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Law Day ballroom


Chairman Martin Foster and Dean O'Brien conferring honorary degree


Judge Hardiman during a Q&A with students

New England Law | Boston was honored to feature prominent jurist and Supreme Court finalist, Judge Thomas Hardiman at its annual Law Day Celebration held on April 6 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

Members of the Massachusetts legal and civic community joined New England Law students, alumni, faculty, and staff for an evening of merriment, fellowship, and even dancing, with a special keynote address from Hon. Thomas M. Hardiman, United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

During the Law Day celebration, students got to learn a little more about the judge’s life, from his time driving for his father’s cab company in high school and college to his early days volunteering with low-income immigrants in Washington, D.C., to his long-time involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. A native of nearby Waltham, Massachusetts, Judge Hardiman said he was glad to return home, and much of his family attended the gala, with front-row seats to his keynote address.

Earlier in the day, New England Law students also joined Judge Hardiman for a lunchtime Q&A, where he impressed upon them that it is not where you are from that matters but where you end up—one of many lessons the legal veteran shared that day.

Lessons from Judge Thomas M. Hardiman

Law students with aspirations of becoming a judge got a sneak preview of that life and work in Judge Hardiman’s thoughtful keynote address, entitled The Art and Science of Judging in a Constitutional Republic. He touched upon the skills, sensibilities, and responsibilities that define his profession, sharing stories from his fourteen years on the bench with humility and candor.

So what is judging—an art or a science? Though informed by both, it is neither, Judge Hardiman said; rather, it is a wholly unique role in the U.S. justice system that relies on logic and wisdom, reasoning and experience. Other insights from the speech included:

  • What it takes to succeed as a judge: “All judges must work to cultivate skills not easily analogized to other disciplines. We must understand not only how to balance moral sensibility with logical reasoning, but also when to pursue compromise, how to assess credibility, and how to assure not just wise but efficient justice.”
  • How to set the tone for a trial: “Like great referees in sports, the best judges recede as much as possible and assiduously avoid becoming protagonists themselves.”
  • Weathering the ebbs and flows of adjudicating: “Judgment calls about what evidence to admit and to exclude are made on the fly in the middle of an evolving, organic process that often requires the trial judge to recalibrate—and sometimes even to reverse course—based on subsequent developments. In my experience, this is where the judge probably feels that the enterprise is most like art. I would perpetually ask myself: am I doing all I can to ensure that I’m conducting a fair trial?”
  • The limits of law as a science: “Try as we might, the judicial process we follow at the appellate level does not always yield an answer based purely on logic. Sometimes study, research, and discussion fail to illuminate the correct path forward. On those occasions, our work relies less on logic and more on wisdom and experience.”
  • The limits of law as an art: “Trial judges or juries determine the facts based on the evidence presented to them by the advocates. And appellate judges take the record as we find it. From those facts, whatever they are determined to be, judges apply the law, which although not always clear, we are duty-bound to interpret.”
  • On sentencing: “Not only is [sentencing] probably the most difficult thing a judge will ever have to do, it’s highly subjective, requiring wisdom much more than intelligence. And I don’t think one can truly appreciate the enormity of the task until one dons the robe and is called upon to pass that kind of judgment upon a fellow human being. It’s probably the task that keeps judges awake at night more than any other.”
  • The day-to-day scholarly work of a federal circuit judge: “We don’t get out much. Our chambers are havens of solitude and quiet deliberation. We spend most of our time alone, silently thinking, reading, and writing. The noises most commonly heard in chambers are the click-clack of the keyboard and the whirr of the HVAC system.”
  • And the importance of law clerks—“brilliant novice lawyers”: “[Our chamber] resembles a small law firm. The principal difference is that…we follow the ‘no deference’ rule. Each clerk is required to offer his or her unvarnished opinion of a case, not what they might expect me to think about it.”

The New England Law community is extraordinarily grateful to Judge Hardiman for sharing these valuable insights, with special thanks from Dean John F. O’Brien, Associate Dean Susan Calamare, and Administrative Assistant to the Dean Paula LaMonica, who were instrumental in planning the Law Day event, as were Student Bar Association President Cayla Barbour ’18 and Social Affairs Committee Chair Sarah Seger ’19.

Learn more about events at New England Law.