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Disability Rights Advocate and LSC Alum Haben Girma on making her way in the world with help from her guide dog

Via the WilmerHale Legal Services Center 

From left to right: Senior Clinical Instructor Julie McCormack, Haben Girma ’13, and Clinical Instructor Dana Montalto at LSC’s 40th Anniversary Event. Credit: Tony Rinaldo

My guide dog crossed the street, then jerked to a halt. “Mylo, forward.” My left hand held the leather harness that wrapped around his shoulders. “Forward,” I repeated. The harness shifted, and I knew he was peering back at me. Some barrier, unseen and unheard by me, blocked our passage.

Cars created little earthquakes in the street on our left. Behind us ran the road we just crossed. I made the decision: “Mylo, right.” He turned and headed down the sidewalk. I directed him around the block to bypass whatever had stood in our way.

My dog never knows where I’m going. He has his theories, of course. You went to this cafe yesterday, so clearly you’re going there again, right? Or he’ll veer toward an open door. Seriously, Haben, we need to step in here for a sniff.

People assume guide dogs lead blind people, and once upon a time, I thought so, too. My senior year of high school, I fretted about navigating college as a Deafblind student. Perhaps I would get a guide dog to ferry me wherever I needed to go. A companion would give me the confidence I needed.

“You want to depend on a dog for confidence?” a blind friend asked over instant messenger.

“It sounds funny when you put it that way,” I typed.

“If a blind person doesn’t have confidence, then the dog and person both end up lost. Don’t depend on a dog for confidence. Build up your own.”

So instead of training alongside a service animal at guide dog school, I spent my pre-college summer honing my blindness skills at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I learned nonvisual techniques for crossing busy streets with a white cane, baking banana cream pie, even using electric saws.

I tapped my way through college with confidence. My self-assurance didn’t come from the cane but from my hard-earned orientation and mobility skills. How could I have thought that would be different with a four-legged guide?

Still, confident as I was, something felt missing from my life. My heart ached for a travel partner whose eyes and ears would share more of the world I navigated.

Maxine the Seeing Eye dog joined me for my last year at Lewis & Clark College and all three at Harvard Law. We glided around obstacles so much more smoothly than when I traveled with a cane — imagine switching from a bicycle to a Tesla.

I learned to read her body language, and together we strode with six legs. Her big, brown eyes and pointy ears opened new dimensions for me. Having a German shepherd at my side even curtailed the sexual harassment I faced. For nine years, she stood by my side.

In 2018, Maxine died of cancer. I missed her intensely, and the loss still pains me. I also knew I could not, would not, go back to life with only a cane. I was without my partner of nearly a decade, but I was not without direction.

The school that trained Maxine matched me with another dog. That summer, I joined Mylo for three weeks at the school’s campus in New Jersey. We lurched over curbs and crashed into chairs, but in each new experience, through gentle corrections and an abundance of praise, our teamwork improved.

Now, we wander as one. In the year we’ve spent together, we’ve traveled to 12 states and four countries. One morning during a trip to Park City, Utah, for a friend’s wedding, I woke to Mylo bounding onto my hotel bed, ready to start the day. After a few strokes of his puppy-soft ears and some tugging of his toy whale, we left our room.

Mylo beelined for the elevator, and then, reading the Braille labels, I pressed the button for the main level. The doors opened, and I directed Mylo across the lobby toward the front doors. “Right.” He turned down a hallway. “Right.” He turned into a room that felt empty. “Sorry, not this one. Mylo, left.” I gestured for him to go back to the hall. “Right.” He turned into the next room.

The delightful aroma of food and coffee at last wafted over from the far wall. “Here it is! Forward.” After I ordered my hard-earned breakfast, another wedding guest approached us.

“Haben, hi! It’s Michael. Who brought you here?”

I passed the credit to Mylo; constantly confronting ableism is tiring work. But someday the world will recognize that a Deafblind person charts her own path through the unknown. For now, I know it — and so does Mylo. He takes his lead from me.


Paras Shah ’19, fostering inclusion and creativity in human rights

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Source: Harvard Law Today

Paras Shah’s approach to human rights centers on inclusion. In his four terms with the International Human Rights Clinic, Shah has encouraged an international coalition to ban killer robots to integrate diverse perspectives into its campaign, and collaborated with grassroots activists to counter hate speech and de-escalate ethnic and religious ultra-national rhetoric in Myanmar. As a student in the Advanced Skills Training in Strategic Human Rights Advocacy seminar, Shah and two other classmates also designed and led a workshop to increase student leadership, promote self-care, and build bridges between the Clinic and other programs at the Law School.

“I was born legally blind and grew up in the U.S., where the law has always played an important role in making sure I have equal opportunities like everyone else,” said Shah, who was previously the John Gardner Fellow at Human Rights Watch, where he focused on the rights of refugees with disabilities. “I want to use the law to create that kind of opportunity for other people.”

“Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots,” co-published by Human Rights Watch, is one of the most complex reports the Clinic has written, said Bonnie Docherty, associate director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection and lecturer on law in the IHRC. Shah was “an integral part of the team helping to build the case for why we need the ban.” His work was so outstanding during his first trip to Geneva, Switzerland that the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots invited Shah to return.

“Paras showed an intuitive understanding of and ability to articulate complicated issues,” said Docherty. “It was not just this, but his engagement with campaigners from all over the world, his enthusiasm for the work, his sense of humor, and his commitment to making the world a better place that made such an impression.”

Over J-term 2019, Shah and a team of three other students traveled with Yee Htun, lecturer on law and clinical instructor in the IHRC, to Myanmar and Thailand and met with religious leaders, women’s groups, and LGBTQ+ activists to test a workshop they had developed related to countering hate speech. “Paras rose to every challenge we faced. He was a sounding board and reliable interlocutor for new ideas,” said Htun. “He has the rare ability to think outside the box.”

In addition to his clinical work, Shah recently published an article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal about the use of deadly force against people with disabilities; he also writes for the prestigious national security blog Lawfare.

“The Clinic has been the most important thing I’ve done in law school,” said Shah. He said it sharpened his research skills, and taught him to consider the audience he wanted to reach and message he wanted to convey. “Although I frame an issue differently when briefing a diplomat in Geneva who is likely bound by instructions from her capital than when I discuss an idea with a grassroots activist who might have to later explain it to hundreds of other people in a specific local context, I always strive to understand their perspective and find common ground.”

For Shah, the Clinic was also a home and community. “The classmates I met became my close friends and the instructors became my mentors. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to issues I care about and make a small impact on people’s lives.”

Shah is going to be an associate at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.

This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report.

As Satter Fellow, Anna Khalfaoui L.L.M. ’17 assisted in trial of Congolese militia leaders

Via Human Rights@Harvard Law

By: Elaine McArdle

Between 2010 and 2014 in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), rebels from the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC) militia murdered, raped, and looted hundreds of civilians and forced children to become soldiers. In November 2018, the trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity against NDC’s militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi, who goes by the war name “Sheka,” commenced before the Operational Military Court of North Kivu.

As a 2018-2019 Satter Fellow in Human Rights, Anna Khalfaoui LL.M. ’17 spent the year in the DRC working with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to assist survivors and their lawyers through the trial, acting as a liaison in support of the justice system.

“After nine years, to finally have a trial that looks at these incidents is so important,” said Khalfaoui, a British-trained French attorney who chose Harvard Law School for its human rights training. “Being part of the team supporting survivors who’ve waited so long to tell their stories is an incredible learning opportunity.”

