Molly Boyle '08
Thesis Title: “Strategically Marrying Christ: The Function of Abbesses in Merovingian Politics, 525-725 AD”
I graduated from Harvard College in 2008, where I concentrated in History and received a citation in German. I went on to Yale Law School, and after graduation, I served as a law clerk to the Honorable Bruce M. Selya on the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit before entering private practice in Boston.
When I arrived at Harvard, I knew I wanted to go to law school, so I thought I would concentrate in Social Studies, Economics, or Government (courses in those departments seemed most similar to the “right” pre-law curriculum). To fulfill a general studies requirement, I enrolled in Professor Michael McCormick’s class on Charlemagne during my freshman spring. I was blown away by what professors at Harvard were doing with history – and I knew I couldn’t waste the chance to spend four years studying something totally cutting-edge with the brightest minds in the field. I ended up studying the early medieval period, focusing on how interdisciplinary study (between history and archaeology or cartography, for example) could shed new light on the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. It is worth mentioning that having a unique background in the History Department made me a far better law school candidate. A candidate who wrote a thesis on Merovingian nuns stands out to admissions committees when compared to the hundred applicants who have studied pre-law for four years!
Concentrating in History provided me with many skills that transfer easily to law. I will list a few as examples. First and foremost, my teachers in History taught me when and how to engage in close reading, which is critical to legal work – whether that work is evaluating a contract or determining the precedential value of a case. On the other end of the spectrum, in my medieval history tutorial with Professor Daniel Smail, we were assigned the task of “skimming” voluminous history books in order to write a summary of them. I have found this skill particularly helpful when assigned the task of understanding and explaining enormous quantities of legal documents on a tight schedule. Finally, I use the narrative writing style that I learned in my sophomore tutorial on a daily basis. In a sense, good lawyers are good historians (just historians of very recent and specific events). When describing the facts of a case or the issues with a deal, I have to be able to recite the factual background to clients or other attorneys in a subtly convincing and biased way.
It is also worth mentioning that the History Department’s requirements can’t help but transform History students into prolific and sophisticated writers. Of course, this is useful when it comes time to draft briefs, opinions, or contracts, but it is also useful for other professional reasons. Because I learned to write effectively and to enjoy researching and writing, I continue to publish and present papers on legal history in my spare time. In short, I received an outstanding education as a History concentrator, and I am so glad that I spent my undergraduate years studying cemeteries and plagues – not the same documents and legislation I would have had to study in law school anyway.