Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

A Semester with Senator Warren

By Zachary D’Amico, J.D. ’16

Zachary D’Amico, J.D. '16

Zachary D’Amico, J.D. ’16 with Senator Elizabeth Warren

Rather than finish off my legal education with yet another series of black-letter law lectures and endless April nights reading outlines, I opted to spend my final four months at Harvard Law School working in the Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Thanks to the Government Lawyer: Semester in Washington Clinic, I was able to get outside the classroom and see the day-to-day impact that a lawyer can have working in public service.

I initially reached out to Senator Warren’s office for several reasons. My placement search began with two fundamental questions: (1) Where can I have the most impact? and (2) Where can I do something I believe in? In a time of congressional gridlock – a problem exacerbated by the 2016 election cycle – Senator Warren’s office has proven that it can use informal means to accomplish its goals. Perhaps just as important, many of those were goals I already believed in, some involving issues I had worked on during my time in law school.

While I was lucky enough to work on an array of projects with many individuals over the past four months, I spent the majority of my time working for Sen. Warren’s Oversight and Investigations team. Most offices in the Senate don’t have special oversight staff; these jobs are typically under the jurisdiction of committees. Senator Warren, however, has the power of the public megaphone on her side, and oversight and investigations are two important tools with which she wields that power.

Jumping into an office that has an exponentially larger output than any office with a staff of its size should have, I found myself with more immediate responsibility than I expected. Two projects I worked on during my first month in Washington are representative of my experiences throughout the semester: one involving enforcement efforts and the other a proposed rule from the Department of Labor.

On my first day, my boss briefed me on Senator Warren’s effort to shine a spotlight on the government’s woefully ineffective enforcement practices. I spent over a week investigating and researching dozens of failed prosecutions, toothless settlements, and other government failures of enforcement across a wide range of agencies. Much of this research was incorporated into our office’s first annual enforcement report entitled “Rigged Justice.” Just three weeks into my new job I had made a practical contribution to the legal world in a way that was beyond anything I had done in two and a half years of law school before that.

For my second project, I had to completely switch gears in order to research and gather information for a letter Senator Warren sent to the Department of Labor in support of a proposed rule on fiduciary standards for retirement advisers. The letter helped point out that critics of the regulation were not being completely honest (and in a latter letter Sen. Warren asked the SEC to investigate if these companies were misleading investors about the regulation) and DOL eventually finalized the rule in early April. This project was one of many that taught me my most valuable lesson I learned in four months I spent working on Capitol Hill: don’t be afraid to dive in with your eyes closed. I knew very little about retirement advising when my boss handed me this project. But as I would come to find out, most people in the office faced the same obstacle at some point in their careers. It’s okay to not have a clue what you’re doing at time, as long as you’re willing to do whatever it takes to figure it out.

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with such an intelligent, hardworking team for such an inspirational woman. For anyone considering the Semester in Washington Clinic, I highly recommend the experience.

 

My home at the law school

By Sam Feldman, J.D. ’16

I came to law school to work on the issues of mass incarceration and prisoners’ rights, inspired by advocates and activists I’d met who were challenging America’s own 21st-century gulag archipelago. I hadn’t actually done much research, though—something I’ve gotten better at over the course of law school—and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Harvard is one of the only law schools in the country whose students have the opportunity to go into prisons on a regular basis and represent prisoners at hearings. The Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), Harvard’s largest student practice organization, serves (a small fraction of) the Massachusetts state prisoners who desperately need representation and have nowhere else to turn.

PLAP’s bread and butter are disciplinary hearings, in which inmates accused of violating prison regulations have the opportunity to defend themselves before a hearing officer. Accused prisoners are allowed to retain counsel, but very few have the resources to do so. That’s where PLAP comes in: working in teams of one or two students supervised by an experienced attorney, we interview clients, submit discovery requests and motions, cross-examine corrections officers, and defend our clients against charges that can carry serious consequences, ranging from a loss of privileges to punitive solitary confinement.

I took my first disciplinary case in the fall of my 1L year and won a not guilty verdict for my client on a very serious charge, escape or attempted escape. Soon after I picked up a parole case together with a friend from my section, and the following year, while I served as PLAP’s Parole Hearing Coordinator, we represented our client before the Massachusetts Parole Board as he sought a chance to breathe free air after over 30 years in prison. This year I’ve served as one of PLAP’s two Executive Directors, and I’ve taken as many disciplinary cases as I can squeeze in between classes and other clinical work. My parole client was denied release last summer for reasons I believe are unlawful; before I graduate, I’ll have the opportunity to make that argument to the Suffolk Superior Court as part of our impact litigation practice.

Throughout my three years here, PLAP has been my home at the law school. I’ve appreciated our corner office on the 5th floor and the large community surrounding it, including about 200 students, two amazing supervising attorneys, and our dedicated administrative director. I’m also grateful for the chance to work in another type of space entirely: the state prisons in which thousands of people involuntarily reside, a few of whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. And I’ve been inspired anew by the motto hanging on the wall of our office: freedom for some, justice for all.

 

Working with PLAP: Opportunities to represent inmates in Massachusetts prisons

By Erin DeGrand J.D. ’16

Joining PLAP as a 1L, I was most attracted to the fact that it seemed like the only place on campus that would let me get involved without submitting a resume first. In the face of all of the stress that accompanies 1L, PLAP was welcoming and required no application. Not to worry, this Hufflepuff mindset goes Gryffindor quickly, but it is a notable and important aspect of PLAP that we take everyone.