Khalfaoui also assisted survivors and their lawyers in the historic trial of militia leader Marcel Habarugira Rangira. With the support of a coalition of local and international actors, including ABA ROLI, Habarugira was convicted in February 2019 of the war crimes of rape and of conscription, enlistment and use of children as soldiers. The conviction for conscripting and using child soldiers was notably the first such conviction in the DRC.

These cases are very challenging, Khalfaoui noted, explaining that there is tremendous pressure on survivors to recant their stories. Diverse actors, from the military justice and local organizations, to NGOs like ABA ROLI and the UN peacekeeping forces in the DRC have worked together to make these trials possible. They are nevertheless expensive, often lengthy, and incredibly complex. Given the instability and insecurity in Eastern DRC, these trials face critical challenges from the lack of an effective investigative and prosecutorial strategy to difficulties providing protection for the survivors and witnesses.

Still, Khalfaoui is determined to continue working on these important issues. “I think it’s become clearer as I work on this trial that I’m more and more interested in doing direct legal work with people who are affected by human rights violations,” she said. During her fellowship, Khalfaoui is also supporting ABA ROLI’s early warning system for preventing atrocities, which allows people to alert security forces when there are signs of impending violence against civilian populations. The system, which is also being used in response to an Ebola breakout, is being expanded to new zones in Eastern DRC and to include conflict prevention activities to reduce community conflict.

After the fellowship, Khalfaoui plans to continue working on international human rights and international humanitarian law litigation.

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocities. The fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from Muneer A. Satter J.D./M.B.A.’87. This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report, which will be available soon on the HRP blog. You can also read this post on the HLS Today website.

Defending and promoting freedom of expression in Myanmar

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Photo Courtesy of Jenny Domino / Domino returned to Harvard Law School in February 2019 for a talk about her Satter Fellowship research on Facebook community standards and hate speech.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Jenny Domino LL.M. ’18 was awarded a Satter Human Rights Fellowship from the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School for the 2018-2019 year. A lawyer from the Philippines, Domino spent her fellowship year with ARTICLE 19, a human rights organization focused on the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and information. Over the last year, she has worked to strengthen ARTICLE 19’s response to hate speech in Myanmar, specifically as it incites and provokes violence against the Rohingya community.

Among other things, Domino wrote a human rights-based report analyzing the sufficiency of Facebook’s responses to criticism that it had failed to moderate hate speech in a timely manner in Myanmar. Her report has significantly informed ARTICLE 19 Asia’s engagement with Facebook regarding its content moderation policies. She also organized a regional workshop in spring 2019 on hate speech on social media, bringing together human rights defenders from the ASEAN region to discuss common themes of disinformation, attacks on the press, and weak social media policy.

Facebook’s community standards are the same throughout the world, but a problem occurs when rules are enforced without sufficiently taking into account the geopolitical contexts in which such content is shared, said Domino, who has dedicated herself to deepening the commitment to international human rights law in the ASEAN region. Before heading to HLS, she applied international accountability standards to help facilitate human rights documentation of the civilian killings arising from the Philippine war on drugs.

“When you enter a market and you don’t understand the political context of where you’re operating, that can be a problem,” she said. “The way certain speech is received or acted upon in one context—let’s say, the U.S. or the Netherlands—is different in a place like Myanmar or the Philippines. This distinction is more pronounced when the political context of a specific country involves atrocity crimes or systematic violence against civilians.”

The year has been “very meaningful for me,” said Domino, who will continue to specialize at the intersection of freedom of expression, corporate responsibility, and international human rights law, at the International Commission of Jurists, following her fellowship.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just in terms of substantive knowledge but the practical—and sometimes grim—aspects of working in the NGO scene. I am still trying to figure out through which capacity I can serve best, one where I can make the most impact as a lawyer. For now, I am content to have discovered a cause I deeply care about.”

The Satter Human Rights Fellowship is designed to support and promote human rights defense in response to mass atrocities. The fellowship is made possible by a generous gift from Muneer A. Satter J.D./M.B.A.’87. This profile is a preview of the 2018-2019 Human Rights Program Annual Report.

RAP’s 20th Anniversary Celebration Brings HLS Alumnus Don. S. Passman

By: Rebecca Rechtszaid

Photo Credit: Lester Cohen Simon & Schuster

On Friday, October 26, 2018 the Recording Artists Project (RAP) at Harvard Law School (HLS) celebrated its 20th anniversary by hosting Donald S. Passman, an HLS alumnus and author of the music industry bible, All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Mr. Passman is one of the most respected and well-known attorneys in the music business. Mr. Passman is a partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer, Brown & Passman where he represents some of music’s true rock stars, including Adele, Taylor Swift, Green Day, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder.

For those of us who came to law school determined to practice in the music and entertainment industry, getting to meet a legend like Mr. Passman is a dream come true. Throughout the event, students from HLS and other schools that partner with the Recording Artists Project told Mr. Passman how reading his book inspired them to attend law school or otherwise confirmed their decision to pursue a career in the music industry. Mr. Passman went over the basics of music law for the first half of the event: discussing copyright, royalty streams, and the most common types of agreements that artists enter into in the music industry. He then took questions from the roughly 70 attendees, which ranged from questions about his experiences as a music lawyer to his thoughts on how new technologies will change how musicians make money and interact with their audiences.

Mr. Passman also talked about how, when he attended Harvard, there were no entertainment-focused classes or student groups. We are fortunate now to have a few, including the Recording Artists Project and the Transactional Law Clinics’ Entertainment Law Clinic. Speaking about his practice, Mr. Passman discussed the importance of being able to take the music industry’s complicated concepts and explain them to artists in clear and concise language. He also touched on some new developments in the industry, like the recently-passed Music Modernization Act and the exercise of copyright transfer terminations under Section 203 of the Copyright Act, and how he thinks they might change the industry in the coming years.

Harvard Law School’s alumni network in the entertainment and music community is fiercely dedicated to the cultivation of young legal talent in the industry. Mr. Passman’s generosity in flying out from Los Angeles to speak to our organization shows the lengths that our alumni will go to help students who are truly passionate about pursuing a career in music law. We look forward to seeing the Recording Artists Project continue to grow and strengthen as it enters its next 20 years.

Lawyers: Forget The Client, Welcome The Community. How Chicago Is Working For Justice For All.

Via Forbes

By: Ashoka

Forbes interviewed social entrepreneur and HLS alum Lam Nguyen Ho ’08 on his work to get legal aid powered by the community through working with community-allied lawyers and community groups in Chicago.  Ho is the executive director of the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), which he founded with an HLS Public Service Fund Venture Grant.  CALA unites lawyers and activists to help their communities access justice and pursue social change. In 2017, Ho received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award for his efforts to improve the legal aid industry and  he contributions of over 3000 pro-bono hours in service to clients.

Read a snapshot of the interview about his work with CALA below:

Q: In broad brush strokes, how does legal aid work now?

A: Legal Services Corporation, a federal government program set up in 1974, largely controls what we know as legal aid in this country and funds it about half a billion dollars every year. It serves a great good and reaches many low-income people and communities. I’ve worked as a legal aid lawyer for more than a decade and I’ve seen and done remarkable work with LSC support. But there are big and growing gaps. One is that overall funding has dropped 60 percent in the past decade, making the system and its lawyers completely overstretched and locking out many who urgently need legal help. Even beyond funding, though, there are real structural limitations in how legal aid operates.

Q: What are the limitations?

A: For one, legal aid lawyers and organizations funded through this system can take on only some cases. Over 20 case “types” are excluded, including people facing gross injustices and civil liberty infringements like undocumented immigrants, sex workers, anyone who’s in prison. Class action lawsuits and anything related to organizing are also excluded which basically limits lawyers to individual not systemic level legal work. Another excluded case type is school segregation — I mean, it’s 2018 and if a legal aid lawyer sees a case with school segregation issues, they can’t be involved in it.

