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Category: Student Voices (page 1 of 3)

A Lawyer’s Limits

By: Solange Etessami, J.D. ’20

Solange Etessami, a 2L at Harvard Law School

In the middle of January, the town of Mytilene on the island of Lesvos is stuck in holiday mode. Christmas songs are still streaming, decorations are still up, and the bakeries still have “Happy 2019!” cakes in the windows. Just a few miles away from this idyllic little Greek town is Moria. Moria is an entirely different world—just the name itself evokes some Lord of the Rings like-nightmare. The infamous camp houses refugees hailing primarily from Afghanistan, Yemen, the DRC, and Iran. 8,000 men, women, and children—all living in freezing, flimsy tents in a shanty town on a hillside.

Most of these refugees are stuck in Moria for months at a time, waiting for the date of their important asylum interviews. This interview will determine whether or not they are granted asylum in Greece, or whether the European Asylum Office (EASO) or Greek Asylum Service has determined that their country of origin or port of last entry (usually Turkey) is safe enough for them to be deported back there. Upon arrival, many of these asylum seekers are asked which European country they would like to go to upon their arrival, and most are not aware that they will not be allowed to remain anywhere besides Greece, if allowed to remain at all.

As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, I was extremely fortunate to have the Farsi language skills to be able communicate with many of the refugees. In 1978, both sides of my family led happy, middle class lives in Iran. My maternal grandfather grew up extremely poor, but managed to put himself through engineering school and had finally reached the stage where he was able to provide for his family. My paternal grandfather was third in command of the Central Bank of Iran, the highest position he could obtain in the government as a Jew. But with the stirrings of revolution and the subsequent overthrow of the Shah in 1979, everything changed. My mother’s father was warned by a friend that the Jews would be thrown into ghettos, and my father’s father was sentenced to death in absentia, owing to his close ties with the newly deposed Shah. Both sides were forced to flee the country they had called home for generations.

Like most children of immigrants, growing up with stories of my family and how they had to start a new life in a foreign land has played a huge role in who I am and the way I see the world. I have always been acutely aware of the true fortune my family had in being able to come to the United States when they could no longer able remain in Iran. Though it took many years and a lot of struggling, my family eventually rebuilt a life in the States. And I’m not sure, given the climate of today, if they would be so lucky…

Because of my family history and with the knowledge that Farsi language skills are desperately needed on the ground in Moria, I jumped at the opportunity to spend my Winter Term in Lesvos. It was the first time I witnessed firsthand the power I could have as a lawyer and advocate. I helped clients prepare and practice for their asylum interviews, and made sure they knew their rights during the process. I accompanied clients to the EASO office to explain their questions and help them get the papers they need. I assisted our lawyers with filing family reunification papers to unite family members with relatives in other countries. I helped a severely mentally disabled man to get guardianship from his cousin, and got him registered with EASO so he could get his papers, a doctor’s appointment, and soon, an open identity card that would allow him to travel to Athens.

My time in Greece was also the first time I had to confront the limits to what I could do. I simply did not have the power to fix the food in Moria, which is so unpalatable that one woman told me she eats just enough to keep herself alive. I did not have the power to compel the man in the Greek post office to surrender a letter to a minor containing the identity card he needed to prove his age. I could not change the interview dates of a mother and father who had to wait in Moria for another 6 months. I could not bring back electricity when it got cut during the freezing cold night. And I simply did not have the power to erase the pain of the man who had witnessed his family members die in front of him.

Although I faced these significant limitations on my ability to change the desperate situation of the people of Moria, I also witnessed firsthand the incredible power I could have as an attorney in helping others attain their legal rights, and in serving as an advocate and confidante for those that are not in the position to advocate for themselves. My experience in Lesvos was the first time I felt truly rewarded in my decision to pursue the path of the law.

Transformative Constitutions: How One African Nation is Writing A New Constitution for National Healing and To Learn from The Past

By: Oladeji M. Tiamiyu, J.D. ’20

The Constitutional Review Commission in The Gambia, located in the Greater Banjul Region

When democracies endure prolonged crises, a complete constitutional review can be valuable to legitimize the nation’s constitution and to create an outlet for national healing. The Gambia launched the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to conduct a full-scale review of the current constitution after enduring the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh, whose administration was characterized with the flouting of constitutional norms and violations of clear constitutional provisions. The Gambia is a small West African nation that is—with the exception of a 50-mile coast on the Atlantic Ocean—surrounded entirely by Senegal and is seven times smaller than Niger State, the largest state in Nigeria. Despite the country’s small size, what happens here has important implications for youthful constitutional democracies around the globe.

The CRC is considering a broad range of issues for the new constitution ranging from granular issues, such as what the qualifications for a judge should be, to broader issues like whether a right to health care and housing should be enshrined within the constitution. This is the second time a committee has been organized to review a pre-existing constitution. When Jammeh came to power as leader of the 1994 military junta, he organized a CRC to create the nation’s current constitution. Important considerations for the current CRC include: 1) how a culture of judicial independence can be constitutionally promoted and protected when, at best, the judiciary has been silent in the midst of unconstitutional conduct or co-opted to serve the interests of the President; and 2) how the constitution’s language can be given substantive effect to protect, among other things, a free press and rights of marginalized groups.

Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest effect of the CRC’s presence will not come with changes to the constitution, but instead through empowering civil society to share political opinions without the fear of repercussions. The CRC has traveled across the country to receive input from members of civil society and this has fostered a sense of political and civic activism that would have been unthinkable under the prior administration. From speaking with local taxi drivers during my morning commute to discussions with senior members of the Gambian Bar Association and lawyers at the Ministry of Justice, everyone is deeply engaged with the complex issues facing the new constitution. Despite diverging opinions, the unifying theme is for greater oversight on the president.

Adama Barrow, The Gambia’s current president, has little in common with former President and military junta leader Yahya Jammeh. For one, President Barrow came into power at 51 and ran for president as an independent while his predecessor came into power as the leader of a military coup at the ripe age of 29. Moreover, Barrow has freed journalists and members of opposition parties while his predecessor imprisoned and, as described in hearings at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), tortured government dissenters in the infamous Mile Two prison and executed 50 Ghanaian nationals. Barrow has also sought to rekindle economic and diplomatic ties with Senegal and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region while his predecessor created extensive diplomatic schisms within the region. Yet despite these differences, the experience with Jammeh has left the nation skeptical of the presidency as an institution. There are high expectations that the new constitution will be more durable and effective than the current constitution.

The current constitution came into effect in 1997 and provides for, among many important provisions, “freedom and independence of the press and other information media,” §207(3), prohibitions against torture and inhumane treatment, §21, and that the judiciary “shall be independent and…shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority” §120(3). However, Jammeh successfully introduced amendments that undermined these provisions. For example, President Jammeh amended §52 of the Criminal Code Act to make written or oral statements considered critical of the government a legal cause of action. To prevent the erosion of constitutional checks and balances “by the parochial interests of one man,” the CRC is just one facet of the transformative justice process that operates in tandem with the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to raise greater awareness of Jammeh’s actions. The TRRC has heard testimony from those who participated in the military coup with Jammeh and claims of torture during his administration.

Dr. Baba Jallow, the Executive Secretary of the TRRC, described the purpose of the transformative justice process as creating ‘nation-schools’ that inform citizens, especially the youth, on the language and purpose of the constitution so that no future government can violate or trivialize their rights as the previous administration did. A constitution, regardless of how well written, can only have substantive effect if a nation’s citizens understand their rights and oppose those forces that conflict with the constitution. The outcome of this process will serve as an important template for similarly situated constitutional democracies seeking to promote civic engagement and prevent the re-occurrence of harmful government actions.

Oladeji M. Tiamiyu is a 2L at Harvard Law School who spent the January semester as a legal intern at The Gambian Ministry of Justice.

Ensuring Veterans Aren’t Left Behind

Via the American Bar Association for Law Students 

Steven Kerns, 2L at Harvard Law School

Excerpt from “Law Students Speak: Why I Do Public Interest Work”

By: Steve Kerns, J.D. ’20

As a veteran, I came to Harvard Law School’s Safety Net Project within the Veteran’s Legal Clinic to help bridge the civilian- military divide. SNP offered me a chance to help civilians and veterans realize some part of
the American dream.

The veterans’ clinic serves civilians and veterans alike, and the SNP provides civilians and veterans with guidance through the Social Security, SNAP, Medicaid, and poverty prevention processes. We serve a strong legal need: Nearly 70 percent of Social Security applicants have no legal representation.

As a student, the clinic offered me a pathway to maintain the momentum I’d built up establishing my litigation skills in my summer at the California Attorney General’s office. The SNP gives me full responsibility for my cases: preparing an evidentiary record, interviewing clients, writing a legal brief, delivering oral argument, direct questioning of clients, cross-examining experts, and if a case is denied, preparing for the appellate argument.

A veteran recently told me that our team had changed his life. He was fond of saying that if it weren’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. He was falsely imprisoned, sexually assaulted as a child, and tragically self-aware of all of it.

Most painful was his nobility, his gentle demeanor, and his broken strength. He blamed no one. He accepted responsibility for more than just his actions—he accepted responsibility for the world. The military has a way of conditioning many of us not to seek help until it’s too late, to shoulder the blame for circumstances beyond our control— to grin and bear it. It’s our strength in war and, often, our undoing at home.

After combing through more than 500 pages of medical records and recruiting mental health experts to evaluate the long history of impairments and treatment, I put together a written argument that led the administrative law judge to make a decision on the record—telling us on the day of the hearing that he was approving the case for more than eight years of retroactive benefits. This highly unusual move happens only when the ALJ determines the case is clearly in the applicant’s favor and a hearing is no longer necessary.

Our client was spared having to dive deep into his trauma for the record. Realizing this, he was overcome with relief. And while we all shared a brief moment of joy, that veteran’s need is no less important than helping the civilians who walk through our doors. Our communities thrive together.

As President Eisenhower noted in his seminal Cross of Iron speech, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.”

I may not be able to change the status quo, but the SNP empowers me to help Americans left behind by perpetual war. Here, they’re not forgotten. Here, my mission is no different than it was in the Army: to serve the American people.

Independent Clinical Experience with the Surfrider Foundation

By: Alex Gazikas J.D. ’17

I spent my January term interning at the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization in San Clemente seeking to preserve and protect the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches. Founded in 1984, Surfrider is a grassroots activist organization that seeks to advance environmental protection, ensure and expand public beach access, and manage local beach cleanup efforts. This advocacy is effectuated through lobbying, local volunteer projects, and litigation. Notably, Surfrider is currently involved in a beach access dispute in California in which the landowner purchased a public beach and has attempted to close it to the public. Surfrider prevailed in the California appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court recently denied certiorari.