Two things made me continue with PLAP throughout law school: the David and Goliath nature of the work, and the opportunity for as much hands-on experience as I could take. PLAP primarily represents prisoners in two types of hearings: disciplinary and parole. At disciplinary hearings, we defend prisoners from charges that they have violated a prison’s rules; these charges range in seriousness from disobeying a guard’s order to assault. In these hearings, students cross-examine guards and witnesses, they often directly examine their clients, and they make closing arguments to the hearing officer. At parole hearings, we represent prisoners asking the Parole Board to let them out of prison. Here, students rigorously prepare their clients for the Board’s questions, prepare parole memos explaining why their clients have reformed and are ready to return to society, and make opening and closing statements to the Board at the hearing.

These hearings often inspire feelings similar to how the Red Sox must have felt against the Yankees in 2004. Prisoners are the ultimate underdogs: they have no guarantee of counsel in these hearings. In the disciplinary hearings, the standard of proof is low, the prison decides what evidence it will allow, and the judge is often a former corrections officer. In the parole hearings, the board has a lot to lose in granting parole and nothing to lose in denying it. But there is no better win than an underdog win, and getting a ticket dismissed or parole granted can be just as sweet as beating the Yankees.

Connecting back to my own humanity

By Michelle Ha, J.D. ’16

Michelle Ha, J.D. ’16

Michelle Ha, J.D. ’16

Through my experience in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) this semester, I had the privilege of representing an incredible woman named Juana* in her application for asylum in the United States.

Juana fled gang violence in Central America with her young daughter and has suffered from threats and abuse that no one should ever have to go through. She is unable to read or write because, while she had wanted to go to school, she had to work in order to help support her family. Her eyes light up when she talks about her children, her husband, whom she calls el amor de mi vida, and her church community. Her voice softens as she remembers how she dreamed of becoming a singer when she was a child.

There are details that demonstrate our true character and make us human, but the law may not provide room for those to come to light. There is no place in her court filings for us to talk about the delicious pastries she baked for us one weekend. There is nowhere we can include how she always washes the dishes from our conversations over tea and hot chocolate before she leaves, no matter how many times we tell her to leave them for us.

This is the case, even though asylum law is one of the most intimate areas of legal practice. As an advocate, you must learn who your client is, her background, experiences, values and beliefs in order to understand her story and how it fits into the legal definition of a refugee as provided for in the Refugee Convention and incorporated into U.S. domestic law.

Asylum law is also the area of law that displays most clearly the role of lawyer as a storyteller and translator. The central piece of evidence in an asylum application is the applicant’s affidavit. The lawyer’s role is to translate the things that happened to the client into a compelling narrative that the law understands to trigger legal obligation.

But there are certain issues of credibility that play out in a court of law that push us, as advocates, to flatten her narrative. Persuasive storytelling is made up of the telling details you are able to weave in, but we think of whether Juana will be able to remember these details when she is being cross-examined on the stand by an adversarial government lawyer. We work with her to parse down the rich details of her life into a clear, condensed, court-ready submission of around 30 pages. I cringe to think that some affidavits, even those written with the help of a lawyer, have less than 10. And I remember the men, women, and children without counsel at immigration court who will face this process alone.

Law lacks a human touch in many ways, but working with Juana, representing her in a case that itself represents her life and receiving her confidence and trust, has been an experience that has connected me back to my own humanity and what justice feels like, and why I came to law school in the first place. In my law school personal statement, I wrote that “justice is a feeling: of right and wrong, balance, compassion, and empathy. Literature depicts the world as it is and engenders, nurtures within us this sense of justice. But laws are the language by which we are able to conceive of how the world should be and articulate the possibilities of change.” Working with Juana during my semester in HIRC gave me the privilege of combining the language of justice with the language of the law in order to make a real difference in someone’s life.

As a 3L looking back on my time at HLS, I am grateful for all the opportunities I had to learn, grow, and prepare myself to serve, and look forward to the new opportunities that my law school training has provided me. I hope that students will continue to pursue opportunities to directly help those in need through providing legal assistance, through participating in student practice organizations, law school clinics, or other pro bono engagements. As the self-professed leaders of our time, we have legal and professional obligations to do so. But most of all, we owe it to ourselves.

*Name has been changed.

Housing Law Clinic: fighting housing displacement and insecurity

By Catherine Peyton Humphreville, J.D. ’16

Credit: Brooks Kraft

Credit: Brooks Kraft
Catherine Peyton Humphreville, J.D. ’16 and Lecturer on Law Maureen McDonagh

Working with homeless and street-involved youth as a legal intern at the Urban Justice Center’s Peter Cicchino Youth Project after my first year of law school, I saw that many of my clients first encountered legal troubles when they became homeless. After arriving back at school that fall semester, I set out to use legal tools to prevent homelessness and housing insecurity before it started. With that goal in mind, I enrolled in the Housing Law Clinic.

During my first semester, I worked on eviction cases. I learned about the unsafe housing conditions faced by many of Boston’s low-income residents and how to use the housing code and consumer protection law to fight these conditions. I also saw how domestic violence exacerbates housing crises and learned to work in tandem with the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic to help my client’s family. As a continuing clinical student during the Spring 2015 semester, I wrote an appellate brief in a foreclosure case, representing a single mother who had been fighting for her home for eight years, and attended weekly meetings at City Life/Vida Urbana, an anti-displacement community organizing group blocks from the Legal Services Center. Both semesters, I was able to forge close working relationships with clients through one-on-one meetings while also developing my writing skills and substantive knowledge of foreclosure law under the close supervision of Lecturer on Law Maureen McDonagh and Clinical Instructor Julia Devanthery.

