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. April is currently a Juris Doctor candidate at Harvard Law School, where she is Managing Editor-elect of the Harvard Negotiation Law Review and an executive board member of the Harvard International Law Journal.







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哈佛法學院2021屆 Juris Doctor、哈佛亞洲法律協會主席。美國聯邦法院 judicial law clerk。2018年以最高榮譽畢業於美國頂尖文理學院Pomona College,大三時入選美国大学优等生协会Phi Beta Kappa並擔任西班牙語榮譽協會主席。多家國際刊物撰稿人及專欄記者、《克萊蒙特法律及公共政策期刊》總編及《北美聯合法律期刊》創始人。劍橋大學唐寧學者。羅德獎學金最終候選人。