During my time with Surfrider, my primary work was to research a potential new legal theory to address the problem of outdated beach access laws in Massachusetts and Maine. In most states, the public has a right to access all land below the average high tide line for recreational purpose. In Massachusetts and Maine, the public literally does not have the right to walk along the beach because this land can only be used for fishing, hunting, and navigation. This limited right of access is rooted in a colonial ordinance from Massachusetts, but this ordinance has come to predominate beach access rights in both states. The legislatures of both Maine and Massachusetts have attempted to pass legislation expanding the public’s rights, but the supreme courts of both states have struck down the legislation as an unconstitutional taking.

As an intern, my role was to assess a potential new legal theory that could allow the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to expand public beach access. The research encompassed constitutional takings jurisprudence and the history of the public trust doctrine in Massachusetts. The goal of my research was to ultimately assist in changing the beach access laws, either through proposed legislation enacted through lobbying efforts or litigation by local counsel. Surfrider litigation is generally handled by local pro bono counsel, with the in-house legal team serving an advisory role. This opens up the interesting possibility for previous interns to actually represent the organization later in their careers in a pro bono capacity.

In addition to my work on beach access, I was also able to assist the legal team in operational tasks. This aspect of the internship was unique because it allowed me to get a sense of the normal daily operations of a nonprofit organization. In one such task, I was given sole responsibility to conduct due diligence about a Surfrider Foundation sponsor. Surfrider regularly conducts diligence about its sponsors and partners to ensure that the companies are not involved in “green washing” or otherwise attempting to use their Surfrider affiliation to conceal environmentally irresponsible business practices. It is essential that Surfrider regularly conduct diligence on these companies because any negative publicity about its partners would make it less effective as an advocacy organization. My work product was reviewed and then sent directly to the Surfrider executive staff to help them decide whether to continue the partnership with the company in question.

In addition to the due diligence project, I assisted in licensing agreements and other daily tasks typical of a nonprofit environmental organization. I was also able to participate in the annual Surfrider meeting, led by C.E.O. Chad Nelson, which is conducted at the start of each year and involves representatives from Surfrider chapters around the country.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable culture at Surfrider Foundation and explore San Clemente and the surrounding areas. Because the organization is based in San Clemente, I had access to a variety of beaches and state parks. San Clemente is a great little town, but I also took time on the weekends to go into L.A. and San Diego. I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my final January term at HLS.

CHLPI and Health Leaders Gather to Improve Lung Cancer Policies in West Virginia

Via Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

By: Stephanie Kwan

CHLPI and Health Leaders Gather to Improve Lung Cancer Policies in West Virginia

Lung cancer kills more West Virginians than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined. On November 1st-2nd, 2018, CHLPI joined hundreds of health and policy leaders at the Second Annual Lung Cancer Conference: Catalyzing Change to Address Lung Cancer. Hosted by West Virginia University Cancer Institute, the Mountains of Hope Cancer Coalition, and the Patient Advocate Foundation, the conference saw more than 200 health and policy leaders gather at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown, WV to address lung cancer policy changes.

The conference was designed to raise awareness about the impact of lung cancer across West Virginia and to identify avenues to improve lung cancer screening, early detection, treatment, and survivorship. The two-day program engaged healthcare providers, community-based health workers, public health educators, advocates, and policy makers in implementing changes both in their local communities and on a statewide level.

Current policies and lung cancer in West Virginia

Sarah Downer, CHLPI’s Associate Director for Whole Person Care and Clinical Instructor on Law in the Health Care and Policy Clinic, along with second-year clinic student Stephanie Kwan, welcomed conference attendees with an overview of healthcare policy-making. The overview discussed policy formation and how advocates could work with various entities to effect change. “Even though systemic changes take a long time, keep your eyes on the long term prize and don’t stop telling local policy makers your stories, because your work in West Virginia matters and is shaping national healthcare conversations”, said Sarah.

Graphic documentation of CHILPI’s presentation on “Overview of Healthcare Policy-making”, illustrated by Nora Herting.

West Virginia Delegate Amy Summers, Vice-Chairman of Health and Human Resources Committee of WV House, who not only is a nurse but also has a long family history of cancer, reminded attendees to get to know their legislators. Doing so will allow advocates to understand the expertise, priorities, and passions of their representatives, which will help advocates tailor their policy goals and approaches.

Attendees also heard from West Virginian experts; Dr. Christopher Plein, Professor at the Department of Public Administration at West Virginia University, highlighted the historical roots of many contemporary healthcare issues, while Dr. John Deskins, Director at the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at WVU College of Business and Economics, discussed the economic costs of lung cancer in West Virginia.

Graphic documentation of the expert policy panel that comprised of CHILPI’s Sarah Downer, Christopher Plein, and John Deskins, illustrated by Nora Herting.

Dr. Camara Jones, Senior Fellow at Morehouse School of Medicine and a Past President of the American Public Health Association, addressed the crowd on social determinants of health, including poverty, racism, and institutional disparities that are often ignored by today’s healthcare system.

Healthcare practitioners driving change in the lung cancer space

Following the presentations, conference attendees participated in an interactive policy planning session, identifying local advocacy goals such as rescinding no-smoking ban, establishing primary care partnerships, and engaging insurers to pay for screening. Attendees also examined specific programs that effect lung cancer in West Virginia, including Medicare and Medicaid, lung cancer treatment case studies, opioid Rx regulations, as well as immunotherapy and the use of robotics in surgeries.

Another highlight of the conference was the Shine A Light on Lung Cancer evening reception, where speakers and attendees came together to honor lung cancer survivors, family members, caregivers, and those who have passed.

The two-day event was a highly successful initiative that brought together policy leaders and healthcare practitioners to learn, plan, and act. The conference equipped attendees to be advocates in their respective professions and communities. It was an eye-opening experience for clinic student Stephanie to speak to experienced practitioners and to witness how practitioners could work on policy goals that make a difference in the lives of people they serve.

Graphic documentation of “policy-planning in motion”; produced collaboratively by conference attendees and illustrated by Nora Herting.

The conference’s presenters included:

  • Sarah Downer, JD
  • Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD
  • Honorable Amy Summers, MSN
  • Ghulam Abbas, MD, MHCM, FACS
  • Mohammed Almubarak, MD
  • John Deskin, PhD
  • Monika Holbein, MD
  • Malcol Mattes, MD
  • Christopher Plein, PhD
  • Anne Swisher PT, PhD

Sarah Downer and Stephanie Kwan at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown, WV, speaking at the Second Annual Lung Cancer Conference.

Local Education on Campus: Education Law Week 2018

By: Advocates for Education Board

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, speaking to the HLS community during Education Law Week

Boston and Cambridge are home to to some of the top colleges and universities in the country. For those of us lucky enough to attend Harvard Law School (HLS), we see every day the power of a top-notch education. But within miles of our campus, students in the Boston Public School (BPS) system face immense challenges that too often preclude them from having the option of attending a school like HLS. For this year’s Education Law Week, we aimed to deepen our law school’s understanding of a few of the most pressing issues within the Boston Public Schools. Through this, our hope was to strengthen law students’ connection to, and investment in, the greater community that we are lucky enough to be a part of for at least three years.

 

Day One: Civil Rights Attorney Matt Cregor on Racial Disparities in BPS’s Exam Schools

In recent years, Boston’s exam schools (Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and O’Bryant School of Math and Science) have drawn increased scrutiny for the racial disparities in their admissions numbers. Most alarmingly, while Black and Latino students make up 75% of BPS students, only 20% of students at Boston Latin School identify as Black or Latino. In response to these alarming numbers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law produced a report titled “A Broken Mirror,” which lays out the immense disparities in BPS exam school admissions, and calls for BPS to “immediately intensify its review of exam school admissions.” Matt Cregor, who led the production of the report and is currently an attorney with the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, led a conversation about the findings of the report and the solutions that have been proposed through community dialogues.

 

Day Two: Immigration Attorney Elizabeth Badger on the BPS to ICE Pipeline

Students who are immigrants face unique challenges, which BPS may exacerbate through its school incident reporting practices. Boston School Police officers sometimes report school incidents to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), a network of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While BRIC is designed to be a tool to identify “major players” in crime and pinpoint areas of crime, Boston School Police have input seemingly minor school offenses into the database. As illustration, Badger explained that a lunchroom disagreement among two students, resolved without resort to fighting, could make its way into BRIC. In one case, advocates say that an unsupported gang allegation against a BPS student was input into BRIC and was later used to support ICE deportation proceedings against the student. Badger discussed how local advocates are working to gain additional information about BPS policies and procedures for School Police Officers’ use of BRIC.

 

Day Three: National Women’s Law Center’s Manager of Campaign and Strategies Nia Evans on the Impact of School Dress Codes on Girls of Color

This spring, the National Women’s Law Center released “DRESS CODED: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools,” a groundbreaking report on the impact that student dress codes have on Black girls and their educational experiences. This report, co-authored with 21 Black girls who attend D.C. schools, sheds light on the ways in which dress codes contribute to the disparities in discipline rates between white students and students of color, and sparked a critical national dialogue about the reforms that are needed in school and district policies. Nia Evans, who led the project for NWLC, presented the findings of the research, and discussed the process and effects that the report’s creation had on the students themselves. The conversation raised a number of questions about the use of dress codes in Boston Public Schools, and laid the groundwork for future research and advocacy efforts.

 

Day Four: Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell on the Role of Cities in Education

To conclude Education Law Week, Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell joined students for a conversation on the City’s role in the education of its students. She began by sharing her personal motivation for doing this work, providing us an urgent reminder that laws and policies are more than abstract concepts or interesting topics of conversation: they have real consequences for real people. A graduate of Boston Latin School, Councilor Campbell helped bring Education Law Week full circle by engaging in dialogue about inequities in educational opportunity. While the City Council is able to exert direct influence over education in some ways, Councilor Campbell also discussed the comprehensive progress that is needed in order for the City to truly serve all students within BPS. From housing to safety to access to health services, so much of what students bring into the classroom is dictated by the community that surrounds them. Councilor Campbell discussed the efforts Boston is currently undertaking to strengthen both support and outcomes for students across the City.

Thank you to all who attended the events and supported Education Law Week; a special thank you to all of our speakers!

The events for Education Law Week were co-sponsored by the Advocates for Education, Child and Youth Advocates, and Urbanists, and funded by the Dean of Students’ Grant Fund.

Getting to Know You: Kelly Ganon

Via  adMISSIONS: HLS

Kelly Ganon is a current 3L and one of our Admissions Fellows. We recently sat down to hear her reflections on her HLS experience. Read on to learn about how she navigated the opportunities at Harvard, and her advice for prospective students!

Tell us about your path to Harvard Law.