I came to law school in part to advocate for women and LGBTQ people. By participating in the Attorney for the Day program at Boston Housing Court, I saw that it was primarily women and people of color facing eviction, who almost always had no access to legal representation and I began to see housing security as a feminist and anti-racist issue. I hope to be able to use the litigation and client-interviewing skills I learned in the Housing Law Clinic together with the transactional skills I garnered in two semesters with the Community Enterprise Project to fight housing insecurity and displacement in New York after completing a clerkship.

 

Shining a Light on the Right to Privacy: Surveillance in Venezuela and Zimbabwe

Via International Human Rights Clinic

IHRCSince the 2013 Snowden revelations, media and civil society groups have closely scrutinized U.S. surveillance and intelligence sector law and policy, generating wide-ranging domestic and international debates on privacy, security, and the limits of state power. Less scrutinized, however, are the surveillance and intelligence sector policies and practices of countries that wield little international influence, but whose governments exercise significant control over citizens’ ability to communicate privately and speak freely.

Two such countries, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, are the subject of reports the International Human Rights Clinic and its partners recently submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The joint reports document serious challenges to the right to privacy in both countries, including inadequate legal and policy frameworks on surveillance and intelligence gathering that are compounded by the absence of a strong and independent judiciary. These reports will ultimately help the United Nations Human Rights Council evaluate the human rights situation in both countries through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Clinic report on Venezuela, co-authored with Privacy International and Venezuelan non-profit Acceso Libre, notes a number of concerning developments since the country’s human rights situation was last assessed through the UPR in 2011: for example, the government has encouraged the emergence of “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots), anonymous informers who feed information to government officials about the activities of perceived government opponents. In a striking example of this practice, in February 2016 Reuters reported on the case of Rodolfo Gonzalez, who was arrested in April 2014 by intelligence agents and accused of masterminding protests against Venezuela’s President. The arrest was allegedly based on an audio recording provided by a cooperating patriot, in which Gonzalez discussed “destabilising actions” against the government. For nearly a year, Gonzalez was held in a facility operated by Venezuela’s major civilian intelligence agency while he waited for trial; he hanged himself in March 2015.

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Professor Daniel Nagin to Receive John G. Brooks Legal Services Award

Via Boston Bar Association

aniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, Faculty Director of WilmerHale Legal Services Center

Daniel Nagin, Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, Clinical Professor of Law, Faculty Director of WilmerHale Legal Services Center

The Boston Bar Association is pleased to announce it will present the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award to Harvard Law School’s Professor Daniel Nagin during its annual Law Day Dinner on Thursday, May 12.

Prof. Nagin is the Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education and serves as the Faculty Director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center & Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School.

The John G. Brooks Legal Services Award was established to recognize professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent clients in greater Boston, and Prof. Nagin’s work has embodied the spirit of the award, on both the local and national level.

In 2012, Prof. Nagin founded the Veterans Legal Clinic, where students gain hands-on experience while representing veterans and the families of veterans who would not have access to legal representation otherwise. Prof. Nagin has also written articles and sat on panels discussing legal issues of particular concern to veterans, including access to benefits.  Most recently, Prof. Nagin started the Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) at the Legal Services Center, supported in part by the Boston Bar Foundation.

Prof. Nagin has been an active member and currently co-chairs the BBA’s Active Duty Military, Family Members & Veterans Committee. He has also planned a number of pro bono trainings to assist veterans with discharge appeals and to support the pro bono panel of the new LITC.

Prior to his work in Massachusetts, Prof. Nagin founded and directed a public benefits clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law and taught in the clinical program at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. Prof. Nagin has also directed a social service and legal advocacy program for homeless New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS.

“I am deeply honored to receive the John G. Brooks Legal Services Award.  I have the good fortune to work every day with so many wonderful people in the legal services community,” Prof. Nagin said. “I am continually inspired by these incredible colleagues—and by the clients on whose behalf we advocate.  I share this award with everyone who seeks justice for the indigent.”

FLPC, in partnership with the Food Recovery Project, Launches Updated Legal Guide on the Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donations

Via Food Law and Policy Clinic

Tax Deduction for Food Donation coverThe Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, in partnership with the Food Recovery Project at the University of Arkansas, is pleased to published an updated version of “Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donation: A Legal Guide,” to reflect the significant changes Congress made as part of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus budget that increase tax incentives for food donations and prevent food waste. This guide, originally published in November 2015, provides an important resource for food businesses and food recovery organizations to determine whether a food donor is eligible to receive the enhanced deduction.

An estimated 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten; at the same time, more than 14 percent of U.S. households are food insecure at some point during the year. Diverting a fraction of the wholesome food that currently goes to waste in this country could effectively end food insecurity for all Americans.

The extension and modification of the charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory included in the 2016 omnibus budget contains four significant changes: 1) a permanent extension of the enhanced tax deduction for food donations; 2) increases the deduction’s cap to 15% of the donor’s net income; 3) provides certain taxpayers a new optional formula for calculating the enhanced deduction; and 4) provides a formula for determining the fair market value (FMV) of food inventory. Each of these are reflected in the updated legal guide and explained in detail in FLPC’s previous blog post.

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Advancing social justice through law: 2016 Gary Bellow award winners

Via HLS News

Four members of the Harvard Law School community—Ana María Mondragon Duque LL.M. ’16, Lindsey Whyte ’16, Faye Maison ’16, and Melody Webb ’93—received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, established in 2001 in memory of the late Professor Gary Bellow ’60, a pioneering public interest lawyer who founded and directed Harvard Law School’s clinical programs.

Each year, the student body selects a student and an alumnus/a who best exemplify Bellow’s commitment to advancing social justice through law. The award committee expanded the award this year to recognize the work of an LL.M./S.J.D. graduate and two graduating students. Also this year, the Bellow Award committee hosted a TED-style talk event prior to online student voting for award finalists to share their public service vision and experience.

