In the most famous scene of 1967’s The Graduate (whose trailer encapsulates virtually the entire plot), Dustin Hoffman’s promising but drifting Benjamin Braddock, newly graduated from a prestigious but never named East Coast university, is steered aside at his California homecoming party for a private poolside conversation by Mr. McGuire, a self-assured, fiftyish, family friend.

     McGuire portentously imparts to him “Just one word: . . . Plastics. . . . There’s a great future in plastics.”

     As symbolic of a synthetic, soulless, and sterile society (and suburbia) as that advice might have been, Mr. McGuire was not wrong, even from the sixties’ scientific and financial (if not necessarily environmental) perspective.  (See, for instance, the most recent volume in MIT’s Essential Knowledge series, whose selection of scores of topics is itself thought-provoking.)

    At the beginning of 2024 and of the spring semester, three words are increasingly, if unsettlingly, relevant to law and pre-law students.

     ● Evacuation.  In a book published last spring, I recommended, during a discussion of often overlooked or underemphasized elements of law school orientation, that students “check the emergency evacuation routes from your classrooms, and whether (and how) their doors can be locked from the inside.  You might also note where the fire extinguishers, AEDs (automated external defibrillators), and any emergency telephones are located, and save for quick reference the emergency and non-emergency phone numbers of the local and campus police.”

     On December 7, 2023, one day after a multiple-fatality shooting on his university’s campus, another law professor wrote, “Next semester, I will teach two classes.  We’ll start with a review for how to escape the building.  It’s how all my classes will start from now on.”

     ● Disruption.  In my list of summer reading suggestions for entering students, I advised, “check your law school’s Web site for the rules of conduct governing law students (some of which may apply to all students, and/or all members, of the university’s community).  Particularly note. . . any policies concerning or regulating speech and conduct (inside and outside the classroom, and online).”

     In light of global and local events, on December 12 the governing body of the (arguably) oldest university in the United States felt it necessary to emphasize,  “At Harvard, we champion open discourse and academic freedom, and we are united in our strong belief that calls for violence against our students and disruptions of the classroom experience will not be tolerated.” 

     Harvard is far from the only institution of higher education to issue such a recent reminder and reaffirmation.

     ● Plagiarism.  The other topic that I suggested students “[p]articularly note” in their schools’ rules is “the provisions of the honor code, especially any definitions of plagiarism (which is an academic, not necessarily an intellectual property law, offense).”

     The identification of plagiarism, another topic of current concern and controversy at Harvard, is now being revisited by schools nationwide, because of the growing use of generative artificial intelligence programs such as ChatGPT.

     In his 2023 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, released on December 31, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that, “Law professors report with both awe and angst that AI apparently can earn Bs on law school assignments and even pass the bar exam,” and speculated that, “Legal research may soon be unimaginable without it.”

   ● A bonus—and a timeless—word: Kindness

     Although the statement has been attributed to various philosophers of ancient Greece, it was apparently the Rev. John E. Watson of late nineteenth-century England who authored (the original, and somewhat different, version of), “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

     The theologian and rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) supposedly wrote or said (in some form), “When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”

     And in 1798, William Wordsworth referred to “that best portion of a good man’s life, / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love.”

     As The Graduate’s Mr. McGuire concluded, “Think about it.  Will you think about it? . . . Enough said.  That’s a deal.”