When I was a high school freshman, I joined my high school’s mock trial team. I know how corny this sounds, but it’s true: the first time I stood up in a courtroom and gave a (fake) opening statement, I knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life. As I headed to college, my primary goal was to see the law from as many angles as possible. I attended Northeastern University, in part because the school has a robust internship program built into its undergraduate curriculum. Through that program, I spent half of my third year working for federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, and half of my fourth year in Switzerland helping to train public defenders in developing countries with a Geneva-based NGO. When I returned stateside, I finished up my classes and returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston full-time as a paralegal. I provided litigation support in the Economic Crimes Unit there for two years before shipping off across the Charles River to start at HLS.

Why did you pick HLS?

Like many prospective HLS students, at the end of my admissions cycle, I was faced with a choice between a Harvard education and some sizable scholarships elsewhere. As fortunate as I felt to be in a position where I couldn’t make a bad choice, for a period of time I was paralyzed with fear that I wouldn’t make the best choice. I reached out to every HLS alum in my personal and professional networks (and even some folks I’d never met before) and asked them for their thoughts. They were at various stages of their careers, but each and every one of them talked about the many doors that this institution had opened for them. They talked about the career flexibility they felt they had as a result of the enormous Harvard network and the top-notch educations they received. In one conversation I’ll never forget, a prominent alumnus I was lucky enough to get on the phone said, “Kelly, let’s get real. If you go anywhere else, you’re going to be sitting in your 1L classes and day dreaming about being at Harvard.” In my heart of hearts, I knew he was right. I’ve never looked back.

Have you been able to work closely with professors? How are those relationships established?

My best working relationship with an instructor came through my 2L fall semester at the Consumer Protection Clinic at Harvard’s Legal Services Center (LSC). Like all of the clinical instructors at LSC, Roger Bertling is both a teacher and a practitioner, so he is able to bring theory and practice together in a way that I found to be incredibly exciting. In my view, the two best things about forging a good relationship with a clinical instructor are first, that they are able to provide immediate and constant feedback on your work in a way that academic professors who give one assessment at the end of a semester cannot, and second, that as they see you growing as an advocate, they are able to give you increasing responsibility in real time. But there are a lot of different ways that students can form close academic and/or professional bonds with professors outside of the clinical setting. For example, I have a friend who hit it off with a professor when she was a student in his 1L reading group. She worked as his Teaching Assistant during the fall of her 2L year, and he later agreed to supervise her independent writing project — so they’ve now worked together in three different capacities. Office hours are always an option, too. Every professor who is teaching in a given semester has office hours weekly, and many do not require students to sign up in advance. So if there is a professor whose work you find particularly interesting, you can often easily seek them out regardless of whether you are taking a class with them.

What do you pursue outside of the classroom? How do you balance activities with coursework?

In addition to giving tours and leading info sessions as an Admissions Fellow, I am an Executive Editor for the Harvard Law & Policy Review and serve as a committee chair for the Women’s Law Association. Off campus, I spend most of my time at the dog park with my 2 year-old Black Lab, Luna, and distance running. Of course, it can be hard to balance law school and extracurriculars. But even during the busiest times of the school year, I have found that I’ve been able to make time for the activities and people I love as long as I am disciplined about it. I block out time in my schedule every week to do non-law school things, and I hold myself to it — no matter if that means staying up a little later or waking up a little earlier to read that one last case before class. And for my fellow runners reading this blog, my best advice is to sign up for a couple of races for weekends during the school year! Having a race entry on the books will keep you motivated to hit the road even when the coursework starts to feel overwhelming.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is considering applying to HLS?

Make sure that the person you present through your application materials actually sounds like you! Given the kinds of accomplishments people tend to have if they are competitive candidates for admission at top-tier law schools, putting yourself in the running against them for a spot in the incoming class can feel immensely intimidating. You might be tempted to massage your application materials until you look like a “typical” candidate. But typicality is not a virtue for a school that is focused on being exceptional. Additionally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you’re not giving off the “I can be a successful law student!” vibe at all times. I was positive I’d blown my chances at Harvard because I made a VERY lame joke in my admissions interview. But here I am, a rising 3L, still making terrible jokes.

Community Enterprise Project Participates in Boston Ujima Project’s Citywide Assembly

Boston Ujima Project citywide assembly, October 6th – October 7th 2018

By: Samy Rais

Over Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend, more than a hundred community members, business owners and activists assembled to celebrate and participate in the Boston Ujima Project’s second official citywide assembly. The Ujima Project was founded in 2017 with the mission to create a new community-controlled economy in Greater Boston, initially focusing on[1]:

  1. Good Business Certification and Alliance: establishing community standards (and supporting businesses) that consider business practices like living wages, Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI)-friendly hiring, local purchasing, environmental impact and affordability.

 

  1. Community Capital Fund: pooling savings and investments to engage in participatory budgeting to meet the enterprise, housing and consumer needs of the community. The fund will be democratically governed by historically divested communities, giving every member an equal vote on the fund’s investment priorities, loans and equity transactions.

 

  1. Worker Services Network: growing employee satisfaction and security by organizing human resource programs.

 

  1. Alternative Local Currencies: establishing alternative local currencies (like time banking) that would allow members to trade their skills and labor and incentivize circulation of resources within the community.

 

  1. Anchor Institution Advocacy: building community power and advancing campaigns for the City, State and large nonprofits to direct investment, subsidy and procurement dollars to Ujima’s network of certified good businesses and developers.

 

Since early 2016, the Community Enterprise Project (CEP) of Harvard’s Transactional Law Clinics has been supporting the Ujima Project’s inception and community-driven mission. CEP students have provided the Ujima Project with legal analysis on various transactional matters, namely corporate and nonprofit law, corporate governance structures, 1940 Investment Company Act and securities laws implications, consumer protection laws, and secured transactions. These areas of law are customarily associated with the law firm-world, but are a critical need in the public interest space. Currently, CEP students are building on work completed last semester by helping to finalize the initial documents for the Ujima Project’s Community Capital Fund to begin making investments in community-supported businesses.

As part of CEP’s support of the Ujima Project, I attended the citywide assembly with CEP director and clinical instructor, Carlos Teuscher. CEP’s attendance at the citywide assembly had two purposes: first, in following the community and movement lawyering approach, CEP believes in supporting organizations that are working to dismantle and radically restructure current systems of law and power, and it is essential to be present in order to be in solidarity with such movements; and second, it was critical to hear the voices of the community that the Ujima Project was supporting and are the most impacted, in order to effectively prepare the Ujima Project’s Community Capital Fund loan documents.

As mentioned above, the Ujima Project is creating the first-of-its-kind investment fund that is controlled by the community. While my involvement in transactional cases generally consists of undertaking legal research, drafting contracts, or forming a legal entity, it was obvious from the start that working with the Ujima Project was going to be different. Because of its community-driven approach, as its legal counsel, we need to ensure that the Ujima Project’s legal documents are able to adapt to its members’ ideas, struggles and demands, no matter how unconventional.

In that sense, the Ujima Project is both a unique project and a large-scale illustration of recurrent challenges in our work at CEP. This semester, student advocates in CEP have been advising several groups looking to form worker cooperatives in Greater Boston, which, like the Ujima Project, require democratic voting. By giving workers collective ownership in their business, worker cooperatives enable collaborative entrepreneurship and help tackle many of the issues poverty lawyers interact with on a day-to-day basis – wage-and-hour violations, health and environmental issues, immigration, criminal justice, and many others. As with the case in the Ujima Project, we need to ensure that the voices of all the members in the cooperative (undocumented/documented, low-wage workers/management, reentering citizens, etc.) are heard and reflected. At the same time, it is challenging to balance the need for urgency in the day-to-day operations and democratic management.

As we pass the mid-point of the semester, I am excited to have been able to interact with communities experimenting with and implementing alternative economic models. As an aspiring lawyer, I have appreciated the need to better understand the community you work for and their needs. Further, as a foreign student at Harvard Law School for the semester, I discovered communities in the United States, who, although being disadvantaged, gather and spare no effort or ingenuity to fight and overcome the systemic struggles they face.

[1]Ujima Concept Paper available at https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/40c717_f16102d86a644584af4c47c72ea2794b.pdf.

Lessons Learned: Facilitating a Conversation about Remembrance

Via the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program 

Source: Pexels

By: Neha Singh ’19

When Zikaron BaSalon first asked me to facilitate a discussion about Holocaust Remembrance on Holocaust Memorial Day, the task seemed easy even though the subject matter was weighty. After all, many people who were similarly inexperienced in leading group discussions had successfully hosted similar events with Zikaron BaSalon in the past. Moreover, I was working with a great team of fellow students and mentors in the Harvard alternative dispute resolution (ADR) community who would help me make the discussion a success. And I had learned about facilitating conversations in my classes taught by expert facilitators.  With so much going for me, how could I not be an amazing facilitator?

Well, pride goes before the fall.

The more I prepared for the event, the more nervous I became. Despite receiving support from Zikaron BaSalon, despite the help of my team, and despite all my coursework in this area, I felt out of my depth. I had two major concerns with whether I could facilitate the upcoming discussion well.

My first concern was that maybe I was just the wrong person to be facilitating this discussion. How could I, a non-Jewish person with no family connections to the Holocaust possibly do justice to such an important topic? What could I, a second-year law student with nothing but book knowledge about ADR principles, have to offer to people with rich and deep connections to the Holocaust? Who was I to tell them how to share their feelings with each other? I seriously considered the idea that my most useful contribution to this event could be just remaining silent for an hour while others talked.  Unfortunately, remaining silent, while tempting, would not solve my second concern.

My second concern was that I would be unable to stop the discussion from becoming heated in a manner that would be counterproductive to our goal of encouraging Holocaust Remembrance. It was all too easy to imagine the conversation transforming into an angry yelling match. What would I do if people began to discuss and have intense political disagreements about Israel-Palestine relations? Or about the political climate in the US? Or about the refugee crisis in Germany? All of these are topics worth discussing in detail, but I was unconvinced that heated discussions on these topics would further our goal of Holocaust Remembrance.

Eventually, I was able to address both my concerns and facilitate a discussion that I thought was honest, welcoming, and respectful. While I will not pretend I did everything perfectly, it was a rewarding experience that taught me a lot. If I were to host an event like this again, I would make some changes that I think would make the discussion even better.

To address my first concern of not having the right background to facilitate this discussion, I asked for help from a colleague who had a different background that complemented mine. Specifically, one of my former Teaching Assistant colleagues, Max, was available to help facilitate the event with me. Max brought with him his lived experience as a Jewish person and his history of facilitating conversations about the Holocaust in other contexts; this made him an invaluable addition to the team, as he was able to suggest facilitation strategies that created an environment that was conducive to a rewarding discussion. In addition, the two of us as facilitators made a good team because we could model for the rest of the group how Jewish and non-Jewish people could talk together about the Holocaust. During the event itself, no one questioned or seemed offended by the fact that I was co-facilitating the discussion, which I took as a sign that I had addressed my first concern well enough.