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Cyberlaw Clinic Protects the Right to Post “Ballot Selfies”

Via Cyberlaw Clinic

The Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief (PDF) at the United States Court of a Appeals for the First Circuit, on behalf of the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Keene Sentinel. The case, Rideout v. Gardner, concerns a law passed by the State of New Hampshire to prevent “ballot selfies” – photos of completed ballots that are posted on social media. The brief argues that the law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as it prohibits a variety of speech important to monitoring the government, educating voters and engaging in political debate.

The statute at issue is N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:35, which prohibits “taking a digital image or photograph of [one’s] marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media.” As the brief notes, if the statute were allowed to stand, it would prohibit many types of speech that play important roles in elections, and democracy more generally. The law bars voters from raising questions about improprieties they find on their ballots, criticizing the government for poor ballot design, or engaging in advocacy for a candidate. The brief notes specific examples of times when photographs of ballots helped the public clear up misunderstandings about government conduct, demonstrated how to ensure that one’s vote would be counted, and conveyed messages about civic participation and advocacy for a candidate that could not expressed with words alone.

A copy of the brief is available here, and more information about it can be found at NEFAC’s website. Spring 2016 Cyberlaw Clinic students Michael Linhorst and Jacqueline Wolpoe took the lead on this brief, working closely with Managing Director Chris Bavitz and Clinical Fellow Andy Sellars.

EXPIRED in Washington, D.C.

Via Food Law and Policy Clinic

By Katie Sandson,  J.D. ’17

2016-04-05_Date_Labeling_002_s

Image provided by Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office

I have been a clinical student in the Food Law and Policy clinic since January 2016. As a continuing clinical student this semester, I have been working on FLPC’s food waste and food recovery initiatives, including work on the clinic’s expiration date project. As part of its efforts to standardize date labels at the federal level, FLPC has drawn attention to this problem through the creation and promotion of a short film, EXPIRED? Food Waste in America. The film tells the story of how a restrictive date labeling rule in Montana has required countless gallons of wholesome milk to be needlessly discarded once the milk reaches a labeled date that has no basis in safety or science. Montana’s rule is just one example of similarly restrictive rules in place throughout the country.

Throughout the semester, I have worked to promote the film and raise awareness about the connection between date labels and food waste. Two weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C. with the clinic to attend a number of events related to our date labeling projects, including two screenings of the EXPIRED film in two very different settings. On Sunday, I helped give a presentation on date labels at the National Food Recovery Dialogue hosted by the Food Recovery Network. On Tuesday, FLPC’s director Emily Broad Leib and clinical fellow Christina Rice participated in a panel on date labels hosted by Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Office. Senator Blumenthal has announced plans to introduce legislation to standardize date labels at the federal level, an effort FLPC has supported throughout the process.

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Schools look to aid traumatized children

Via Caller Times

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Youth attend an award ceremony recognizing volunteers and mentors with Brockton's Promise in January in Brockton, Mass. The organization is a coalition for youth development that aims to improve conditions of youth within the community by offering safe places, effective education, healthy starts and caring adults and opportunities to serve.

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Youth attend an award ceremony recognizing volunteers and mentors with Brockton’s Promise in January in Brockton, Mass. The organization is a coalition for youth development that aims to improve conditions of youth within the community by offering safe places, effective education, healthy starts and caring adults and opportunities to serve.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Violence children see at home can affect their chances for success in school and later in life.

That’s why the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, based at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts, advocates for trauma-sensitive schools to help children impacted by trauma to feel safe at school.

There are six attributes of a trauma sensitive school that are explained in the initiative’s book, “Helping Traumatized Children Learn II: Creating and Advocating for Trauma Sensitive Schools.” Those attributes came from work done in schools in Brockton, Mass., and other places, and describe what a trauma sensitive school looks and feels like, said Michael Gregory, a senior attorney with the initiative and a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School.

Leadership and staff share an understanding of trauma’s impact on learning and the need for a schoolwide approach.

“So this isn’t something that just the school psychologist understands, or just a few teachers that are interested in it, but really the whole staff,” Gregory said.

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Cravath fellows travel globally to experience international and comparative law

Via HLS News

Thirteen Harvard Law School students were selected as the 2016 Cravath International Fellows. The fellows traveled to 12 countries for winter term clinical placements or independent research with an international, transnational, or comparative law focus. Below are accounts of the experiences of four of the new fellows.

Crystal Nwaneri ’17

Crystal Nwaneri ’17 spent winter term in Singapore, conducting research on the legal and technological implications of a court ruling permitting a third party to retransmit over-the-air television without permission of the broadcasters. For Nwaneri, this was a chance to further explore her long-standing interest in the legal challenges brought about by rapidly advancing technology.

As an undergraduate, Nwaneri examined public policy and how legislators and private organizations shape and regulate the technology industry. Prior to law school, she worked at Dell’s government relations office in Washington, D.C., briefing their executives on the internet technology issues discussed at Congressional hearings.

Upon entering Harvard Law, she enrolled in a reading group with Professor of Practice Urs Gasser about the future of online privacy, joined the Women’s Law Association and the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and began working as an editor at the Journal of Law and Technology. As a 2L, she is focusing on the legal infrastructures that support technology innovation, which may affect access for underserved communities. She also supports clients in the Cyberlaw Clinic and is a research assistant with the Student Privacy Initiative at the Berkman Center.

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“My time in Defenders solidified my commitment to public interest”

By Tori Anderson, J.D. ’16

Tori Anderson, J.D. '16

Tori Anderson, J.D. ’16

I knew coming into law school that I wanted to work in public interest. Working for people and with people was very important to me and I wanted to spend my three years at HLS pursuing that. I discovered Harvard Defenders during the student activities fair in my first semester. I loved the idea of being a part of a supportive community of 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls who were like-minded in their commitment to giving back to the community during their time in law school. Defenders allowed me to help people in hearings where they were not provided representation and to gain experience zealously advocating for those most marginalized in society.

