Aspiring Lawyer Recesses at U.S. Supreme Court
But opportunity knocked.
Rao will spend the summer, along with one other member of the class of 2005, as a judicial intern in the office of the administrative assistant to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The function of the office is to assist those who mediate between the Chief Justice’s office and the federal government’s judiciary branch.
The job is mostly copies and coffee. “It is not at a super high level,” Rao says. But the perks—the chance to catch a glimpse of the justices, for example, and a meal with the White House fellows—are great.
Getting the job was a long shot, even for a summa-candidate, Phi Beta Kappa economics concentrator from Harvard. One-hundred twenty applicants competed for two spots.
The intensive process, which Rao likened to applying to college, did not deter him.
“I consider the court to be a fascinating institution,” he says. “But I didn’t expect to get it at all.”
Rao’s stance is a little deceiving—he applied for the same position after sophomore year and says he was encouraged to try again when he had more experience. And yet, somehow, the claim is believable.
Rao’s modesty can be disarming. His air is unaffected, his laugh unforced and tinged with humility—an impressive posture from someone offered admission by Harvard and Yale Law Schools and with job offers from two of the nation’s top consulting companies.
Since the end of his high school career in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minn., Rao says he has known he was destined for a career in law. But he has pursued his interest through economics, not through the traditional government or history route.
He has also challenged himself outside his concentration, taking tough science classes for the intellectual challenge. Organic chemistry, he concedes, is “one hell of a way to satisfy Science-A.”
“I like the sciences, their precision and all that stuff,” he says. “But it didn’t seem to be for me.”
Except the dismal science, of course, where Rao excelled, although his beginnings in economics were inauspicious.
“I took it in high school for one quarter, and it was taught by the hockey coach,” he says. “We got through supply, but I swear, we didn’t get through demand.”
Since then, Rao’s career has been exceptional. Unlike most of his classmates, he enjoyed Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics,” and from that point his concentration choice was clear.
While some may feel lost in one of the College’s largest concentrations, Rao says, he credits his success in the department to his initiative in interacting with faculty. After the Court turned him down the first time, he approached two professors at Harvard Law School for work as a summer research assistant. Both accepted.
“From his first assignment for me as an R.A., what struck me was that Krishna always has a very deep understanding of what he is doing,” Professor of Law Christine M. Jolls writes in an e-mail. “It somehow seems to be in his nature....[H]e was thinking at the level of an economics Ph.D. candidate even though he still had two more years of undergraduate education.”
Jolls went on to advise Rao’s thesis, an empirical analysis of the effects of a 1974 federal pension law.
Rao says he hopes to combine his passion for economics and law, although he is not sure in what capacity.
Based on his resumé, one would think Rao is looking to return to the Court later in life. If he has any such ambition, he doesn’t let on.
“There’s a tendency to think about goals as career options,” Rao says; instead, the question should be, ‘what kind of family, what friends and relationships do I have?’”
He persuaded Bain & Co to transfer him to San Francisco so he could be closer to his brother, Vikram, an M.D.-Ph.D candidate at the University of California-San Francisco.
Rao says there is a “small but significant possibility” he’d like to combine his J.D. with an MBA, and he hopes that the next two years will help him decide whether or not he wants to pursue corporate law, business, or something else entirely.
Rao says the demanding schedule and academic pressures of Harvard taught him how to strike “the work-life balance,” but that “every time you start a new job, you strike a new balance.”
Jolls, his thesis adviser, says Rao is uniquely equipped to handle it.
“He seems like an exceptionally thoughtful and grounded person,” she writes in an e-mail. “He manages to accomplish an enormous amount without ever seeming to get out of balance.”
Still, Rao says that meeting that balance has not always been easy.
“There are always some times...[when] you say to yourself, ‘I wish I had put in a little extra or I put in too much,’” he says. “Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t.”
—Staff writer David B. Rochelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.