Q: What’s the relationship of lawyer to community?

A: Lawyers and legal aid programs tend to work by themselves, in silos, not really connecting to the communities they support or the changemakers working on the bigger changes. What I saw in my time in traditional legal aid was basically this: we’d take on individual cases and we would “solve” somebody’s eviction, we would “solve” their domestic violence situation. But we would never connect with those groups working at the systemic level to correct, say, gentrification causing displacement and mass evictions of entire communities, or cultural currents that make violence at home more likely. So the relationship of  lawyer and community is critical and we’re missing opportunities for impact. It’s where we see the biggest chance for change.

Q: So what you are proposing… how does Community Activism Law Alliance step in?

A: At CALA, we believe the law should be a vehicle of social change. In our model, legal aid is community located, community operated and, most importantly, community directed. This means that everything we do — deciding who gets legal services, what types of cases we handle, what hours, what location — is co-created with and ultimately directed by the community partner. Why? Because our partners are the ones connected to social movements. By letting them lead we end up leveraging the movement work and the movement priorities. This adds up to bigger impact, beyond what most individual cases can contribute. It also shifts the power of the law into the hands of communities and people most directly impacted.

Q: You started CALA in 2015 in one community, Little Village in Chicago. What’s your reach now?

A: We’re working in and with 16 community groups and 20 programs across Chicago and Lake County, and we have more demand than we can meet at current capacity. The work is philanthropically supported, giving us more freedom to do what we know is needed most. And because we’re embedded with communities, we are supported with office space, language and translation services, and administrative support, making this model cost effective, with greater potential to scale nationally. We’re starting to build our vision of an alternative network of legal programs that are powered by the people, by the community.

Continue reading.

UnSung: Sharon Jones

Via Minnesota Lawyer 

By: Kevin Featherly

Sharon Jones, JD ’03
Source: Minnesota Lawyer

As a Harvard-educated attorney who once did contract work for the high-flying Robins Kaplan firm, it would seem Sharon Jones had boundless career options. She has chosen to work among the poor.

Jones is the executive director for Legal Assistance of Dakota County, where for the past 10 years she has provided legal assistance to low-income Minnesotans.

“I got to law school and realized that what I really missed was helping people,” Jones said. So she joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, representing low-income Boston-area residents. She graduated in 2003.

After stints at the Indian Child Welfare Law Center and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Jones became LADC’s executive director. LADC has managed through budget-challenged times to help 1,200 low-income Dakota County families.

“We are really focusing on trying to make the courts accessible to everyone,” Jones said. “We believe, ultimately, that makes a healthy community.”

Jones hears questions every day about potentially more lucrative career options. The simple answer, she said, is that there isn’t another place she’d rather be.

“I think I am incredibly privileged to do work that I love every day and to walk the paths that I get to walk with my clients,” she said.

A Deep Commitment to Helping Immigrants

Via Harvard Law Today

By Katie Noah Gibson

Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the Trump administration’s family separation practices have marked a shift in U.S. immigration policy, the issues surrounding immigration are not new. Many HLS alumni and students are engaged in legal and advocacy work related to immigration, including the situations of refugees and asylum seekers. For some of these lawyers, this interest predates their time at HLS, but has dovetailed with their coursework and hands-on learning during their time as law students.

“I taught English as a second language to refugee students before coming to law school,” says Emma Rekart ’17, now a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which works with detainees at four centers in Washington State. “That’s what got me interested in immigration work.”

Rekart and her colleagues help screen recent immigrants who have been detained and are seeking a hearing, either representing them directly or referring them to other attorneys. They give legal orientation presentations and “know your rights” trainings to aid clients in understanding the U.S. legal system. Their work, recently, has included some clients who have been separated from their children under the new policies.

“Our organization now has a bond fund, because there’s been so much interest in this issue,” Rekart explains. “Some of our clients are released on bond, but some will remain detained for the whole of their cases.”

Reuniting families often means one thing on paper and another in reality. Rekart represented one mother who had come to the U.S. with her young son, from whom she was separated at the border. The mother was denied release on bond, and her child was placed with his father, whom he had not previously met. Although the child is being cared for by family members, he is still separated from his mother, whose case may linger for months.

“You either have too much time to prepare a case like this or no time at all,” Rekart says, noting that detained and non-detained clients’ cases often move at quite different speeds. The likelihood of a client being released on bond can also depend on the presiding judge, making it difficult to predict the outcomes even of cases that are quite similar.

As a law student, Rekart worked with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC). She also participated in the school’s crimmigration work, which explores the intersection of criminal and immigration law. This program has sparked or helped strengthen an interest in immigration issues for many students, including Josephine Herman ’20, who spent this summer working as an intern with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in the San Antonio area.

“I wanted to do something client-focused this summer,” explains Herman, who worked with survivors of gender-based violence in Guatemala before coming to HLS. “I have family connections to immigrants from Central America, and I wanted to work with people facing these issues.” Herman’s work with HIRC in Cambridge led to a connection with RAICES, where she worked with detainees being held in Karnes City, Texas. Many of Herman’s clients were fleeing gang violence or domestic abuse in Central America.

“I represented a couple of clients directly in their hearings with immigration judges,” Herman says. “If they weren’t granted asylum, we would help them petition for reinterview or reinformation.”

The center’s population included (at various times) recently arrived mothers with their minor children, adult women traveling alone, and men traveling with their children. Herman helped her clients navigate the asylum process, answering questions and helping them prepare for credible fear interviews. She worked with fellow law students, attorneys offering their pro bono services and a rotating cast of volunteers, who pitched in to help with paperwork and other projects.

“Everyone I met treated their clients with such respect,” Herman says of her time with RAICES. “It’s exhausting, necessary work, and there’s so much need. I appreciated the commitment of people who were there day in and day out.”

Rekart agrees. “There’s a long list of attorneys who are willing to help,” she says.

No Crime to Be Poor

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Lindy Drew

There is no shortage of serious legal issues facing poor people in Greater St. Louis, especially people of color, says Blake Strode ’15, who was born and raised in the area. Just three years out of HLS, Strode is back home fighting the criminalization of poverty as executive director of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm in St. Louis that has filed landmark cases that have already improved the lives of tens of thousands of low-income people.

Strode, who majored in international economics and Spanish at the University of Arkansas and toured the world for three years as a tennis professional before law school, always planned to go into public interest law. At HLS, he represented prisoners in disciplinary and parole hearings through the Prison Legal Assistance Project, helped fight evictions and foreclosures in Boston through Project No One Leaves, and was a student in the Housing Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center.

Not long after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Strode read a white paper on the over-policing of people of color in north St. Louis County that ArchCity Defenders had just published. The paper, which presaged a later Department of Justice report, “was the first time I’d seen that level of analysis of that problem in St. Louis,” he says. He reached out to the organization’s executive director and co-founder, Thomas Harvey, and soon found himself back in his hometown with a Skadden Fellowship to do housing-related work.

ArchCity had recently filed several cases challenging the constitutionality of modern-day debtors’ prisons—the jailing of poor people because they are unable to pay court fines and fees—and Strode changed his focus to helping build the organization’s civil rights litigation unit through impact litigation targeting this practice as well as police misconduct and inhumane jail conditions. In his short time there, he and his colleagues have filed more than 30 civil rights lawsuits in federal court, partnering on some with Civil Rights Corps in Washington, D.C., founded by Alec Karakatsanis ’08. Strode played a significant role in obtaining a landmark judgment against the city of Jennings for imprisoning people unable to pay municipal fines: $4.75 million for a class of about 2,000 people. Settled in 2016, the case resulted in sweeping policy changes that serve as a model for legal reforms in other courts.