I have been able to represent clients in 10 cases, help with their criminal court issues, as well as connect them with housing resources, immigration consultations and school programs. During my time with Harvard Defenders, I have served as one of the Case Assignment Directors and as President. As Case Assignment Director, I ensured that people who called looking for legal help were connected with student attorneys. I also tracked the organization’s data. As President, I successfully advocated for a social worker for our clients and focused on revamping our referral network. I was able to get to know every one of our 83 members and forge lasting friendships with future public interest leaders. I learned how to research case law, look up criminal code statutes, find Massachusetts jury instructions, strategize for a case, prepare oral arguments and cross examinations and gained skills in how to navigate the often tricky relationship between student attorneys, law enforcement officers and court officials.

But my clients have taught me the most. We often meet our clients at a very difficult time in their lives when they have to face the potential of being prosecuted. They have taught me how to listen and how to be more empathetic. They have been open and showed a great ability to trust a complete stranger with personal details. My time in Defenders truly solidified my commitment to public interest. After graduation, I will be working as a public defender, a choice which was heavily influenced by my time in the organization.

Project on Predatory Student Lending: Inspiring My Public Interest Career

By Jessica Ranucci, J.D. ’16 

Jessica Ranucci, J.D. ’16

Jessica Ranucci, J.D. ’16

The Project on Predatory Student Lending, part of the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic, has been a tremendously important part of my law school experience. The clinic is housed at HLS’s Legal Services Center (LSC), which is located in Boston, and is only a few minutes drive away from the community center where I worked full-time before law school.

I came to HLS in order to be able to combat the structural inequalities that I saw facing the youth and families with whom I worked. I sought out a clinical experience at LSC because its mission to provide quality legal services to clients in their own neighborhood comported with my own belief in community-based public interest work.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending provides direct representation to low-income student loan borrowers who have experienced illegal predatory activity by for-profit colleges. As a 2L in my first semester at the clinic, I directly represented clients in civil litigation. I also wrote a motion and conducted discovery for the first time. Through the Continuing Clinical Program, I have been able to remain in the clinic for my entire 3L year.

This year, I have a lot of flexibility to work independently while I oversee the clinic’s intake process. I love conducting intakes: they give new potential clients the opportunity to share their stories and give me the intellectual challenge of matching up the clients’ experiences with potential legal claims. After an intake meeting, I make recommendations to the clinic’s attorneys about the legal options we have to assist our clients. In some cases, there is a relatively easy solution and I can help the client apply for an administrative loan discharge. I bring the complicated cases to our weekly team meetings, where the supervising attorneys, fellow clinical students, and I discuss the legal assistance the clinic can provide.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is also involved in shaping student debt policy on the state and national level. The clinic’s attorneys set policy priorities by listening to our clients’ needs and identifying when the current system is not working for them. What has really inspired me about the Project on Predatory Student Lending is its simultaneous commitment to high-quality direct legal services and pursuit of policy change on our clients’ behalf. I came to law school to find a way to combat structural inequality—and I see the clinic’s combination of legal services and client—driven policy advocacy as a model for how to achieve that. It is a model I hope to emulate in my career.

Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic’s prison visit

By Benjamin Sacks, J.D. ’17

To my left, three people sat around a table playing what appeared to be poker. To my right, another pair played Mah Jongg. Behind the tables, one man was holding his dog on a leash, another was talking on the phone, and a third was placing an order for a meal. They all gave me a quizzical look when I entered their room: What was I doing there?

Group photo of students in the class

Group photo of students in the class

Prisoners at Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) in Concord aren’t used to visitors popping into their living quarters, but there we were. The twenty-five of us students in the Judicial Processes in the Trial Courts Clinic, Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.), and our tour guide, prison superintendent Lois Russo, standing in the common area which the prisoners’ cells (two to a room) face. We were on a tour of the prison as a culmination to our semester working with various judges in the courts of Massachusetts. After helping judges write opinions and perform legal research, it was only appropriate that we see the consequences of some of our judges’ sentencing decisions.

The prisoners seemed content enough playing their games and making their phone calls, but there was no mistaking that we were in a prison. The impersonal fluorescent lights, uncarpeted cement floors, and heavy metal doors with special locks throughout the facility served as a constant reminder that the people inside were there to stay. During our tour of the facilities, we were escorted by a minimum of two security guards. Each time we moved from one area to another, we went through two sets of doors, the first of which had to close before the second would open, so as to prevent unauthorized use.

Life isn’t easy in prison. At MCI Concord, inmates spend each night in their locked cells, and many hours of the day within the confines of the common area just outside. Surely, poker can only be entertaining for so long. There are prescribed visiting hours, and inmates are entitled to at least one hour a day outside, and one hour of exercise per day, five days per week. We did not go to the outside recreational area, but the indoor exercise area (still exposed to the cold outside air) was nothing but a box, with concrete floor, ceiling, and walls.

Prisoners can earn credits that can be spent on snacks, phone calls, or other amenities. They can also earn credits for sentence reductions by performing services within or outside the prison, depending on their security clearances. For example, a number of them receive training on how to domesticate and train service dogs (like the one we saw) for those with special needs. For two years at a time, they live with the dogs that they train.

Credits are nice, but they are nothing compared to the freedom we felt when we exited the prison after our visit and went to Judge Cratsley’s house, where we enjoyed a warm, home-cooked meal. Our visit reinforced my feeling that the only sentence I want to experience is the one comprised of words.

