As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Hahn Liu '13 expected to follow college with a career in computer science, just as his parents had before him. After all, he was very good at it, and always had been. But the deeper he studied, the more he missed interacting with people, and when an e-commerce course revealed the intricacies of intellectual property law, he found himself changing direction.
"We had a group project where we had to come up with strategies for defending a patent, and I realized that I found that kind of logic and collaboration a lot more enjoyable than just typing away in a basement by myself," says Liu, talking midway through his last semester at Cornell Law. "I decided to give law school a chance, and I've loved it ever since."
He arrived at Cornell in the fall of 2010, fresh from a summer internship at the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, where he researched state policies on indigent defense. By then, Liu could see that law and computer science had much more in common than he'd first thought. They shared a love of logic, a complex set of rules, and an emphasis on finding the best solution to any given problem. There were significant differences, too: Unlike computer science, law offered a chance to argue his case out loud, starting with the Langfan Moot Court Competition during his first year and continuing onto the Cuccia Cup Moot Court Competition during his second year, where he defended a fictional version of President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"Standing up in front of people and answering the judges' questions were two of the most enjoyable things I did all that year," he says. "Before moot court, I was working for the sake of working, reading law for the purpose of fitting all that information onto a piece of paper, either for an essay or a test. Moot court was a completely different experience. It was about accomplishing something real: reading the law, creating a coherent answer to a specific question, and convincing people that my argument was correct. It required me to really think on my feet, and once I did, it started to feel like second nature."
In the year and a half since, he remained dedicated to moot court and served as chancellor while balancing his responsibilities as editor of the Cornell International Law Journal, president of the Public Interest Law Union, vice president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and representative on the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. Between classes, he conducted on-site investigations for the Cornell Death Penalty Project, gathering information for new appeals by Jose Garcia Briseño and Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, who are currently on death row in Texas, and completing an externship with the United States Attorney's Office in Syracuse, where he's been researching memoranda, drafting motions, and "getting down to the nitty-gritty of litigation, which has been really rewarding."
After a successful 2012 summer associateship at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., Liu accepted an offer to become a first-year associate, which promises a mix of litigation, research, patent work, oral advocacy, trade commission hearings, and pro bono capital cases. "Wilmer matches up perfectly with what I want to do," says Liu, who's looking forward to living in Northern Virginia, where he spent his teenage years. "Last summer was a really cool time to be there, and when I go back, I'm hoping it's going to be just as fun."
"I know I'm going to remember the great education I got here, in terms of classes, clinics, moot court, and the law journal," he continues. "But I think what I'm going to remember most is the reason why I came to Cornell: its community. People here are super friendly, and in our future lives, that's going to give us a lot more in common than just having gone to Cornell Law at the same time. We've developed connections, bounced ideas off each other, and learned to come up with joint solutions that reflect our collective experience. That's the reward of coming here."