In January 2018, at the age of 30, Strode was named ArchCity’s new executive director when Harvey decided to leave.

“My goal is the same as our organizational goal: to combat the criminalization of poverty and state violence against poor people and people of color,” he says.

“Our clients are poor and overwhelmingly people of color, which in St. Louis means overwhelmingly black. We are seeking systemic change with and for them, which is only possible through a concerted effort of both legal and nonlegal advocacy. We’re calling for nothing less than that.”

ArchCity, which relies heavily on private donations, was primarily a volunteer organization until a few years ago; it now has a full-time staff of 20, half of whom are lawyers, Strode says. Yet there is so much need in the community that growth is a top priority, he adds. That means building capacity in order to represent more clients and expanding to other parts of the state. ArchCity is a holistic provider, so growth also means expanding advocacy in housing, access to education, and consumer matters.

And while ArchCity’s victories are heartening, “even those, we have to work very hard to hold on to, and those gains aren’t enough,” Strode says. The work can be especially difficult in a politically conservative area like Missouri, “where millions of people face the greatest systemic challenges on a day-to-day basis because those challenges are institutional and deep-seated.” However, he adds, “The ways our clients engage in fighting back are really inspiring and inspire us to remain committed.”

Applying Negotiation Skills in the Foreign Service

Via Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

This is the third blog is a new series called “From the Field”. In this series we spotlight stories and insights from former students, friends, and colleagues who are working in the field of dispute resolution.

By Matilda Jansen Brolin, LLM ’16

Matilda Jansen Brolin, LLM ’16

A year after graduating from Harvard Law School (HLS) with an LL.M in 2016, I joined the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and began the Diplomatic Training Program as a young career diplomat. From the application process to what I do at present, I’ve put the pedagogical skills in alternative dispute resolution—developed at HLS through the Negotiation Workshop, courses in mediation and Dispute Systems Design, and in the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) and the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP)—into practice.

The Swedish Foreign Service greatly values negotiation, mediation, and facilitation skills in the people it admits to the Diplomatic Training Program. The assessment of candidates includes a group exercise where participants must agree amongst each other on how to solve a set of problems for a fictitious company and together present the solutions to a CEO, all under severe time constraint. In my case, the many individual interviews ended up largely focusing on my experience as mediator with HMP and the clinical project I did through HNMCP to create and deliver negotiation training in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the Mennonite Central Committee and its in-country partner, Programme Paix et Réconciliation.

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Sports Law Clinic: an opportunity to work for teams and connect with alumni

By Jimmy McEntee, J.D. ’18

Portrait photo of Jimmy McEntee, J.D. '18

Jimmy McEntee, J.D. ’18

Thirty-four. That’s how many Harvard Law students participated in the Sports Law Clinic this year. Students worked in all types of sports organizations, such as teams, leagues, agencies, player associations, and athletic departments. The breadth of opportunities available to students is a testament to Professor Peter Carfagna’s vast network in the sports law community. One of the exciting parts of the program is that the number of placements grows each year, as more of Prof. Carfagna’s former students take positions with sports organizations and others learn about the program for the first time.

I was first exposed to working in sports during the summer after my 1L year, when I interned in the Labor Relations Department of Major League Baseball. The following January, I interned in the Legal Department for the National Football League as part of the Sports Law Clinic. I appreciated the opportunity to see the varied types of legal work in league offices and to network with lawyers in those offices.

While I thoroughly enjoyed those experiences, I wanted to see what it was like to work on the team side during my 3L year. I specifically hoped to gain experience working on salary arbitration cases for teams. In Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, select players that qualify for arbitration are eligible to negotiate a raise in salary based on their production. If the team and player cannot reach an agreement regarding a fair salary for the player, the parties then turn to an arbitration hearing to determine that player’s salary for the upcoming season.

After discussing my desire to do salary arbitration work with Prof. Carfagna, he connected me with Daniel Adler ’17, Director of Baseball Operations for the Minnesota Twins, and Don Fishman, Assistant General Manager & Director of Legal Affairs for the Washington Capitals. Through the clinic, I was able to set up placements at the Twins during our J-Term and the Capitals during the spring semester, working on salary arbitration cases with both organizations.

While at the Twins, I prepared research and analysis on a number of the team’s arbitration-eligible players. The salary arbitration process in Major League Baseball takes place in January and February, so the timing of the placement could not have been any better. The experience was incredible, and I loved every minute of my time in Minneapolis. I left the Twins not only with a solid understanding about the salary arbitration process, but also with immense respect for the Twins organization. My placement with the Capitals has just started and I am excited to learn more about the difference in salary arbitration cases between baseball and hockey.

While I am not sure what path my career will take, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work for a number of different sports organizations during law school. There is simply no program like the Sports Law Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Clinical Alumnus Blake Strode ’15 to lead ArchCity Defenders

Via the St. Louis American

Thomas Harvey and Blake Strode

Thomas Harvey, executive director and co-founder of ArchCity Defenders, told The St. Louis American that he will leave the St. Louis-based civil rights law firm at the end of the year, with Blake Strode to succeed him in leadership.

Thomas Harvey, executive director and co-founder of ArchCity Defenders, will leave the St. Louis-based civil rights law firm at the end of the year, with Blake Strode to succeed him in leadership.

Harvey, 45, and Strode, 30, made the announcement to The St. Louis American on November 2. Harvey credited the paper’s previous coverage of the firm’s fundraising efforts to attract and retain black attorneys for its ability to retain Strode after his Skadden Fellowship from Harvard University, which brought the Pattonville High School graduate home to St. Louis, expired….

ArchCity was Strode’s first job coming out of law school, and he said the firm’s “multi-faceted advocacy” practice is truly unique. Unlike many civil rights firms that find a policy they want to change and then search for the right clients to front their suit, ArchCity does direct legal service to poor clients and moves from solving their individual problems to finding opportunities to strike for systemic reforms.

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Louis Fisher ’16 is inaugural Harvard Law Review Public Interest Fellow

Via Harvard Law Today

The Harvard Law Review has announced that Louis W. Fisher ’16 has been selected as the inaugural Public Interest Fellow. He will spend a year working at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and will have the opportunity to have a short piece relating to his work considered for publication in the Law Review’s online Forum at the end of the year.

Said Law Review President ImeIme Umana: “Louis is an extraordinary individual. From his work at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau to his progressive legal scholarship about spurring local grassroots activism for racial and economic justice, we are thrilled to be assisting with the beginning of his bright career.  Our goal in launching this fellowship was to bridge the divide between legal scholarship and legal practice for the common good, and we look forward to seeing what Louis will accomplish.”

Fisher, a 2016 graduate of Harvard Law School, is a former Teach For America corps member and most recently clerked for Judge Paul Oetken and Judge Stephen Reinhardt.  He chose to work at LDF “because the eradication of racial oppression is morally incumbent upon our nation, and I believe that both creative litigation strategies and critical legal scholarship play an essential role, separately and in tandem, in satisfying that imperative.”

Fisher was selected by a committee of Law School professors from a pool of 3L students and recent graduates with a demonstrated interest in both public interest work and legal scholarship.  The Law Review played no role in the selection process.

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My experience at HLS’s Federal Tax Clinic

Portrait photo of Varsha Bhattacharya LL.M. '18

Varsha Bhattacharya LL.M. ’18

By Varsha Bhattacharya LL.M. ’18

I am a tax lawyer, hailing from India. I did my first law degree in India and worked there for four years with a law firm prior to coming to Harvard. While many factors went in to my decision to do my LL.M. this year, the primary one was to gain a different experience by placing myself in unfamiliar situations. Consequently while beginning my LL.M. year this August, one of my main aims while choosing courses was to pick as wide a variety as possible. This led me to apply for a clinical course, which Harvard alumni had strongly recommended to me.