Harvard Law School Group Pushes Virtual Power Plants in Massachusetts

Via Microgrid Knowledge 

virtual power plantA Harvard Law School group is urging Massachusetts regulators to test virtual power plants – possibly as part of microgrids – as the state moves to modernize its electric grid.

The school’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic raised the idea of utilities demonstrating virtual power plants in comments filed last week before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. The DPU is reviewing grid modernization plans proposed last year by its investor-owned utilities.

Akin to microgrids, virtual power plants are a collection of intelligently controlled distributed energy resources that can act like a single power plant in relation to the grid and energy markets. They often serve a group of customers that are either identified by a utility or aggregated by a private entity.

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Cyberlaw Clinic and Lumen Project Reps Contribute to Section 512 Study

Via Cyberlaw Clinic

Copyright OfficeOn April 1st, the Copyright Office closed the initial comment period for a public study undertaken to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) safe harbor provisions, embodied in Section 512 of the United States Copyright Act. On April 7th, the filed comments were released online.

Commenters submitted a total of 90,967 comments in connection with the study. The Cyberlaw Clinic filed one of those comments on behalf of Berkman Center for Internet & Society Project Coordinator Adam Holland, who manages the Center’s Lumen project (formerly known as Chilling Effects), and Harvard Law School Clinical Professor (and Cyberlaw Clinic Managing Director) Christopher Bavitz, who serves as Lumen’s principal investigator at Berkman. As described herein, the comment submitted by the Clinic advanced the twin propositions that:  (a) data is crucial to informing reasoned policy debates, including debates about policies that govern intermediary liability and obligations to police content online; and (b) transparency is intrinsically related to accountability, oversight, and process and is generally good for the public at large in a society that values free expression.

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Hunting polluting gases around Boston

Climate fund grant supports efforts to track sources of mysterious leaks

Via Harvard Gazette

Video thumbnail for Wofsy-UrbanLab-FINAL

Harvard students, faculty, and fellows are training new high-tech instruments on Boston’s skies, searching for one well-known troublemaker and one escapee among the atmosphere’s invisible gases.

The old troublemaker is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas released by burning fossil fuels that long has been known as the main cause of climate change. The escapee is methane, an even more powerful emission that is the main component of the natural gas burned in home furnaces and in the electricity-generating power plants that are shouldering aside coal-fired plants across the country.

Though both are fossil fuels, burning natural gas is better than burning coal when it comes to the environment, because natural gas releases half as much carbon dioxide for an equal amount of energy generated. In addition, it is far cleaner than other pollutants in its burning, including in the fine particles that can cause health problems.

Unburned natural gas, however, is another story.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and, if it escapes into the atmosphere unburned, can trap between 15 and 100 times more solar radiation than carbon dioxide can. Understanding how methane gets into the atmosphere from both natural and manmade sources has become an important focus of climate research.

Steven Wofsy, Harvard’s Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, said it’s pretty clear that a significant amount of unburned natural gas is escaping in the Boston region. He is leading a project to find the source of the leak or leaks and, in collaboration with faculty and students from Harvard Law School, seeking to design technical, legal, or regulatory solutions to reduce the emissions. …

The project is being conducted in collaboration with Hutyra and Wendy Jacobs, clinical professor of law and director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Jacobs said the interdisciplinary nature of the project is key, and the goal is not just to use science to illuminate the problem of methane and carbon dioxide emissions in the city, but to design laws and regulations to address the problem.

“Laws, regulations, and public policy will not be effective unless informed by reliable science and data. Reliable science and data can effectively be deployed to solve a problem when integrated into new technologies, laws, regulations, and public policies,” Jacobs said. “The collaboration of our distinct disciplines is more powerful than either discipline alone.”

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Myanmar: Investigate Use of Excessive Force Against Letpadan Protesters

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Yangon, April 14, 2016)—While welcoming the Government of Myanmar’s recent release of political prisoners, Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic urged authorities today to open a formal investigation into the violent police crackdown against protesters in March 2015 in Letpadan.

The Letpadan protesters were among nearly 200 political prisoners that the recently elected Government of Myanmar—led by the National League for Democracy (NLD)—either pardoned or dropped charges against on April 8. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi announced on her second day in office a plan to free political prisoners, activists, and students in the weeks surrounding the Buddhist New Year holiday. According to human rights groups, more than 100 political prisoners remain behind bars.

“After spending more than a year in prison for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, the Letpadan protesters are finally free,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Their courage and tenacity is an example to human rights defenders across the world. We commend the government for prioritizing their release and urge the authorities to take swift action to hold perpetrators accountable.”

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Human Rights Clinic report calls for meaningful human control of weapons systems

Via HLS News

In a report issued last week, the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch call for countries to retain meaningful human control over weapons systems and ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots.” The concept of meaningful human control was a centerpiece of deliberations at a week-long multilateral meeting on the weapons, which opened April 11, 2016, at the United Nations in Geneva.

The 16-page report, “Killer Robots and the Concept of Meaningful Human Control,” discusses the moral and legal importance of control and shows countries’ growing recognition of the need for humans to remain in charge of the critical functions of selecting and firing on targets.

“Machines have long served as instruments of war, but historically humans have directed how they are used,” said Bonnie Docherty ’01, senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic and the report’s lead author. “Now, there is a real threat that humans would relinquish their control and delegate life-and-death decisions to machines.”

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A reflection on the Crimmigration Clinic

By Anna Byers, J.D. ’16 

For me, the Crimmigration Clinic was a question of whether I believed that the fundamental guarantees of our constitution applied to everyone no matter where they were born. As a law student, it was anathema to me that someone could be imprisoned without a hearing, separated from their family, or penalized twice for the same crime. Yet these are all situations which immigrants who are convicted of crimes find themselves in daily.