To address my second concern of not wanting the discussion to turn into a heated argument, Max and I worked together to prepare a plan for how we would stop off-topic heated arguments, if those occurred. A big part of this process was deciding what counted as “off-topic” in the first place. After all, people have different thoughts about the subject of the Holocaust, and we did not want to stifle any expression that was respectful and sincere. We ended up creating a list of topics that we thought were off-topic and would lead to arguments, and decided that if the discussion veered into these topics, we would re-direct the conversation by asking a new question or prompting a different participant to speak. I was the major driving force behind this strategy, because I felt uncomfortable with allowing conflict in a discussion that I was facilitating. I was uncomfortable because I would hold myself responsible if a participant in my discussion felt disrespected or offended; thus, I wanted to eliminate the chance that any participant would have to participate in a conflict that could lead to disrespect or offense. In retrospect, I think I could have handled this concern better. We were lucky that no heated arguments came up during our discussion, but if one had, I do not think our proposed approach would have been the best way to deal with it. If such an argument had come up, we would have changed the topic, which may have led to resentment at being cut off, confusion about why we were not allowing the discussion to continue organically, and unwillingness to participate further. I think a better approach would have been to be more open about my discomfort and thought process. For example, I could have told the participants that I felt conversations about X, Y and Z topics would lead to heated arguments that I wanted to avoid, and then allowed them to respond regarding whether they agreed with me or not. This way, the discussion would be more democratic, instead of being restricted to topics that I thought would not generate conflict that made me uncomfortable. This more open process would take the burden of guiding the conversation off my shoulders, and allow all participants to feel responsible for the direction of the conversation.

I still treasure the discussion we had that night. Many attendees offered constructive feedback about changes we could have made, but all attendees appreciated the chance to have had such a meaningful discussion. However, looking back on the experience with the benefit of hindsight, my biggest takeaway from hosting the Zikaron BaSalon event is not that I managed to pull it off. My most powerful learning comes from all the questions I still think about. How do I best connect with people who have different histories than me, and help them talk freely with me? How do I handle heated, but important, discussions? I found a way to address my concerns for the duration of the Zikaron BaSalon event, and I am grateful to have had the chance to see how wonderful conversations can be when these questions are considered and engaged.

The Art of Listening: A Mediator’s Experience

HMP students Quent Fox, Laura Bloomer, Pratik Mehta, and Margaret Huang with Clinical Instructor Cathy Modell at Harvard Law School’s Bicentennial Celebration event showcasing clinical programs and student practice organizations.
Credit: Martha Stewart

By: Laura Bloomer, J.D. /MPP ’19

Two years ago, I would not have listed “great listening skills” as one of my top attributes. Yet at its core, being a good mediator requires you to be an active, engaged listener. We listen to what the parties are telling us and use that information to move the conversation forward. We help the two people sitting across from us create their own resolution to whatever issue brought them into court that day. The model we use at Harvard Mediation Program (HMP) discourages offering solutions and taking sides. Instead, we empower parties to develop and agree upon solutions themselves.

We’re not always successful, in which case the parties can return to the court and have their case heard by the clerk magistrate. But when we are successful, parties sign an agreement of their own making and can walk out of court a few minutes later after getting approval from the clerk. As opposed to a blunt solution imposed by the court, the mediated agreement can be flexible and tailored to the parties themselves. We add efficiency to the court system, sure, but we also strive to add a space for people to talk and to better understand each other. We believe that when parties create their own solution to a problem, they are more likely to feel that the result is equitable and will be more likely to abide by the requirements in the future.

I joined HMP for two reasons. On a personal level, I wanted to improve my listening and facilitation skills. On a professional level, I believe in alternative dispute resolution and wanted to get hands-on experience in the field. Over the past couple years, I keep returning to HMP for those same reasons, as well as a third: some of the most caring, thoughtful, and fun students at the law school are also members of HMP. After all, many of the best listeners find their way to mediation, meaning HMP has an incredible support system. It’s also a place of engaging conversation, where discussions range from how to build stronger relationships to improvements to the legal system that would lead to a more inclusive, fairer process.

Since I began training with HMP, I’m confident that not only have my listening skills improved, but also, I now have a greater understanding of the legal system and its effect on people’s lives. I’ve mediated a variety of different disputes: landlord-tenant, small claims, and harassment prevention orders. Some cases are as simple as the parties seeking a payment plan to ensure the money owed gets paid in a reasonable time period. Some are incredibly difficult and involve decades of fraught relationships coming to a head. Many are in between the two extremes.

As mediators, we have to be comfortable with whatever level of emotions parties bring to the table. We strive to acknowledge their feelings and allow the parties to be heard. One of the greatest privileges of HMP is the chance to serve as a trusted neutral through which parties will share their experiences and put genuine effort into trying to reach a resolution that feels fair to both sides.

For many people, this day in their local court will be the only time they directly interact with the legal system. Mediation can redefine this day for them. It brings parties away from the hierarchy of the court room, where the judge sits behind a bench higher than the parties, Latin and antiquated words are intermixed with English, and only the lawyers may freely step in front of the bar. Mediation brings folks to a table to sit together and engage in a productive discussion. Being a small part of making the legal system more accessible by all members of society has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time at HLS. I hope to continue this type of work in the future and to keep practicing my listening skills, whether through mediation directly or other activities.

Humanizing Individuals in the Criminal Justice System

PLAP students representing a client in a parole hearing

By: Regina Powers, J.D. ’19

I joined the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) the fall of my 1L year at a time when I knew very little about the criminal justice system. I knew, however, that PLAP provided important services to prisoners in Massachusetts. These services include representing prisoners in disciplinary hearings and in their bids for parole before the Massachusetts Parole Board.

In January of my 1L year, I took my first case. When I visited my client, he was only able to speak to me behind a glass wall and in handcuffs. I learned he was in “segregation,” which is a term the Department of Corrections (DOC) uses to describe the Massachusetts system of solitary confinement. Those in solitary usually receive one hour of recreation a day, while spending the remaining 23 hours in a small cell. I could not witness a client handcuffed behind a glass wall while speaking with his student attorney without becoming enraged and devoting my time in law school to this work. Our criminal justice system is used as a tool of racial oppression and the horrors of solitary confinement and other terrible conditions in prisons are inflicted disproportionately on men and women of color.

I continued in PLAP throughout the rest of my 1L and 2L year, and I was fortunate enough to represent a client before the Massachusetts Parole Board. PLAP represents “lifers,” or clients with life sentences who are eligible for parole. Many of these men have been imprisoned for decades, and they often committed a crime as teenagers or young adults––a time before the brain is fully developed. My representation included developing a detailed memorandum asking for parole, gathering letters from friends and family members, extensively preparing my client for opening and closing statements, and preparing a closing statement myself. Through this, I developed skills in client interviewing, which can be a particularly difficult skill to gain during law school because of limited opportunities to interact with clients. Additionally, I developed the type of skills relevant to trial work, as I prepared arguments and presented them before a panel.

I describe this as a fortunate experience for me because of the opportunity to meet and spend time with my client, and the honor bestowed upon me in advocating for him. Although society marginalizes and demonizes prisoners, and especially prisoners serving life sentences, many of our students, including myself, view our clients as genuine, wonderful people. Most importantly, we view our clients as humans deserving of fundamental rights. It is horrifying and demoralizing that the rest of society does not view them as such. Students should join PLAP for the privilege it is to advocate for prisoners. You will learn not only about the criminal justice system, but also the wisdom of those who have spent countless years in prison.

My experience in PLAP has been the single most important experience during my time in law school. It has led me to fully realize the level of injustice present in our criminal justice system as a whole, as well as the inhumane conditions in our prison system. I plan to pursue criminal justice work and hopefully prisoners’ rights work more specifically. Many other PLAPers attribute their passion for this work to our organization, and I encourage students to consider joining. Several students staff each office hour under the direction of student mentors, who offer mentorship about the work and law school advice in general. PLAP also hosts happy hours, speaker series, and other bonding events, which fosters a unique community for those who want to work in criminal justice and more specifically on prisoners’ rights.

 

Hipper Than HIP: Harvard Law School’s Immigration SPO

HIP students participating in Citizenship Day in Boston on September 23, 2018

By: Austin Davis, J.D. ’19

The Harvard Law School Immigration Project (HIP) has been the best part of my law school experience. Nothing but respect for the other SPOs – HIP just can’t compete with calling a social event “PLAPpy Hour” – but I’ve found the most engaged, dependable, and passionate students anywhere at HIP.

I joined HIP because immigrants are the cornerstone of my family and my country, and immigrant rights are under siege. But I also joined because spending all my time in the classroom was giving me hives. I wanted to work with an actual person, dive into their story, and help bring some humanity to law.

HIP’s work provides the perfect outlet for that energy. Some members assist families with byzantine green card applications or work authorization forms. Others represent indigent clients at bond hearings, or provide Know Your Rights presentations to groups of non– United States citizens at local community centers.

Personally, I’ve spent most of my time working with HIP’s chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). It’s an international organization with chapters at 28 law schools that works with refugees abroad and former war-zone translators for the United States. And during my 1L year, I had the chance to work on a case with a fellow 1L partner and lawyers from the New York City firm Cleary Gottlieb.

The stakes were high. Our clients were a same-sex couple tortured by their government and abused by their families in their country of origin. They had fled to a second country, where the revelation of their sexual orientation had led to further physical and sexual assaults. They were broke, they didn’t speak the language, and suffered ongoing harassment and violence.

As lawyers in touch via Skype and living an ocean away, our role was soberingly limited. But we could help them push through the refugee system, to get out of their situation and receive resettlement clearance for Europe or the United States. And to that end, we did successfully petition the United Nations for our clients to receive an expedited refugee determination. That was the first step they needed in order to activate the international resettlement mechanisms, and we cut their resettlement wait time down by well over a year – a year which, by our clients’ account, would have proved very dangerous.

But this case makes up just one part of my HIP involvement. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend “advice and counsel” sessions organized by HIP’s Community Outreach Initiative (COI). On one occasion, we students and our legal supervisors spent a couple hours in a Chelsea church basement talking with a gathered group of Haitian noncitizens. We helped provide honest, on-the-fly assessments of whatever concerns they had: their immigration status, the visa risks of leaving the country, or the president’s mood.

In addition, I’ve participated in Boston’s Citizenship Day with HIP’s Immigration Services Project (ISP), where we worked through the fine details of certain US citizenship forms with people preparing their applications. All in all, everything I’ve done through HIP has been client-centered, challenging, and immensely rewarding.

Plus, back at school, it’s been a delight to be surrounded by so many law students looking to do real work in the world. It was an essential community for me as a 1L, trying to navigate this gigantic law school. And over my three years with HIP, I’ve really valued how our members bring so many different perspectives, experiences, and motivations. It’s rarer than it should be to have people with a professional focus on the Central American humanitarian crises engaging with people focused on the Syrian civil war. In HIP, they come together, and we learn so much from each other.