Coming into the Federal Tax Clinic, I was not sure what to expect. At my law firm back in India, I dealt mostly with corporate clients. However, I represented some individuals in their tax cases and also undertook some pro bono work in conjunction with a non-profit organization, and I remembered those as being some of my most memorable assignments because of the personal connection they involved. I wondered if working at the clinic would feel similar.

During my first few days at the clinic, I was a little overwhelmed because the entire system was new to me. Not only the body of tax law, but also the manner in which courts and administrative proceedings work in the United States is different. However, after initial hiccups, things were smoother and rewarding.

I have found the environment at the clinic to be quite encouraging. The attorneys heading the clinic are extremely supportive, and are helpful irrespective of the sort of questions posed to them. Their welcoming attitude to discussions has helped clarify a lot of fundamental issues I had, as have been the discussions we have had in the lunch sessions talking about our cases. Hailing from a different jurisdiction and culture has felt less of a hurdle, and more of an attribute, because it helped bring in a different perspective to issues such as interpretation of provisions etc.

Additionally, and very significantly, I realized that a lot about getting the work right lies in caring about the client. The moment I call a client, hear their story, and feel a direct connection with them; as their representative I feel a greater responsibility to give them the best chance in their cases. While not every endeavor on behalf of a client is successful, and it can be disheartening when you cannot make headway, it pays off when there is a positive result for even one client.

I would whole-heartedly recommend taking a clinical course to anybody studying at HLS. It has been a valuable learning experience. I sincerely believe that I will leave HLS with a practical experience that a lot of my peers may not gain. While the structure of the clinic comes with certain challenges (mostly lack of continuity in cases as students keep changing every term), I feel that the benefits far outweigh any issues that may arise.

Clinic alumna wins International ‘Outstanding Young Lawyer’ Award

Via The Gleaner

Photo of Malene Alleyne posing with her Outstanding Young Lawyer award

Malene Alleyne posing with her Outstanding Young Lawyer award

Jamaican human rights lawyer Malene Alleyne is the latest recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year award from the International Bar Association (IBA).

The award was presented recently at an awards breakfast at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, Australia.

This award is presented annually to a young lawyer who has shown not only excellence in his/her work and achievements in his/her career to date but also a commitment to professional and ethical standards as well as a commitment to the larger community.

“I am honoured to take this award home to Jamaica,” said Malene. “This award highlights the important contributions that Caribbean lawyers have made and continue to make to the global community.”

Malene has had a stellar career as an academic and human rights lawyer. She earned an LLM from Harvard Law School, where she specialised in international human rights law, and a Master of Advanced Studies in International Relations with a specialisation in political science from the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva.

Malene received her law degree from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, and a Legal Education Certificate of Merit from the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica.

Before studying law, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Eckerd College.

Malene is a former associate at the Jamaican law firm Myers Fletcher and Gordon. She began her human rights career in 2013 when she joined the inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC.

At the commission, Malene reviewed human rights complaints against Organisation of American States members.

“I believe that respect for human rights is the cornerstone of democratic governance,” said Malene.

“Human rights must be mainstreamed through every aspect of government, business, and social life. This is the wish I have for Jamaica, the Caribbean and the world.”

In 2016, Malene decided to pursue an LLM at Harvard, but she maintained a close connection to human rights practice through her work with the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.

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About Political Dialogue in a Confrontational Culture

Via Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program 

Portrait photo of Oriol Valentí

Oriol Valentí i Vidal ‘17

Last week, images of the Spanish police brutally cracking down on voters in Catalonia’s illegal referendum on secession popped up on computer screens around the world, bringing with them a wave of international attention and unprecedented internal anxiety. 42.34% of eligible voters cast their vote, the majority of whom (90%) supported secession from Spain. Aside from the failed coup d’état in 1981, this represents Spain’s most profound constitutional crisis since democracy was restored in 1978, and remains a hot debate in Catalonia.

After finishing my LL.M. at Harvard Law School a few months ago, I came back to Spain: first to Madrid, and then—coinciding with the referendum for the independence of Catalonia—to Barcelona. However, as much as I was excited to be back home, viewing such extreme polarization first-hand worried me. Although Spanish political culture tends to be confrontational, the current level of social tension has seemed, at least to me, unparalleled.

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Alumnus Alec Karakatsanis and his Civil Rights Corps organization win $14.3 million settlement

Alec Karakatsanis ’08, alumnus of Harvard Defenders and the Criminal Justice Institute and founder of Civil Rights Corps (CRC) is making headlines for his effort to end the practice of jailing people for failure to pay fines or fees.  Recently, CRC won a $14.3 million settlement for over 25,000 impoverished people in Rutherford County, Tennessee, who were the victims of the County’s decision to privatize its probation system. HLS students doing pro bono work over their spring break helped on the case in 2015 and 2016. You can read more via:

The Murfreesboro Post

Rutherford County and Providence Community Corrections have settled a class action lawsuit over private probation practices for $14.3 million, a move compensating nearly 30,000 Tennesseans for fees the company allegedly extorted from probationers.

The private company is paying $14 million and Rutherford County is contributing $300,000 to class action members, according to court documents.

“This case is a tragic illustration of what happens when for-profit companies are allowed to turn the criminal legal system into a mechanism for making money,” said Civil Rights Corps attorney Elizabeth Rossi.

When PCC took over Rutherford County’s probation system several years ago, rather than receiving a fee from the county, it earned millions in profits annually by requiring payments from low-income people under its supervision. Often this meant having probationers sent to jail because they couldn’t afford to pay its private fees and trapping them in a cycle of debt, endless probation extensions and more jail time, the plaintiffs’ attorneys contend.

“The pursuit of money over justice has corrupted our legal system,” said Civil Rights Corps Executive Director and founder Alec Karakatsanis. “No human being should be put in a cage because she cannot make a payment, and no local government should make important decisions about liberty based on profit. We’re pleased that there is agreement to end these exploitative practices forever in Rutherford County.” Continue reading

LSC Alumna Leading the Way for People with Disabilities

Via Legal Services Center

Haben Girma, a Harvard Law School alum and alum of LSC’s Disability Litigation Unit (now the Safety Net Project), is featured on the cover of the September issue of the American Bar Association Journal for her consulting and public speaking work encouraging companies to hire people with disabilities and to develop fully accessible products and services. Girma has worked with organizations ranging from Apple and Google to Pearson Education and the American Alliance of Museums.

Before going into consulting, this former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom fellow practiced litigation for more than two years with the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Advocates.

Girma is a first-generation immigrant who has both limited hearing and vision and refers to herself as “Deafblind.” She was named one of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels.

Clinical alumna Catherine Howard ’16 is helping undocumented children pro bono

Via Hollywood Reporter

Group photo of O'Melveny attorneys Amy Siegel, Jordyn Ostroff, Matt Kline, David Lash and Catherine Howard pictured from left to right.

Courtesy of O’Melveny & Meyers
From left: O’Melveny attorneys Amy Siegel, Jordyn Ostroff, Matt Kline, David Lash and Catherine Howard.

How a Hollywood Law Firm Is Helping Undocumented Children Survive Trump

When President Trump signed an executive order in January preventing people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S., attorneys across the country sprang into action, racing to their local airports to sort through the legal chaos. O’Melveny & Myers attorneys were among them. “I spent the weekend of the travel ban working with lawyers all over the country to try to coordinate a response,” says David Lash, who oversees the Los Angeles-based law firm’s pro bono program. “By the end of the weekend, we had an email list of 900 lawyers.”

