For law students, high school all over again

The Law School prom is a fundraiser for the Initiative for Public Interest Law — and a fun-raiser for law students yearning to relive high school.
The Law School prom is a fundraiser for the Initiative for Public Interest Law — and a fun-raiser for law students yearning to relive high school. Photo by Danny Serna.

There was Lady Gaga.

There was grinding.

And there were, of course, some dance floor make-outs.

No, this was not Saturday night Toad’s. It was the Yale Law School’s annual prom, which drew tuxedos and fur shawls to Commons on Saturday night.

Each year, the Law School’s prom brings together students and their dates for what is often described as the biggest night of the year on law students’ social calendars. Indeed, last year’s prom sold nearly 500 tickets (the Law School enrolls about 700 students), and this year’s event sold nearly 100 more than last year, leaving organizer Jayme Herschkopf LAW ’11 “very pleased,” she said.

The event began more than a decade ago and has since become a staple of Law School social life. Herschkopf said the event fills a unique place for law students because it is the only time the entire Law School can come together to socialize.

“The Law School is small, but it’s not small enough to fit in a single law school room,” Herschkopf said. “As a Law School-wide gathering, it’s the social event of the year.”

And while some might associate law school with heavy case books rather than spiked punch, a prom is actually a natural fit, organizers said.

Nicolas Riley LAW ’11 and Herschkopf said law school is often compared to middle school: The small student body makes the Law School reminiscent of a typical middle school because students all attend class in the same building and all students take the same classes in their first semester.

“Law students regress somewhat when they come to law school,” Herschkopf said.

But there are also clear differences from the classic high school prom: With the hefty $45 ticket for Saturday’s event came access to an open bar, as well as an assortment of fine cheeses. In accordance with the classier atmosphere, one couple waltzed, without pretense of irony, to Jason DeRulo’s “Whatcha Say.”

Throughout Yale’s graduate schools, such formals are common. At the School of Management, students gather for a winter formal, and School of Medicine students get together at the end of their first-year anatomy course for the “Cadaver Ball.”

The School of Forestry, too, gathers for a prom, but without the bow ties and boutonnieres. For the past eight years, Environment School students have gathered for what is now referred to as “Tacky Prom,” an event that invites students to come in absurd outfits adhering to a theme. This year’s theme was outer space, which lent itself to the pun “Spacetacular Prom,” said Selin Devranoglu FES ’11, the event’s organizer.

“We’re definitely not taking ourselves seriously,” Devranoglu said. “The idea is to make fun of awkward proms.”

Unlike the Law School Prom — which serves as a fundraiser for the Initiative for Public Interest Law, a non-profit, student-run organization that sponsors the prom — Tacky Prom’s sole goal is to provide a fun time, Devranoglu said.

Last year, Law School Prom raised around $10,000 for the Initiative, said Riley, who is a director of the program, which seeks to provide funding for post-graduate fellowships.

Like any legitimate prom, two students walked away from Saturday’s festivities as royalty: Aaron Zelinsky ’06 LAW ’10 and Theresa Lee LAW ’11 were elected Prom King and Queen.

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