HIP has provided the most meaningful experiences for me at law school, through the legal service work or making great friends. It doesn’t matter what year in law school you are or your background in immigration law: I’d highly recommend that all HLS students consider joining HIP.

 

Why TAP Defined My Law School Experience

Elizabeth Gyori J.D. ’19

By: Elizabeth Gyori, J.D. ’19

The notice came in a white envelope, hand-delivered by a staffer at the project-based Section 8 development that my elderly grandparents lived in. From the outside, it looked like it could be a notice that they received on a weekly basis. However, this was a “Notice to Cease.” From what my immigrant Chinese family could tell, it meant eviction. Then about to enter my first year of law school at Harvard Law School (HLS), I took charge of the situation. I knew nothing about subsidized housing and the rights afforded to my grandparents who spoke no English. Fumbling my way through preserving affordable housing for my grandparents and noticing the lack of culturally-competent legal services afforded to low-income tenants pushed me to join the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) as a 1L. My transformative time in TAP has not only led me to serve as the organization’s Co-President, but I hope to continue the fight for housing justice after graduation.

TAP is a student practice organization that provides representation and advice to tenants of subsidized housing who are facing eviction, subsidy termination, application denial or transfer denial. Every year, approximately 40 law students conduct a wide array of legal advocacy before local housing authorities. This ranges from reasonable accommodation requests for tenants with disabilities to representing clients at administrative hearings—a more informal, court-like proceeding—about eviction or termination of a rent subsidy. The ultimate goal of TAP’s practice is not only to ensure that tenants remain housed, but also that they are able to thrive in their affordable housing. Thus, student advocates work closely with social service providers in the Greater Boston area and conduct advocacy on policy issues that affect TAP’s client population. TAP’s intake process, run by a nine-student Intake Review Committee, allows advocates to shape the priorities and caseload of the organization. At the end of their time in TAP, students will have amassed a wealth of knowledge about many areas of the law and developed their trial advocacy, negotiation, legal research and writing, and client interviewing skills.

This skill acquisition is not the only reason why students join or return to TAP year after year. Students are also interested in housing justice and how it intersects with other pressing social issues. For example, one of my clients, who is elderly and disabled, was facing voucher termination because her son became addicted to opioids after a surgery and was arrested for possession of drugs. The arrest was not near her apartment and her son was actually away at college at the time. She had no idea about her son’s addiction, and in the years since, her son had turned his life around. Even still, the overlapping web of the criminal justice system, the nation’s opioid crisis, and other public health issues threatened my client’s stable housing. My colleagues and I worked with the son’s public defender, filed reasonable accommodation requests for my client’s disabilities, represented her at several hearings about her termination, and referred her to social services. Like every advocate, I grew immensely by getting to know and working closely with my client. I developed my legal research and writing skills, my understanding of how the administrative process is related to later court practice (i.e., preserving the record), and my ability to work effectively with clients with disabilities, especially translating complex legal concepts into everyday language. Personally, I was moved by the trusting relationships that organically formed between my client, her son, and me. Their resilience re-energized me. Further, I was grateful to have the opportunity to see and trace first-hand how housing justice is deeply linked to many other areas of law and policy, including disability law, criminal law, economic justice and public health. This front-row seat allows TAPpers to become passionate and effective legal aid and community lawyers, policymakers, and impact litigators, among many other career paths after graduation.

Moreover, TAP’s vibrant community, which gives students a space to engage with the Greater Boston community, discuss various social issues and reflect on law school, is where many TAPpers make life-long friends. Key to this community has been TAP’s long-time Clinical Instructors, Lynn Weissberg and Marcia Peters, who have supervised students for over 30 years. Lynn, who founded TAP in 1981, has been a strong advocate for housing justice in the Greater Boston area, from the days of rent control until today. Marcia, who joined TAP a few years after TAP’s founding, has similarly fiercely fought for the rights of low-income tenants. On each case that they supervised, Marcia and Lynn not only brought wisdom and legal insight, but they have taught, by example, generations of TAPpers what it means to zealously advocate for your client. Though Marcia retired this past April and Lynn retired in October, TAP’s community is only expanding. We are excited to welcome Shelley Barron to the TAP family as our new Clinical Instructor. Since her start this past June, we have seen how her background in housing law, family law and working with survivors of domestic violence has strengthened our advocacy for clients.

In the summer before law school, I was able to help my grandparents remain in their affordable housing. But as I have explored housing justice more and more throughout law school, I have realized that lack of culturally-competent representation is not the only barrier to affordable housing. Rather, sheer lack of enough affordable housing, housing policies and laws that clash with communities’ differing conceptions of family and dignified living, and the effect of intersecting issues like economic injustice prevent the fulfillment of housing as a human right in the United States. I hope to bring my skills, experiences, personal background and understanding of the Asian American community to my future work in housing justice. As I look towards graduation and practicing law in the “real world,” I only hope that I can be as brave and resilient and my TAP clients, as fierce and compassionate as Lynn, Marcia and Shelley, and as dedicated to housing and social justice as my fellow TAPpers.

SPO Student Reflection: Answering the Call – In Community for Justice

By: Felipe Hernandez, JD ’20

Source: Pixabay

As a first-generation college student, my parents and I, who worked nightshifts as janitors, never dreamed that one day I would attend Harvard Law. As undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles, our family faced periodic evictions, interactions with the criminal legal system, labor violations, and discrimination without access to legal aid. Throughout my life, and increasingly during 1L, I regularly received frantic phone calls from family members or friends undergoing life altering challenges including incarceration, deportation, eviction, child custody issues, domestic violence, and police violence. While these experiences were my primary motivation for changing my career from the non-profit world to attend law school, they continue to fuel my involvement in student practice organizations (SPOs) and clinics to develop the necessary legal skills to answer these calls.

To better understand the criminal legal system afflicting folx back home, I joined Harvard Defenders, where we provide representation to people facing criminal show-cause hearings. The Defenders’ community immediately became a home of diverse, radical, and loving people working to counter the weight of the criminal legal system and exploitative social order on low-income, mostly people of color, in Boston. Practically, I learned how to respond to criminal complaints, interview people we serve through an anti-oppressive method, develop case strategy in team meetings, gather evidence, cross-exam police officers, and advocate zealously for our people in court. The stories of the folx we represented – from domestic violence to struggling with drug addiction and mental health to petty larceny – resonated deeply with the people I was trying to help back home. Understanding the limitations of direct representation in addressing systemic violence, I am most excited when our community discusses strategies to address structural oppression afflicting the people we serve, including engaging in community movement lawyering and cultivating an abolitionist politic and practice within and outside of Defenders.

I also joined the HLS Immigration Project (HIP) to develop the capabilities to help people facing ICE persecution, imprisonment, and deportation. I transferred the skills I learned from preparing asylum applications and for bond hearings in immigration detention and removal proceedings to help family and community members fighting deportation. In HIP, I met students and staff devoted to addressing the consequences of global inequality and imperialism that displaces millions of people, and pushes them to migrate through violent borders. I spent my 2018 Spring Break with American Gateways in San Antonio helping people imprisoned in the South Texas Detention Center prepare asylum applications. Our team included some of the most inspiring, critical, and incredible law students at HLS. This experience was life changing because we witnessed the psychological, physical, and emotional abuse that the U.S. immigration system inflicts onto people fleeing violence. For example, as I worked with one of my clients, Melissa, on her asylum application, she shared her frustrations with the U.S immigration system: “I came here because I thought it would be better, I thought they [the immigration judge] would believe me and help. Instead, I am in prison.” On our final day, as we said goodbye and talked about her next steps, we both exchanged tears of pain, power, and hope. She had been fighting tirelessly for decades for herself and daughter to escape abuse. She won many battles but the structural imbalance of power was overwhelming. As I left, she told me that she felt more energized to kept fighting. That night, I wrote in my journal:

“I came to HLS because I thought I could fix it all as easily as I had helped family members in the past. How naïve. Our immigration system is built to undermine and reject basic notions of humanity. People with the audacity to seek a better life, after decades of abuse, are told ‘We don’t believe you’ by administrative judges sitting back in their cushy chairs and folx are sent back where they are certain to undergo similar, if not worse, traumatic experiences. I wonder if what we did was enough. I wonder how we can dream of and actively work toward building a better world.” – March 16, 2018

The impact of my time at HLS has already had ripple effects on those I promised I’d serve because of the skills I gained through SPOs. For example, I helped a family member fight a criminal charge she did not commit after being overcharged and pressured by a district attorney to take a plea. I helped another family member fight an eviction proceeding initiated because of her partner’s undocumented status. While these skills have improved my ability to respond to some of the ongoing calls for help I receive, I remain frustrated at my inability to substantively dismantle systemic causes of these calls. This is why I decided to serve as a student-attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB); to improve my capabilities in providing direct legal aid and to be in community with an inspiring group of brilliant people who are consciously cultivating spaces and practices to address systemic injustices in coalition with the Boston community.

Being involved in SPOs and clinics has not been easy. Those of us involved constantly struggle to grapple with our evolving critical views of social and reparative justice, realities within and outside the criminal and civil legal systems, and strategic visions of how to engage in long-term movement building yet deal with the urgent needs of people we serve and advocate with. Nevertheless, we persist to answer the calls for justice because of our shared prophetic love for the communities we serve.

SPO Student Reflection: “IHRC Has Been at the Heart of My Growth as a Human Rights Practitioner and Social Justice Advocate”

By: Daniel Levine-Spound, JD ’19

It is no exaggeration to say that my experience in the Human Rights Program has been the highlight of my time in law school. Since arriving at HLS in the Fall of 2016, I have served as Director of Programming and as a project participant in HLS Advocates for Human Rights, spent two semesters in the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), conducted independent research with IHRC professors, and taken as many international human rights-related courses as possible. Now, as I begin my third consecutive semester in the International Human Rights Clinic, and begin my work as Co-President of HLS Advocates, my 3L schedule largely revolves around the Human Rights Program – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The breadth of clinical offerings, SPO projects, and coursework in the Human Rights Program allows students to explore a broad range of pressing human rights issue-areas, and to identify and focus on the subjects about which they are most passionate. Most recently, as a 2L clinical student, I spent two semesters working on a lengthy investigation of refugee rights in the Kakuma refugee camp in North-Eastern Kenya, with a specific focus on freedom of movement. Working in a team of students under the supervision of Clinical Instructor Anna Crowe, I conducted months of research on movement restrictions in Kakuma, analyzing the functioning and effects of a complex and often opaque governance regime in light of domestic, regional, and international law. In November 2017, I traveled to Nairobi and Kakuma with Anna and one other student, conducting dozens of interviews with refugees, NGO workers, government employees and experts. Our research, reflected in a lengthy internal report and recently published briefing paper, provides a clear analysis of the significant consequences of movement restrictions on refugees in Kakuma, demonstrates the incongruence of said restrictions with Kenyan and international law, and offers a number of necessary recommendations. Now, as I enter into my third semester in the IHRC as a 3L, I am thrilled to be working on a project centered on assisting victims of environmental damage in armed conflict with Bonnie Docherty, Associate Director of Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection.