But even before Trump’s executive order, O’Melveny lawyers had been devoting thousands of hours to pro bono immigration efforts, all but making it a specialty of the firm. In fact, the very day Trump enacted the ban, Lash’s team was working with in-house attorneys at Warner Bros. to hold a clinic for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit founded by Angelina Jolie and Microsoft in 2008 that connects undocumented children with pro bono lawyers to make sure they’re represented in immigration court. “We had 100 people on the 18th floor of our L.A. office,” says entertainment litigator Matt Kline. “In one conference room, there was a TV on, and I remember kids walking by and seeing images of what was going on in Washington, D.C. There was a lot of fear.” The attorneys sat down with the kids, often coloring to break the ice, and listened to their stories. “It was completely gut-wrenching,” says Lash. “We had 12-year-olds who saw their parents gunned down in front of them.”

So far, the firm’s SoCal offices have held three KIND clinics and put in more than 3,500 pro bono hours for KIND cases in the past year. Entertainment associates Jordyn Ostroff and Catherine Howard are representing a pair of young sisters from El Salvador in their efforts to stay in the U.S. “We’re going to try to get what’s called Special Immigrant Juveniles Status,” says Howard. “That is for children who come into the U.S. and, either because of neglect or abandonment, don’t have parents and would be threatened if they went back to their home country.”

The firm is working with KIND to set up clinics in San Francisco and New York — but that’s not the only way it’s making an impact on immigration issues. “We were recently on the briefs in the United States v. Texas case, which is an immigration case involving the challenge to the Obama policy regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA],” says partner Brian Berliner. “We’re also involved in drafting legislation. Our work runs the gamut of small clients all the way up to classes of clients.”

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The Law and Happiness in Bhutan

Via Harvard Law Bulletin

A new law school in the Land of the Thunder Dragon

Stephan Sonnenberg ’06 has been helping to design the law school’s curriculum and will be one of the 11 faculty members.

Credit: Kristen DeRemer
Stephan Sonnenberg ’06 has been helping to design the law school’s curriculum and will be one of the 11 faculty members.

Among the rugged mountains and the swiftly flowing rivers of Bhutan, new legal institutions are taking root. Soon this small country—with just over 750,000 inhabitants—will open its first law school.

In recent years, the Himalayan nation, wedged between China and Tibet to the north and India to the south, has undergone significant political and cultural transformations. In 2006, the nation’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced that he would step down in favor of his son and he set in motion the drafting of a new constitution to replace an absolute monarchy with a constitutional one. In 2008, a new constitution was ratified. Now, nine years later, the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law will open its doors to its first class in July.

Envisioned by the current king to honor his father and his father’s guiding development philosophy for Bhutan, which he called Gross National Happiness, or GNH, Jigme Singye Wang­chuck School of Law will operate under the motto “Justice, Service, Wisdom.”

GNH may sound a bit hedonistic to some, but its origins are Buddhist. It makes collective happiness the goal of government and emphasizes harmony with nature and traditional values. Where the United States has its “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Bhutan has the four pillars of GNH—economic self-reliance, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion, and good governance.

“The school is the means of bringing GNH and justice to fruition,” says Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck LL.M. ’07, honorable president of Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law.

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Alumnus Spotlight—Toby Berkman ’10

Via Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

Toby Berkman ’10

Toby Berkman ’10

We caught up with Toby Berkman ’10, a two-time HNMCP clinic student, and current dispute resolution professional, for our alumnus spotlight this year.

During his years at Harvard Law School, Berkman also served as a student mediator in the Harvard Mediation Program, as a Teaching Assistant for the Negotiation Workshop, and after graduation, as the first HNMCP Associate (the title has since changed to Fellow). During his year at HNMCP, Berkman co-wrote, edited, and produced the first DVD teaching tool put out by the Clinic, in conjunction with the law firm WilmerHale, “Critical Decisions in Negotiation.” This fall, Berkman served as a facilitator in HNMCP’s newest, soon-to-be-released, DVD teaching tool on facilitated dialogue, Police-Community Dialogue, and this past spring semester, was a Lecturer in the Negotiation Workshop.

HNMCP: Can you trace any particular influences in your life that lead you to pursue the study of negation and dispute resolution at HLS? Given the range of clinic options available at HLS, why did you choose HNMCP?

Toby Berkman: I’d had a couple of hugely formative experiences in the years before law school. First, I started working for the nonprofit Seeds of Peace, and became friends with young people from countries around the world including Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and others. Then I spent a year as a teacher living in Casablanca, Morocco, and felt this really compelling connection to that place and its incredible cultural diversity, and then some time working for Seeds in Jerusalem. I was experiencing all of this in the early 2000s in the context of September 11 and then the Iraq war. I felt this calling to get involved and do something to promote cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. After a stint as a researcher in D.C. (focusing on international peace operations) I came to law school with a vague notion that I wanted to do something “practical” in the “real world” related to conflict resolution. Truth be told I had very little interest in being a lawyer—at least for the long term.

HNMCP was the one community at HLS where I felt totally at home, both with the other students and the instructors, and where I felt like my work really had meaning and was focused in the direction I wanted. As soon as I started working at the clinic I had this feeling like, “these are my people.”

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William Ahee ’17 and Lam Nguyen Ho ’08 are the 2017 Gary Bellow Award winners

Via Harvard Law Today

Harvard Law School student William Ahee ’17 and alumnus Lam Nguyen Ho ’08 have received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, established in 2001 to honor HLS Professor Gary Bellow ’60, his commitment to public service, and his innovative approach to the analysis and practice of law. Professor Bellow was a pioneering public interest lawyer who founded and directed Harvard Law School’s clinical programs.

Each year, the HLS student body selects a graduating student and an alumnus/a who best exemplify Bellow’s commitment to advancing social justice. This year, the honorees were celebrated at an award ceremony and reception on April 12. The Bellow Award committee members kicked off the event together with Dean Martha Minow, who cited Professor Bellow as one of the reasons she decided to go to law school.

Ahee and Ho have worked in a wide variety of practice areas — including housing law, immigration law, and civil rights — to educate and advocate for social justice.

William Ahee ’17

William Ahee

William Ahee ’17

Prior to coming to Harvard Law School, William Ahee attended Wayne State University in Detroit. There, he was involved in a number of food justice and farming initiatives — working closely with multiple urban farms to develop training and entrepreneurial projects. He also helped to develop and implement an initiative to expand access to fresh foods using the existing infrastructure of corner stores in Detroit neighborhoods. After witnessing friends unjustly convicted of crimes, coworkers’ families deported, and entire neighborhoods suffering a lack of basic services, William decided to go to law school.

At HLS, he has participated in Harvard Defenders, the Housing Law Clinic, and the Criminal Justice Institute. He is also the current co-executive director of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, a student practice organization in which students represent inmates in Massachusetts prisons. During his law school summers, William worked at Equal Justice Under Law, in Washington, D.C., and Metropolitan Public Defender, in Portland, Oregon.

After graduation, Ahee will move to McAllen, Texas, for a job with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where he plans to provide direct services to clients while simultaneously seeking to address some of the underlying issues that bring clients in the door.

Lam Nguyen Ho ’08

Lam Nguyen Ho

Lam Nguyen Ho ’08

Lam Nguyen Ho said he is in his “dream job” as the executive director of the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), which he founded with an HLS Public Service Fund Venture Grant. CALA uses a social justice community-lawyering model, “community activism lawyering,” to unite lawyers and activists for greater social change than what lawyers alone could achieve. CALA serves clients in their communities: mostly undocumented immigrants, day laborers, and sex workers who cannot access assistance from other legal organizations. Importantly, CALA impacts many thousands more by supporting activist partners’ grassroots activism, while also trying to change the legal aid industry.