Under the leadership of Phil Torrey, we spent a semester in the Crimmigration Clinic writing amicus briefs, providing plea consults, and working to construct a database of controlled substances. Particularly moving for me was the work we did on an amicus for the First Circuit. The petitioner, an immigrant who had fled her country, was at risk of removal despite her very real fear of being killed in her country. She had committed a fraudulent crime as a result of desperation, but to the courts she was just another “criminal alien.” Writing for her, we got to know her story as well as the intricacies of international law and help her triumph in her case before the Court.

It was my first experience writing for a court and collaborating on a case with so many moving parts. I got to hear experienced lawyers talk about case strategy and figure out how our contribution fit into a larger campaign. It was a privilege to work on a case with possible long lasting implications. Hopefully women like our client won’t have to go through this process again. Instead, they will be guaranteed the process and safety that all people deserve.

Judicial Process in Trial Court Clinic: A highlight of my time at HLS

By Julie Hamilton, J.D. ’16

As I trudged through growing piles of snow blanketing the Boston sidewalks in January 2015, I was unsure what awaited me at Boston Municipal Court (BMC). It was the first day of my clinical component of the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, and, embarrassingly, it was the first day I ever stepped inside a community court. After a semester of observing courtroom proceedings, discussing cases with a BMC judge, and sitting in on attorney-judge conferences, I can say sincerely that the clinic was worth that first trek in the snow and each one that followed.

For many people, a community court is the first, and most, interaction they will have with the judicial process; what happens in that courthouse shapes their perceptions of their city’s, their state’s, their country’s justice system and can impact their lives in deep and lasting ways. The Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic not only enabled me to step away from the Chevrons of law school into the messy intersection of real life and the law, but it also provided me with unfettered access to a uniquely experienced guide and interpreter—a judge.

Perhaps what surprised me most about my clinical experience was the willingness of the judge for whom I worked to give me honest, thorough answers to the many questions I asked. In his chambers at the end of the day, we discussed why the judge decided as he did on motions or fees or sentences; how lawyers’ courtroom behaviors or actions struck the judge and what that meant; why something unfolded the way it had in court that day; and issues pertaining to and affecting local, state, and national judicial processes. I observed arraignments, motion hearings, civil trials, criminal trials, and sentencing. I sat in front of the judge’s bench with his clerk, so I was privy to sidebars and pertinent documents. I witnessed skillful and not-as-skillful lawyering, and, from that, developed a better sense of what kind of attorney I hope to be. I saw a part of the justice system that Massachusetts residents see, and I learned, a lot.

As my impending graduation begins to sink in, I have started to reflect on my time at HLS. The Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, for the opportunity it gave me to pick a judge’s brain on a weekly basis and all it taught me about the community court system, stands out as a highlight.

Making rights real: my time in Ghana

By Rachel Jones, LL.M. ’16

Professor Lucie White has been working alongside Ghanaian organizations for many years on a variety of projects. I am lucky enough to be part of her Making Rights Real clinic, and spent this spring break investigating the impacts of gas development on local communities in the Western Region of Ghana.

Our time in Ghana was short, but packed. Before our visit, we researched various laws bearing on possible compensation for affected communities. In Accra, Ghana’s capital, we spoke with government agencies and civil society organizations. We gathered more information about Ghana’s burgeoning domestic gas sector, and inquired about consultation of, and compensation for, local people. After Accra we all piled into our little bus and travelled to the Western Region, stopping on the way to meet our local NGO partner, whose expertise was invaluable.

By far the most interesting experience from my perspective, and one that will remain with me for the rest of my life, was meeting with community members themselves. We approached people in the village in small groups, accompanied by translators (in my case, the Professor’s knowledgeable clinic assistant, a 2nd year SJD student from Ghana: Oteng’s organization skills and kindness made everyone’s trip run smoothly).

My group talked to two separate groups of people about their experiences – men and women. Hearing their perspective, their anger, their proposals was what this trip was really all about. I left Ghana with a strong and abiding impression that everyone we met cares deeply about the issues we’re exploring – and wants to do their best for their country or for their community.

Lessons from a post-9/11 world

Advocating for torture survivors, Law School instructor tries to hold psychologists accountable

Via Harvard Gazette

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Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Deborah Popowski, a Harvard Law School instructor, has led the effort to hold psychologists accountable for their involvement in the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “We want lawyers and advocates who are compassionate and empathetic people,” she said.

When Deborah Alejandra Popowski, J.D.’08, was just beginning her studies at Harvard Law School (HLS), she learned a powerful lesson about the value and import of the law.

An American attorney representing a Guantanamo detainee spoke at an HLS event. The lawyer told of her client, a Saudi citizen in his early 20s, and of the regimen of inhuman treatment that he endured at the hands of U.S. military forces. For Popowski, the lawyer’s testimony brought home the human dimension of torture.

“Everybody in law school was talking about concepts and the rule of law regarding torture,” Popowski said. “That was the first time that I had ever heard somebody talking about people.”

Ever since, she has tried to follow that example and tend the people.

Since 2009, when Popowski began working as a fellow at the HLS International Human Rights Clinic, she has advocated for torture survivors as part of a movement to seek accountability for U.S. torture through both state and international courts.

Popowski, who became an HLS clinical instructor in 2011, has focused on the role that psychologists played in the U.S. torture program authorized by the Bush administration and implemented as part of its “war on terror.”

As is widely known, psychologists helped design the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which included water-boarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and religious and sexual humiliation of Muslim men and boys detained by U.S. intelligence and military agencies. Psychologists also participated in interrogations as advisers.