Outside of my clinical work, I have had the opportunity to take courses, and conduct independent research, on a number of subjects related to international human rights. Over the course of my time at HLS, I have explored questions of international humanitarian law, public international law, corporate accountability, human rights litigation in US Courts, disarmament, the UN human rights system, regional human rights courts, and emerging international law around LGBTQ rights and protections.

Undoubtedly, the most meaningful part of my experience in IHRC and Advocates has been the opportunity to work closely with clinicians. As project supervisors, classroom instructors, SPO advisors, and mentors, IHRC clinicians are the reason why Harvard Law School is an exceptional place to learn and grow as a human rights practitioner and lawyer. Supportive and affirming, inspiring and encouraging, and committed to the values of human rights and social justice, IHRC clinicians are dedicated to developing the next crop of human rights lawyers and activists. And at an extremely precarious moment for human rights, both in the United States and across the world, their work could not be more vital.

At a large and often intimidating institution like HLS, IHRC is a home for students on campus committed to fighting for a more just, humane, and democratic world. Even when I don’t have anything scheduled in the IHRC, I often find myself walking around the clinic, chatting with clinicians and other social justice-oriented students, and feeling re-charged and rejuvenated, ready to get back to the human rights work for which I came to HLS in the first place. As I enter into my final year of law school, it is clear that IHRC has been at the heart of my growth as a human rights practitioner and social justice advocate, providing me with the tools and inspiration I need to begin a career as a human rights lawyer.

I will miss it deeply when I am gone.

Rand Paul Must Reverse His Position On Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Nomination – Or Betray His Anti-War Legacy

Via Take Care Blog

By: Daniel Levine-Spound

On July 30th, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced his support for Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Although he had initially voiced concerns regarding Kavanaugh’s “record on warrantless bulk collection of data and how that might apply to very important privacy cases,” Paul ultimately backed President Trump’s choice.

Whatever one makes of Rand Paul’s waffling on privacy issues, his support for Kavanaugh speaks to an arguably deeper betrayal of his principles: opposition to the United States’ ever-expanding and seemingly interminable “War on Terror.” For few judges have shown themselves less willing to impose limits on American war-making, or more flexible in deferring to the Executive Branch on issues related to armed conflict, than Kavanaugh.

In June 2018, Paul chaired a Senate hearing on the Corker-Kaine Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a bill meant to replace the 2001 AUMF and provide new legal authority for US counterterrorism operations abroad. In his Opening Statement, Paul noted that when the 2001 AUMF was passed, “no one in Congress believed they were voting for a worldwide war on ‘terrorism’ in twenty some odd countries that would go on for decades.” Rather than limiting “the scope of war,” the proposal, Paul explained, would do the opposite, “expand[ing] the current theaters of war” and flipping the Constitution “on its head.” Although the bill references “reassert[ing] the role of Congress,” Paul’s assessment is correct: the bill’s passage would have further ceded Congress’s constitutional war-making authority, allowing “the president to wage war against six enumerated groups and add new groups in the future, all without any geographic or time constraints.”

Paul’s opposition to the Corker-Kaine bill aligns with his long-standing principles. Since his 2011 election, Paul has remained one of the Senate’s staunchest critics of the “Forever War” and unchecked executive power. In 2013, he conducted the “longest talking filibuster in recent Senate memory,” speaking from the Senate floor for over twelve-hours to block the Obama Administration’s nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA due to his role in Obama’s drone strike program. In September 2017, Paul called explicitly for the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, lambasting the “trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe.” He asserted that, when Congress allows the Executive Branch to “unilaterally” declare war, it “abdicates” its Constitutional responsibilities.

For anyone concerned about the “Forever War,” Paul’s past actions are laudable. But in supporting Kavanaugh, Paul has undermined over a decade of advocacy aimed at restraining US military action abroad. At a time in which the Trump Administration has publicly declared its intention to keep Guantanamo open, and has further escalateddrone strikes, supporting Kavanaugh’s accession to the Supreme Court is particularly inconsistent with Paul’s publicly-stated principles.

Perhaps no issue more clearly highlights the difference between Kavanaugh and Paul than Guantanamo Bay, the infamous prison camp opened by the Bush Administration at the onset of the “War on Terror.” In 2013, Paul was one of three Republican Senators willing to back an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) loosening restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo—part of President Obama’s efforts to shrink the Guantanamo prison population. In light of that vote and other actions, Paul was characterized in 2015 as a “rare Republican presidential candidate willing to buck the party’s traditional position on an issue of national defense.”

Kavanaugh could hardly be more different. In a lengthy concurrence in Al-Bihani v. Obama, a 2010 case in which a Yemeni citizen captured in 2002 challenged his continued detention in Guantanamo, Kavanaugh disputed the notion that the international law of armed conflict places any restriction on US wartime detention. Both the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions—signed and ratified by the United States—strictly limit the permissible length and conditions of detention in armed conflict. But in spite of the Supreme Court’s recognition of these obligations, Kavanaugh would have rejected his court’s ability to enforce them on the President. In his view, “it is hard to conceive of a task less appropriate for U.S. judges…than judicial invocation…of uncertain and changing international-law norms to restrain the President and the U.S. military in waging a congressionally authorized war abroad.”

Three years later, in Razak Ali v. ObamaKavanaugh again disputed the notion that courts, or international law, can regulate the length of detention in Guantanamo: “It is not the Judiciary’s proper role to devise a novel detention standard that varies with the length of detention. The only question before us is whether the President has authority under the AUMF to detain Ali. In conducting that analysis, we must apply the same standard in 2013 that we would have applied in the aftermath of Ali’s capture in 2002.” Following Kavanaugh’s logic, there is no reason why an individual captured in 2002 could not be held until 2030 or 2050, provided the ill-defined armed conflict authorized by the 2001 AUMF continues. For Kavanaugh, the United States’ international obligations regarding wartime conduct appear largely irrelevant: “When Congress has broadly authorized the President to take certain actions, and that broad authorization encompasses actions that might in turn violate international law, courts have no legitimate basis to invoke international law as a ground for second-guessing the President’s interpretation.”

In an op-ed tracing Kavanaugh’s national-security jurisprudence, Professor Stephen Vladeck observes: “Kavanaugh’s many opinions concerning Guantanamo and related matters make it crystal clear that his confirmation would make the court far more deferential to the president’s exercise of aggressive war powers.” Vladeck highlights several decisions animated by the same principle seemingly at work in Al-Bihani: extreme deference to the executive on matters related to armed conflict. In Saleh, et al. v. Titanet al., a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 250 Iraqi civilians tortured by private US military contractors at Abu Ghraib, Kavanaugh joined a majority decision “barring state-law tort claims against a private military contractor.” Saleh’s majority focused on concerns that liability could hinder the war-effort: “Allowance of such suits will surely hamper military flexibility and cost-effectiveness.” As in Al-Bihaniand Razak Ali, Kavanaugh’s opposition to judicial involvement in armed conflict—and his extreme deference to the executive branch—dictated his vote.

As the “War on Terror” trudges into its 17th year, Rand Paul faces an important choice: will he vote “yes” on the nomination of a judge committed to seemingly unfettered executive power in all matters related to wartime conduct? Or will he uphold the constitutional principles he has long espoused, and refuse to assent to Kavanaugh’s nomination?

His legacy of opposing endless war and advocating checks on presidential power may depend on the answer.

SPO Student Reflection: LGBTQ Representation in TAP and PLAP

By: D Dangaran, JD’20

Not every law school allows its students to represent clients in their first year, and I chose HLS to prioritize direct service through its myriad clinical offerings. I’m interested in the intersection of health, human rights, and queer communities. Early on, I met with Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, Dan Nagin, and the Assistant Dean for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, Lisa Dealy, to think through my options for working for the communities I care about most. They told me that while HLS may not have a LGBTQ clinic, there were a number of Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) and clinics that would have LGBTQ clients, and encouraged me to think about developing skills that I could apply to my topical interests later in my career.  I heeded their advice and applied to two SPOs during my 1L Fall: the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) and the Prison Legal Assistant Project (PLAP).

In TAP, I worked on three different cases in which the client was denied a housing subsidy based on their criminal offense record. I learned Reasonable Accommodation law and developed legal strategies for combatting the denials. Combing through the case files and preparing my opening and closing statements and direct- and cross-examinations allowed me to use my analytical and speaking skills for people in need. I wrote legal memos that were sent to various housing authorities, which felt like a real-world final exam for my Legal Research and Writing (LRW) class. The late nights I spent in the TAP office preparing for hearings emblematized the energy and effort I believe every client deserves.

In PLAP, during the Spring semester, I worked with a transgender client who requested assistance with a commutation petition based on her gender identity and lack of access to medical treatment in prison. I conducted legal research to help to show her case fit into the Governor’s executive clemency guidelines. Though we only completed a draft by the end of my time, my client gained some peace of mind knowing that a transgender student attorney was assisting her with getting started on this step of her self-advocacy. Meanwhile, I felt extremely fortunate to have been able to work on an LGBTQ-related case in my 1L year.

TAP and PLAP prepared me more than most of my courses for my summer internship in impact litigation in South Africa, because of the amount of time I spent applying Massachusetts law in real cases. During my internship, I wrote a legal research memo based on our clients’ experience of a search and seizure that my supervising attorney believed was unlawful. I used my training from TAP, PLAP, and LRW to present a memo that took each detail into account.

This fall, I will be participating in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic in the Legal Services Center. I plan to build on my experiences in TAP and PLAP in this setting, and in my future work with domestic LGBTQ direct services and impact litigation.

TAP and PLAP pushed me to think about the issues I’m most passionate about intersectionally; though I wasn’t bringing “LGBT rights” cases to an appellate court, I worked intensely on health and queer issues in housing and prisons. Anyone who wants to dig into legal services short-term or long-term, or use the legal tools we’re gaining here for the benefit of society while we’re being enriched by this elite university, would gain a tremendous amount of humbling experience at TAP,  PLAP, or another SPO.

Spotlight on Student Practice Organizations 2018

Harvard Law School has 11 Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) providing students a wide range of opportunities to gain practical legal experience starting in their 1L year.  Each SPO is headed by 2L and 3L students who serve in leadership positions and one or more supervising attorneys who provide legal oversight and supervision. Most SPOs also work closely with an HLS clinic so students enjoy a cohesive experience in the respective area of the law during their time at HLS.