CALA is the culmination of Lam’s community work, education, and legal experiences. He came to Harvard Law School seeking to combine the law with his background as a gay, immigrant activist of color, having escaped poverty.

He discovered community lawyering at Reaching Out About Depression, supporting low-income women health activists. He further explored models of community-and movement-based lawyering at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where he was president; Harvard Defenders; ACLU National Litigation Department, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and Urban Justice Center.

Through these opportunities, he contributed more than 3000 pro-bono hours in service to clients. He also ran the Giving Tree, which raised nearly 2000 gifts for families served by HLS’ clinical programs.

“I’m extremely grateful for the Gary Bellow Award and its recognition of the work that CALA is doing to bring free lawyers directly to and in partnership with underserved populations, at a time when access to justice is both limited—80% of the legal needs of low-income families are unmet—and under threat” said Lam.

“And it was a privilege to hear about William Ahee’s shared understanding that lawyers cannot work alone but instead must support, work with, and be directed by our communities and activist partners. Professor Bellow’s vision of combining law and organizing is central to CALA’s work, and an inspiration to me and my colleagues. We’re proud to be a part of his legacy, and we hope to continue to pushing the boundaries of what lawyers view as their roles in creating social change.”

Chi Adanna Mgbako HLS J.D. ’05 wins Shanara Gilbert Award

Chi Mgbako

Chi Adanna Mgbako, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham University School of Law

The Executive Committee of the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education announced that Chi Adanna Mgbako (HLS J.D. ’05) Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham University School of Law, is this year’s recipient of the Shanara Gilbert Award. Professor Mgbako is an alumna of HLS’s Human Rights Program and received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award while a student at Harvard Law.

Named in honor of clinician Shanara Gilbert, the award is given to a recent entrant with ten or fewer years of experience in the clinical legal education community who has demonstrated some or all of the following qualities:

  • commitment to teaching and achieving social justice, particularly in the areas of race and the criminal justice system;
  • an interest in international clinical legal education;
  • a passion for providing legal services and access to justice to individuals and groups most in need;
  • service to the cause of clinical legal education or to the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education; and,
  • an interest in the beauty of nature.

Professor Mgbako has focused much of her human rights teaching and advocacy on criminal justice reform as it affects people of color in the United States and Africa. She has directed human rights clinical projects in partnership with non-governmental agencies, international organizations, and foreign law schools. Professor Mgbako also developed an innovative mobile legal aid program in Malawi. Her clinic and the Center operated two mobile legal aid clinics in three rural villages in Malawi that had never before had access to legal services.

We offer our heartfelt congratulations to Professor Mgbako!


KIND Celebrates Extraordinary Individuals Uniting the Nation through Kindness

Via KIND Foundation

PR Newswire, NEW YORK (December 6, 2016)
Today, The KIND Foundation – a 501c3 started by KIND Healthy Snacks – announces the winners of its philanthropic program, KIND People, and launches  a storytelling series that aims to reveal the transformative power of kindness. Through the program, the Foundation is awarding $1.1MM to seven people who are championing inclusivity and serving as beacons of empathy in communities nationwide.

The KIND People winners are addressing a range of societal issues – from infusing humanity and healing into Ohio’s prison system to providing clean water to Michigan families. Every day, these exemplars are working to ensure that all people – even the least understood and the most vulnerable – experience touches of humanity and have the opportunity to improve their lives.

Lam Ho

KIND People Winner and founder of Community Activism Law Alliance, Lam Ho, with his team on the streets of Chicago

KIND People Winner and founder of Community Activism Law Alliance, Lam Ho, with his team on the streets of Chicago

An advocate for the underserved, Lam has dedicated his life to ensuring that people understand their rights and gain access to the legal services they deserve.  He works 100 hours per week at Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), bringing energy, purpose, and personal experience to his clients’ cases so that he can fight alongside them and make their voices heard.

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Sophie Elsner, J.D. ’16, reflects on her clinical and pro bono work

Earlier in the semester, our office reached out to HLS alumni and asked them about their experiences at the law school and in the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. Below, you can read our interview with Sophie Elsner, ’16, now working as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Southern District of Texas. 

Sophie Elsner, ’16

“As a clerk, I rely on my exposure to procedure and researching new legal issues—which I developed through clinics—every day.”

OCP: Can you tell us about your background and what interested you in coming to Harvard Law School?

SE: I grew up in Austin, Texas and then moved to New England for college. After attending Brown University, I worked at a non-profit investigative journalism center outside of Boston and reported on human trafficking and modern-day slavery. I loved both telling human stories and tracing multinational supply chains to find out where slave-made goods ended up in consumer markets. But I knew that I wanted to engage with issues of exploitation and economic vulnerability in an advocacy role. That desire to integrate the fight against systemic issues and the opportunity to build relationships with clients pushed me to law school.

OCP: In which clinics or student practice organizations were you involved in?

The opportunity to participate in student practice organizations (SPOs) drew me to HLS, and I eagerly joined Project No One Leaves and the Harvard Immigration Project. In my second year, I became a student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), which defined my law school experience. Although I was involved in other organizations, by the time I graduated, everything revolved around tenant and homeowner lawyer/organizing work in Boston. It was such a privilege to work with passionate clients, experienced organizers and lawyers, and inspiring colleagues.

OCP: What was your experience in the clinics and SPOs? Are there any memorable moments that stand out the most?

SE: Participating in Project No One Leaves as we shifted our focus from the foreclosure crisis to Boston’s displacement crisis was fascinating. We saw that the problems that had sparked the need for the organization (the chaos of the national foreclosure crisis) persisted, but that we also needed to look to the other issues facing our community: no-fault evictions of low-income tenants in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. This is a problem facing many urban centers right now, and it was both exciting and immensely challenging to try to tackle it in Boston.

OCP: Do you feel these experiences engendered new skills and knowledge for you? 

SE: There is no substitute for legal practice. I can’t articulate the skills I gained because I think almost everything I know about the law came out of working at HLAB. Now, as a clerk, I rely on my exposure to procedure and researching new legal issues—which I developed through clinics—every day. Although entering practice next year will be daunting, I cannot imagine what it would be like without having the benefit of years of close supervision and training at HLS. Additionally, although I hope I was a collaborative person before law school, I graduated with a much stronger commitment to working in coalitions. Ideally, those coalitions include non-lawyers. After being in such supportive and communal clinical settings, I hope to always be able to bounce ideas off my colleagues.

OCP: What advice would you give to students who will be starting clinical work in the fall or considering a clinic in the future?

SE: I came into law school thinking that I would focus on certain issue areas, and on paper, it looks like I’ve shifted from employment to housing. But working in clinics, SPOs and summer internships taught me that my actual interest is on who my clients are and how I get to engage with them. By going outside of a specialized area, I realized I was as interested in the model of lawyering as the substantive legal issues.

Given that, my advice is to participate in clinics, SPOs and internships that expose you to different issue areas and different kinds of practice. That can happen within the same organization. During my time at HLAB, I worked on different types of cases that required different strategies. I hope other students take advantage of the opportunities at HLS to see different ways to be a public interest lawyer.

Jake Howard, ’09: Public Interest Law in Jackson, Mississippi

Via HLS Student Financial Services

Jake Howard did not follow what most would call a conventional path to the law. In many ways, that’s exactly what has made his story such an interesting one.