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Killer Robots: The Case for Human Control

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Nations Convene to Discuss Fully Autonomous Weapons

(Geneva, April 11, 2015) – Countries should retain meaningful human control over weapons systems and ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic said in a report issued today. The concept of meaningful human control will be a centerpiece of deliberations at a week-long multilateral meeting on the weapons, opening April 11, 2016, at the United Nations in Geneva.

The 16-page report, “Killer Robots and the Concept of Meaningful Human Control,” discusses the moral and legal importance of control and shows countries’ growing recognition of the need for humans to remain in charge of the critical functions of selecting and firing on targets.

“Machines have long served as instruments of war, but historically humans have directed how they are used,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor at the International Human Rights Clinic and the report’s lead author. “Now, there is a real threat that humans would relinquish their control and delegate life-and-death decisions to machines.”

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Clinical Opportunity for Collaborative, Community-Based Transactional Work

We have extended the application deadline and applications to the Community Enterprise Project are now due by Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Applications Due April 20, 2016

The Community Enterprise Project (offered in both the fall and spring semesters) is a by-application division of the Transactional Law Clinics in which students engage in both direct client representation and community economic development. In addition to representing clients located near the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School on transactional matters, CEP students work in small groups to connect with community organizations, identify organizational and community legal needs, and develop comprehensive strategies to address those needs while gaining valuable, real-world transactional law experience in a community setting.

Students should apply by April 20, regardless of which semester (fall or spring) they are applying for.

To get a better sense of the kinds of projects students in CEP undertake, check out the stories below from the OCP blog:

To apply to CEP, please submit a statement of interest (no more than 200 words) and resume.

Please note that CEP students must commit to spending at least half of their clinical hours on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School in Jamaica Plain.

CEP applications should be addressed to Brian Price and Amanda Kool and submitted via e-mail to clinical@law.harvard.edu

If accepted, students will register for 4 or 5 clinical credits through the Transactional Law Clinics and 2 course credits for the associated clinical seminar. Continuing TLC students may take CEP for 3, 4, or 5 clinical credits and do not need to register in the associated clinical seminar.

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado recognized by students for integrating critical race theory into classroom

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award.Yesterday, it was my great honor to present Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, my former clinical instructor, with the Shatter the Ceiling Award for Excellence in Integrating Critical Race Theory into the Curriculum. The annual award, given by Students for Inclusion and the Shattered Ceiling Committee of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, is based on feedback from a student survey. Below are the comments I prepared for the ceremony, followed by the complete list of faculty honorees:

“The first time I thought ‘there may actually be a place for students like me here’ was during my 2L year in the International Human Rights Clinic.  Deborah and Tyler’s human rights seminar was intellectually engaging in ways I had never experienced at HLS and I was sure none of my other classes could compare. But my developing clinical education with Fernando was not just comparable; it was the ultimate practical supplement.

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Steven Salcedo ’16 honored with ethics award

Via HLS News

Harvard Law School 3L Steven Salcedo is among 12 law students recognized by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)-Northeast for “exemplary commitment to ethics in the course of their clinical studies.”

Steven_SalcedoSalcedo was nominated for the award by Harvard Law School Lecturer on Law Amanda Kool, who supervised Salcedo during his more than three semesters of clinical work with the Transactional Law Clinic’s Community Enterprise Project. In her nomination letter, Kool praised Salcedo for his work drafting a guide for immigrant entrepreneurs and helping immigrant clients on issues related to their business ownership, tasks which raised complex ethical issues.

“Put simply, I’ve never met a student more committed to the ethical rules than Steven Salcedo,” wrote Kool in her nomination. “He is far from reckless, but neither is he afraid of blazing (calculated, well-researched) trails to the effective delivery of legal services to the most vulnerable of clients, using the ethical rules as his roadmap each step of the way.”

Salcedo jumped into clinical work through his participation in the Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics (CEP), which allows HLS students to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and community groups create businesses, obtain permits and licenses, and negotiate contracts and other transactional (non-litigation) services. During his first semester with CEP, he and a fellow student proposed creating a legal resource for immigrant entrepreneurs and those who work with immigrant entrepreneurs. The project was accepted and Salcedo continued with the clinic for an additional semester to see the project to fruition as the project team leader. The first-of-its-kind guide, A Legal Overview of Business Ownership for Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, was published last fall.

As a result of his work on the publication, Salcedo built a reputation for expertise and decided to stay on for a third semester of clinical work with CEP to continue representing immigrant entrepreneur clients.

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Students spend spring break focused on legal services work

Via HLS News

Each year, teams of Harvard Law School students are given the opportunity to spend their Spring Break experiencing legal services work with clinics and legal organizations in the Boston area, or working on projects around the country and abroad. These trips and placements are part of an “alternative spring break” program developed and sponsored by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono programs at Harvard Law School.

This year, during the week of March 11-18, students worked locally at the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association; at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS)/Legal Advocacy and Resource Center (LARC); and at the law school’s own Legal Services Center (LSC)/Veterans Legal Clinic.

Project teams traveled within the U.S. and abroad, working with Equal Justice Under Law in Murfressboro, TN, following up on the work of last year’s pro bono trip to Tennessee by contributing to a civil rights lawsuit, Rodriguez v. PCC, that resulted from that work; assisting with litigation to advance human rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans under the supervision of lawyers at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF); at the newly established Crossroads Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) in Clarksdale, MS with the goal to promote local artists and to use art as a tool for community connection and reconciliation; and at ProBAR in Harlingen, TX, at the Adult Legal Orientation Program, engaging in direct client representation. This is the 12th year that the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs has funded the trips, which originated in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when students went to New Orleans to assist displaced families.

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