Every fall semester, Student Practice Organizations host information sessions to familiarize new students with their work and application process. A list of these events and deadlines can be found here. Most (but not all) SPOs require an application and all of them require students to complete a training. Everyone, including LL.M. students, is welcomed and encouraged to participate in SPO practice.

While students do not receive academic credit for participating in SPOs, their hours can count towards the 50-hour pro bono graduation requirement starting 1L year.

Student responsibilities and time commitment vary across SPOs. Students who participate have found the experience to be positive and meaningful. They report they enjoy the community they build with other students while helping real people and communities in need of legal services.

SPO Student Reflections

Clarissa Lehne ’18 and Paulina Arnold ’18 worked in the Crimmigration Clinic on a brief to assist a lawful permanent resident facing deportation for a minor crime. The brief helped win the man his release, and the victory has important implications for other immigrants, says Lehne. Learn more about the project and clinical education at Harvard Law School: http://hvrdlaw.me/EGeE30lgcyU

 

Via Harvard Law School’s Facebook

Cassie Chambers’ (JD ’15) work led to the passage of Jeanette’s Law in Kentucky

While in law school Cassie Chambers devoted herself to clinical work at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.  In 2016, after a clerkship year, she received a Skadden Fellowship to work on domestic violence issues in Kentucky.  There she discovered that her divorce client, who was a survivor of domestic violence, was required to pay for a divorce attorney for her incarcerated spouse.   Cassie worked to change that.

Read more. 

Students honored at 2018 Class Day ceremony

Via Harvard Law Today

Class Day 2018 3

Credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Tabitha Cohen (left) and Edith Sangueza, two of the many students recognized during the Class Day 2018 ceremony for various accomplishments during their time at Harvard Law School. Cohen and Sangueza (along with Annie Manhardt, not pictured) were awarded with the Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Award, given each year to students who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services in low-income communities.

A number of Harvard Law students from the Class of 2018 received special awards during the Class Day ceremony on May 23. They were recognized for outstanding leadership, citizenship, compassion and dedication to their studies and the profession.


Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award

This year’s Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award was presented to Tabitha Cohen, Annie Manhardt and Edith Sangueza. (Read more)

Edith Sangueza contributed nearly 2,000 pro bono hours by working with three student practice organizations – Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, and Project No One Leaves – in addition to working as a student attorney for four semesters with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). She spent her 2016 Spring Break volunteering with South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, in Harlingen, Texas, and her 2017 Spring Break volunteering with American Gateways, in San Antonio. Her commitment to social justice also extended throughout her summers – she worked with Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, in Mexico City, and with the Bronx Defenders, in New York.

Three students win Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Awards 1

Credit: Lorin Granger

Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt

At Harvard Law School, Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt both participated in the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) and the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI). At PLAP, they spent hundreds of pro bono hours as co-executive directors, managing a multitude of daily internal governance and programming issues. Throughout their time, they demonstrated tireless effort and dedication to advocating for the needs of prisoners by conducting investigations, counseling and interviewing clients, and presenting compelling arguments at hearings.

In a precedent-setting case for an elderly disabled parole client Cohen argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court whose ruling extended the Americans with Disabilities Act to mentally and physically disabled prisoners seeking parole. As a result of the case, the state must now help parolees get support systems in place in the community.

While at HLS, Manhardt also worked with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and the Office of the Defender General in Vermont. Cohen worked with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program , the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida and La Fundacion para el Acceso a la Justicia de Puerto Rico in San Juan.

The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Service Program at HLS.  J.D. students in the graduating class who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to pro bono work receive the award and an honorarium.

HLS requires all students to perform 50 hours of pro bono services but most go far beyond. This year, 10 students exceeded 2,000 hours of service and 112 students volunteered more than 1,000 hours.

In total, the Harvard Law School Class of 2018 contributed 376,532 hours of pro bono legal work.

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An advocate for children, Michael Jung ’18 has taken a wide view

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Lorin Granger

When he was in high school in his native South Korea, Ha Ryong (Michael) Jung ’18 volunteered at a custodial facility for neglected children. “It was wonderful and at the same time heartbreaking,” he remembers. “It seemed like they were isolated from the system and society. I was young at the time myself, so I didn’t really know what I could do as a person. But the more I gained work experience, the more I saw the need for law to help protect these children and their rights.”

A burgeoning interest in poverty and development led him to major in business administration at the University of Michigan; a summer research project on regional poverty and education in Ghana was so engaging that he and his fellow students learned traditional Ghanaian music and dance so that they could perform on campus to raise funds for girls who wanted to go to school. Returning home after college, he completed an internship with Korea’s National Assembly and his mandatory two-year service in the South Korean army, and worked with UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding.

Throughout, “children were still nagging at my heart,” he recalls. “I continuously came across instances where legal frameworks existed, and there was functioning law enforcement, but children were being sidelined. I wanted to understand what the international and national mechanisms were that exist to protect our children, and it was this curiosity that was really my primary motivation for coming to law school.”

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Former Clinic Students Present Harvard Law Review Student Notes

Via the Cyberlaw Clinic

Of the four students whose work is represented in the Harvard Law Review’s April 2018 “Developments in the Law” issue, three are former students in the Cyberlaw Clinic and all have taken classes with our staff. The issue of the Law Review focuses on challenges posed by the vast amount of personal information that individuals now store digitally and with third party technology companies. The student authors, Audrey Adu-Appiah, Chloe Goodwin, Vinitra Rangan, and Ariel Teshuva, presented on their work to a packed room on Thursday, April 18, at the Law School, followed by a conversation moderated by Chris Bavitz.

Adu-Appiah presented on her Note, “The Video Privacy Protection Act as a Model Intellectual Privacy Statute,” arguing that while the VPPA is often seen as niche legislation and has been somewhat compromised by recent amendments, as originally passed it could be a strong model for a more general intellectual privacy regime which would apply to written materials as well as audio-visual ones.

Summarizing her Note, “Cooperation or Resistance? The Role of Tech Companies in Government Surveillance,” Goodwin argued that the two narratives that dominate discussion of tech companies’ involvement in government surveillance — that they are either doormats or bulwarks, depending on your perspective — is a vast oversimplification. Goodwin calls for new regulation that will align these companies’ incentives with those of their users.

Teshuva presented on a related topic to Goodwin’s, but focused particularly on the issue of standing to challenge legitimate surveillance of foreign individuals that sweeps up the communication of people located in the U.S., which would otherwise require a warrant from law enforcement. Her Note, “Standing, Surveillance, and Technology Companies,” points out that the present state of the law makes it extremely difficult for individuals to gain standing to challenge these practices, and vests the protection of their interests largely in the tech companies whose platforms they are using.

In what she described as a “hard right turn,” Rangan looked at how trusts and estates law is being impacted by these same developments. In her Note “What is an ‘Electronic Will’?” she argued that state legislatures need to parse the various types of electronic wills in order to instruct probate courts on how to properly evaluate this evidence of testators’ intent.

Following the students’ presentations, Professor Bavitz led an engaging discussion, highlighting issues such as the role of individuals in effecting change that drew connections between all four of the Notes presented.

Spring Break with Project Citizenship

By Andrew Patterson, J.D. ’20

Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to work with Project Citizenship, a Boston-based organization that exists to help Legal Permanent Residents become United States citizens.  I had an amazing experience that enabled me to jump right into working with clients, including providing direct representation at a USCIS citizenship interview.

The naturalization process is complex and expensive.  The forms can be daunting, filled with confusing language and oddly intrusive questions.  The application process can cost up to $725 in fees, posing a high financial hurdle.  Because of these obstacles, many Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) avoid the naturalization process and forego the benefits of citizenship – among them the right to vote and, increasingly important, security from deportation.

Project Citizenship exists to assist LPR’s overcome these difficulties by helping them determine eligibility, prepare the forms, and obtain fee waivers.  Much of my work with them consisted of screening applicants for citizenship eligibility, often in Spanish, and then setting them up with an appointment to attend one of the Project’s workshops.  During my week there I also got to work with clients at a day-long workshop, assisting them with citizenship applications and fee waivers alongside dozens of pro-bono attorneys.  That day we submitted close to 80 citizenship applications, and with Project Citizenship’s 95% approval rate, the great majority of those applicants will soon be U.S. citizens.

Project Citizenship also does important work advocating for LPR clients who have a disability.  Prospective citizens usually have to show proficiency in English and U.S. civics and take the oath of citizenship, but certain applicants can be exempted from those requirements, namely those whose disability prevents them from learning English and Civics or from understanding the oath.  Applicants seeking a disability waiver must provide a written determination from a medical doctor explaining why they cannot prepare for these tests or understand the oath.  Even with this completed form, applicants for these waivers can be met with stiff resistance from the USCIS officers adjudicating their applications.  Project Citizenship and their pro-bono attorneys have encountered USCIS officers who are hostile to these applicants and who look for any pretext – such as minor mistakes in the paperwork – to reject these waiver requests.  Occasionally they also violate their own regulations by substituting their judgment for a doctor’s and by inquiring into other facets of the applicant’s life that have no bearing on the specific issue of ability to learn English and Civics.  Project Citizenship and its pro bono lawyers play an important role in these situations by challenging illegitimate grounds for rejection and ensuring that USCIS follows its own regulations.

Project Citizenship’s attorney Mitchell Montgomery, who serves through the AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts program, provided training and mentorship that enabled me to represent one of these clients.  I attended a citizenship interview with an applicant who had a cognitive disability, along with one of her family members who would answer questions and take the oath on her behalf.  The interview went smoothly and my client became a citizen that day.  My most valuable assistance ended up being simply describing the process to my client’s daughter and advising her on which parts of the application would elicit questions from the interviewing officer, and then helping her answer questions.  A big part of my role was decoding the process for the client to make it less intimidating.

Overall, the week provided great experience in improving interviewing skills and exposed me to direct representation in an administrative advocacy scenario.  Project Citizenship provided outstanding training and struck the right balance between stretching one beyond the comfort zone and ensuring adequate preparation.  I highly recommend that any HLS student interested in immigration and naturalization issues spend time working with Project Citizenship.

Project No One Leaves: “Though our efforts are modest, our team is mighty”

By Lark Turner, J.D. ’18

Group photo of Project No One Leaves

I signed up to canvass with Project No One Leaves a couple of weeks into my first semester at Harvard Law School. I didn’t know much about the organization, and I was nervous about jumping in a car with 2Ls and 3Ls I had never met, to drive into neighborhoods I had never been. But I’m so glad I did. My Saturday mornings spent canvassing taught me some of the biggest lessons of law school.

Though Harvard students are lucky to have many venues to work on housing justice, Project No One Leaves is one of the only organizations on campus that teaches students what it feels like to participate in the community part of lawyering. Working with the veteran organizers at City Life Vida Urbana, an anti-displacement nonprofit and Boston community anchor that fights foreclosures and evictions, we identify specific properties or whole neighborhoods where evictions or foreclosures are occurring or imminent. Then we set off to try and help City Life stop them.