Originally from the Midwest, Jake now pursues public interest law in the heart of Mississippi. Though there was a time he would have never guessed he would end up here, now it seems difficult to imagine him in truly any other place. “I actually took the bar exam in Mississippi…even though I had no job prospects here,” shared Jake with a laugh on a recent phone call. “I remember it well, because I had moved from Cambridge to Montgomery right after school ended, I didn’t start my clerkship until August, and I didn’t have a car. I sold my car when I started law school. Turns out, they’re sort of important in Alabama. So I took the Greyhound from Montgomery to Jackson to take the bar exam. It’s only a four-hour drive, but it’s a twelve-hour Greyhound ride. I was just so excited, though.”

As a student at the University of Michigan, Jake had once been a Drama major before eventually switching to Philosophy. A few years, a cross-country move, and an Education master’s degree later, he found himself teaching Social Studies at a public high school south of Seattle.

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Sports Law Clinic alumnus hired by Brewers as Associate Corporate Counsel

Via Brewers Blog

The Milwaukee Brewers named Kellen Kasper to the new position of associate corporate counsel.

KaspeKasper, Kellenr joins the organization from Foley & Lardner LLP, where he has worked as a litigation associate since September 2010.  He previously spent one year as a sports law clinical intern with the Brewers in 2009.

Kasper is a 2007 graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He received his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School (cum laude) in 2010.


Alumni in Clinical Teaching

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers heartfelt congratulations to Luz Herrera, ’99 and Fatma Marouf, ’02 for their new faculty roles at the legal clinics of Texas A&M University School of Law.

Luz E. Herrera '99

Luz E. Herrera ’99

Luz Herrera is a leader in clinical programs, specializing in  civil justice and wills and trusts. She was a Senior Clinical Fellow at Harvard Law School, supervising students in the Community Enterprise Project (CEP) at the Legal Services Center – a clinic where she also worked as a Harvard Law student. She has been recognized by the Daily Journal as among the 100 Top Attorneys in California and by the Mexican American Bar Association with the Cruz Reynoso Community Service Award.

Fatma Marouf '02

Fatma Marouf ’02

Fatma Marouf, who participated at Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, is a top scholar in immigration law, refugee law and international human rights law. She will create and direct a new Immigration Clinic at the Texas A&M University School of Law. Her scholarship has examined issues such as the rights of mentally incompetent noncitizens, the use of restraints in removal proceedings, and the exclusion of DREAMers from the Affordable Care Act. She was also named a Bellow Scholar for her empirical research on the adjudication of immigration appeals in the federal courts. She has extensive experience representing immigrants at all levels of adjudication and has served as a consultant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Q & A with Veronika Polakova ’16

Veronika Polakova '16

Veronika Polakova ’16

This summer, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) will be publishing profiles of HLS alumni who participated in clinics and student practice organizations. This is the second in the series. 

OCP: What can you tell us about where you grew up and what interested you the most in coming to Harvard Law?

VP: I grew up in Prague, Czech Republic, but my family moved to the DC area when I was 15. In college, I studied economics at the University of Virginia and then worked for two years doing tax policy research at a public policy think tank in DC. Law school had long been at the back of my mind, but my tax policy work after college really cemented my decision to come to HLS and to focus on tax law.

OCP: What stands out from your time at HLS? What were the journals, clinics or related student practice organizations you participated in?

VP: My time at HLS was full of highlights, but to give some examples, I loved my J-term classes. As a 2L I took the Negotiation Workshop and as a 3L I cross-registered for Persuasion at HKS. In both classes, I was completely immersed in one topic for a short period of time and had many opportunities to practice the new skills I was learning, which I found really rewarding.

And yes, I was involved with all three! I was an editor of the Harvard Business Law Review as a 1L and became the Executive Operations Chair in my 2L year, a role that focused on event planning and operations, which was a refreshing change of pace to sub-citing. As a 2L, I participated in the Transactional Law Clinics and in the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program as a 3L. And lastly, I worked with Harvard TaxHelp throughout law school.

OCP: What was your experience in the clinics/SPOs? Are there any memorable moments that stand out the most?

VP: My experience in my two clinics and in my SPO was very different. In the Transactional Law Clinics, I was the point of contact for four clients over the course of the semester, who needed help with small business and nonprofit formation questions, so I got to know them well and had a chance to think about their problems in depth. In the Harvard Mediation Program, I regularly mediated or observed mediations in small claims court with new parties bringing new cases every week. And in TaxHelp, I helped students and low-income members of the community file their state and federal taxes every spring. But the one unifying feature of all three experiences was how rewarding it felt to help real people with their real-life problems—whether by filling out their 1040, drafting a mediated settlement agreement, or incorporating their new business.

OCP: What new skills and/or knowledge did you gain from these experiences?

VP: I definitely feel like I learned a lot! Mediation gave me a toolkit for approaching disputes—questions to ask and things to consider when trying to resolve a conflict. In the Transactional Law Clinics, I put into practice the theory I learned in my Corporations class—drafting a certificate of incorporation or issuing stock certificates. And thanks to TaxHelp, I definitely better appreciate the complexity of the tax code and feel more confident doing my own taxes.

OCP: What advice would you give to students who will be starting clinical work in the fall or considering a clinic in the future?

VP: I think clinics can be somewhat daunting since they are so different from the 1L required classes. But for me they were definitely some of the most rewarding experiences at HLS because they allowed me to work on real issues, however small. So for those considering clinics, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and give them a try. HLS has so many different clinics that you can definitely find a good fit.

For those starting clinics in the fall, don’t be discouraged when you’re not sure what to do next and the right answer is not in a casebook. Those moments can be frustrating, but they pass, and the ability to ultimately find and present a solution to your clients’ problems makes them worth it.

Q & A with Aaron Bray ’16

Aaron Bray '16

Aaron Bray ’16

This summer, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) will be publishing profiles of HLS alumni who participated in clinics and student practice organizations. This is the first in the series. 

OCP: What interested you the most in coming to Harvard Law?

AB: I was born and raised in Dorchester, one of Boston’s grittiest neighborhoods. Even though Harvard Square is only a couple of train stops away, when you’re surrounded by poverty and violence, a place like Harvard seems like a completely different world. One of the reasons I decided to go to Harvard Law was because I wanted to join the Harvard Defenders and have the opportunity to represent members of my community starting in the fall of my first semester.

OCP: What stands out from your time at HLS?

AB: Some of my fondest memories of my time at HLS are the opportunities I had to represent Boston residents in criminal matters as a member of both the Harvard Defenders and the Criminal Justice Institute. Being able to walk into Dorchester and Roxbury District Court not as a defendant but as an advocate for my people was a truly humbling experience.

OCP: What was your experience at CJI and Harvard Defenders? Are there any memorable moments that stand out to you the most?

AB: Being a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Institute, I had the privilege to represent several young people in juvenile court. By far, the most rewarding aspect of representing those young people was helping them get their cases dismissed and giving them a clean slate. Having the ability to get second chances for young people from my neighborhood has probably been one of my proudest achievements. I’m still in touch with most of them and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future.

OCP: What new skills and/or knowledge did you gain?

I took a course on negotiation at HLS and being a student attorney allowed me to apply some of those skills in my dealings with prosecutors and judges. Although some of the skills I learned in the classroom served me well, often times I had to rely on my street smarts to secure favorable outcomes for my clients. The most valuable skill I developed in my clinical work was learning when to apply my legal training and when to trust my gut instincts.

OCP: What advice would you give to students who will be starting clinical work in the fall or considering a clinic in the future?

AB: Approach your task with curiosity. I learned far more from clinical work than I did in the classroom and I believe that was a product of approaching every case with an open mind.

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