Every Saturday at 10 am, fueled by bagels and coffee and armed with clipboards, we hop into cars and set off to East Boston, Chelsea, Dorchester, or other Boston neighborhoods to knock on doors and talk to residents about their rights as homeowners and tenants. As a former reporter, I was used to bothering people on their doorstep at odd hours. But I had never done so to promote a cause I deeply believed in, nor to connect a person to resources they might urgently need — all while convincing them to rely, even a little bit, on a gaggle of students in matching red T-shirts standing incongruously on their stoop. Even without the added obstacle course of Boston traffic, this was much harder than my old job.

I learned new lessons: How to greet the curious pull of a curtain with a friendly shout of introduction, and how to know when to walk away; how to interrupt folks as they make breakfast for their kids to tell them, maybe for the first time, that their landlord was foreclosed upon and no longer owns their home; and how to listen for the infuriating and ubiquitous music of canvasses — the beep of smoke detectors in homes where landlords can’t be bothered to change a battery. Hardest of all, I learned how to spot when we are too late. Sometimes that means addresses marked in coal-black, modern fonts; enrobed in fresh paint; and outfitted with a glinting security system. More often it means vacancies — homes boarded up or halfway gutted, their families long gone. Even then, I learned to leave a red bag full of legal information hanging on the doorknob — a sign to the developer, and to the neighborhood, that we stopped by.

Though our efforts are modest, our team is mighty. The students I met at my very first canvass have graduated, but we’re still friends. Every canvass introduces me to more fellow students ready to spend their Saturday morning helping keep roofs over families’ heads. Like many things I’ve experienced here, the opportunity to work with these peers and with City Life is a gift I can’t repay, and it’s difficult to leave my time in Project No One Leaves behind. But I’m heartened to know that next year’s team of canvassers have it covered — and the lessons I’ve learned and friends I’ve made canvassing aren’t going anywhere.

Examining lead contamination in the Mississippi Delta

By Thomas Wolfe, J.D. ’19

Credit: Thomas Wolfe JD ’19

This spring, I went with the Mississippi Delta Project (MDP) to Clarksdale, Mississippi to work on the issue of lead contamination of municipal water supplies in the Mississippi Delta. I had an excellent trip, and I would recommend the MDP Spring Break trip to anyone interested in making a difference in a fascinating, but overlooked, part of the country.

Since the Flint Water Crisis, the presence of lead in drinking water has become a serious concern for local governments across the country. Old water systems often contain pipes with lead parts, and acidic water or chlorine used to treat other contaminants can corrode the pipes, which causes the lead to leach into the water supply. This can be especially problematic in rural areas, where a lack of funds or awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning can prevent residents and local governments from taking proactive steps to protect against lead contamination. Because of the increased focus on the threat of lead contamination in drinking water and the intense poverty of the Mississippi Delta, our task with MDP was to help our clients, researchers at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS, to determine just how significant of a problem lead contamination was for rural municipal water systems in the Delta.

For us this required first educating ourselves about the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state laws and regulations implementing the Act. This was a fascinating dive into an important and complex statute, and it was made especially interesting because it required learning about how municipal water systems worked.

We then had to apply this information to the context of very small public water systems serving rural areas. This involved the best part of the trip: interviewing local stakeholders to find out which laws were effective, which weren’t, and generally to learn how they ran water systems. I really enjoyed the opportunity to interview people involved in the daily operation of local governments – from water operators, to small town mayors, to state public health department officials, to doctors in the neonatal care unit in Jackson, MS dealing with the effects of public health mismanagement. People were happy to talk to us about the issues facing their communities, and they really looked positively on our work and appreciated the fact that people were thinking and caring about the Delta. For my part, it was really nice to develop my skills as an interviewer, which I think is a key part of being a lawyer. The empathy you develop in speaking with people face to face is often missed in the law school classroom.

We eventually turned this information into memoranda and presentations for our clients, who will take the information and policy recommendations we developed and use it to continue to improve public health in the Delta. I’m proud that the work I produced over the course of the week will help to address the extremely important issue of lead contamination, which causes irreversible developmental issues in children and often affects the most disadvantaged members of society.

And I couldn’t help but mention that on top of the excellent professional and service opportunities that the trip provided, the Delta is one of the cultural wellsprings of America with great music, great food, and lovely people, and it’s a place I’d love to return to on my own. I’m glad I was able to play a small part in helping the people in the region get through hard times.

Cravath Fellows pursue law projects around the world

Via Harvard Law Today

During Winter Term, students traveled to nine countries to do clinical work and research

Headshot of student

Credit: Lorin Granger

Niku Jafarnia ’19 spent Winter Term in Amman, Jordan, undertaking an independent clinical with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Her commitment to working with refugees and asylum seekers began in college, when she drew on her Iranian heritage and her fluency in Farsi as an intake volunteer. A semester abroad, and later a Fulbright grant, took her to Turkey, where she lived in a city with a large Iranian and Afghan LGBTI refugee community. “I started teaching them English classes and tried to support them along their journey. I essentially chose to come to law school to be a better advocate for these communities.”

At HLS, Jafarnia became deeply involved in work arising from the executive orders banning travelers from Muslim countries from entering the U.S., gathering a group of classmates to protest at Logan Airport, returning the next week to assist affected travelers and working with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic on its amicus briefs to the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court. Her Winter Term clinical in Jordan afforded her an opportunity to explore the full effects of the ban, well before the people affected try to enter the U.S. For the two years before the ban, “the U.S. was taking in significantly more refugees than any other place in the world. At the end of the day, even though many more spots have opened up in other countries, it’s just not enough to make up for the decrease in U.S. spots,” she explains.

Working at IRAP allowed her to refine the client intake skills she has been building through the chance to interview clients during her time there. Additionally, drawing on her earlier experience in Turkey, she researched and drafted a memo describing the ways in which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has failed to meet its own standards. IRAP also set up meetings for its interns with a wide range of important actors, from UNHCR and UNICEF to smaller NGOs working on the ground. “It was an amazing opportunity to get an in-depth look as to what issues refugees are facing daily—from a basic, housing-and-needs level, to a policy level in Jordan.”

Traveling to Jordan gave Jafarnia a chance to address these issues from a new comparative lens. “Each country presents a unique set of challenges for refugees”; she notes; Jordan hosts a significant number of refugees, but does not offer employment for them, and is almost entirely landlocked, which makes it more difficult for refugees to leave.

“My hope for the future is to start my own organization, giving refugees legal assistance but also empowering refugees with legal backgrounds to be doing this work themselves,” she explains. “I think countries have to work significantly harder at giving refugees work opportunities. Once you let people in, they need to be given the opportunity to create a life for themselves. There’s an image of people who have been displaced as burdens on the system, when in fact they’re not given the opportunity to be self-sustaining.” Her Winter Term work in Jordan has confirmed for her that this is a change that has to happen very soon.

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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.

Defending the Indigent in Hawaii

By Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18

Photo of Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18 in front of Federal Public Defender building sign in Honolulu

Cameron Pritchett, J.D. ’18

During winter term, I spent three fantastic weeks at the Federal Public Defender in Honolulu, Hawaii, through HLS’s Independent Clinical Program. Having spent both my 1L and 2L summers at law firms, this was my first opportunity to see a public interest setting.

Client Contact

At HLS, I have been fortunate to take classes with some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. But due to inherent limitations, a classroom setting can only accomplish so much. The Defenders immediately put me to work doing something I am familiar with: legal research and writing. However, this time, I saw my research make a tangible impact on someone’s life. Since federal defenders carry a lighter case load than do most state defenders, there is more time to thoroughly research legal issues during plea negotiations and in preparation for trial. For example, one of my projects involved drafting a motion in limine to suppress a piece of evidence the government plans to introduce in an upcoming trial. I had the chance to not only conduct research, but also see how the findings influenced the team’s trial strategy.

Value of Competent Defense

Working with Defenders also affected my view of the criminal justice system overall. In the federal system, to say that defendants have an uphill battle is an understatement. My criminal procedure class, under the instruction of Professor Paul Butler, explored many of the inequities in criminal law. But it was still shocking for me to see how these things developed in reality. Whether it is Miranda warnings, searches and seizures, coerced confessions, and a number of other topics, prosecutors have an advantage.

Accordingly, the constitutional right to attorney representation is a bedrock part of our legal system. The Defenders supply counsel to individuals immediately after they are arrested and booked. As defendants speak with pre-trial services regarding basic facts about their background, the Defenders are there to ensure the person’s right against self incrimination. Similarly, it is the Defenders filing motions to secure a defendant’s release pending trial and it is them arguing to continue sentencing for an additional week so that one person had a few more days with his family. In Honolulu, I observed passionate individuals who were unanimously intelligent, dedicated, and professional. And they had to take on some of the most challenging cases one could imagine.

This opportunity has opened my eyes to an entirely different setting where effective lawyering happens. I am still unsure about my career path, but this J-term has certainly piqued my interest in a career as a defense lawyer.

Constitutional Implementation in Kenya

By Rachel Corrigan, Berkeley Law Exchange Student

Rachel Corrigan, Berkeley Law Exchange Student

I spent this January Term in Nairobi, Kenya, working for the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC). The KLRC is a statutory commission that was established in 1982 through the enactment of the Law Reform Commission Act. The mandate of the Commission is to “keep under review all the law of Kenya to ensure its systematic development and reform.” Among other things, the KLRC drafts legislation, reviews existing laws, holds stakeholder consultations, and provides recommendations for the alignment of statutes with the 2010 Kenyan Constitution.

During this January Term, I undertook a project researching and analyzing practical barriers to implementation of Article 27(8) of the 2010 Constitution, which articulates the “two-thirds gender rule.” Article 27(8) requires that “the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” However, as I discovered throughout my research, the Kenyan Parliament has not succeeded in passing legislation enacting the two-thirds gender rule. Despite multiple bills focused on redesigning the composition of legislative bodies and electoral processes, Kenya has still not implemented the two-thirds gender rule, and most governing bodies are still over two-thirds male.

My project was to find out why this was, and provide recommendations for effectively implementing the two-thirds gender principle. In my research, I learned a great deal about Kenyan electoral processes, constitutional provisions, and comparative law. I also had the opportunity to attend meetings with a former MP and Cabinet Secretary, and with a member of the National Gender and Equality Commission to ask questions about the development of Article 27(8) and remaining barriers to implementation.  Eventually, I was able to produce a comprehensive memo analyzing the issues facing implementation of gender quotas and provide recommendations for Kenya.

My experience at the KLRC was one of the best experiences I have had in law school. I was surprised by how much responsibility and freedom I was given to conduct research and develop concrete recommendations. I also learned a great deal about international and comparative law. I hope other students are able to have as wonderful a clinic placement as I had!

 

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