Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Category: Student Voices (page 1 of 4)

Setting the Stage for Humanitarian Disarmament Season

Via Human Rights@Harvard Law

By: Jillian Rafferty JD ‘20

The disarmament season in Geneva begins in earnest this month with diplomatic meetings on killer robots, the arms trade, and cluster munitions. To provide a frame for these discussions, Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI) and the Geneva Disarmament Platform (GDP) recently organized a humanitarian disarmament workshop for diplomats.

The event, which was held last week, aimed to raise awareness and increase understanding of humanitarian disarmament. This approach to governing weapons seeks to reduce arms-inflicted human and environmental harm through the establishment and implementation of norms. Representatives from about two dozen national missions in Geneva participated.

At the workshop, the ACCPI and PAX released a jointly published brochure that examines this cross-cutting approach to disarmament and introduces key arms-related issues to which it has been applied. A new tool for diplomats and campaigners, the brochure also provides a definition of humanitarian disarmament, a timeline, list of key players, and selected resources.

The workshop opened with an examination of the history, definition, and characteristics of humanitarian disarmament, distinguishing this people-centered approach from more traditional, security-focused framings of disarmament. The first session also addressed the effectiveness of humanitarian disarmament and ways in which diplomats can use it to advance their disarmament agendas. Maricela Muñoz, from the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, guided the discussion with:

  • John Borrie, UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR);
  • Bonnie Docherty, ACCPI; and,
  • Wen Zhou, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Setting aside their national positions, participants then engaged in a simulation. In small groups, diplomats reviewed the security-focused disarmament language of mock statements and discussed how to reframe rhetoric and positions in humanitarian terms.

Other presenters discussed the inclusive nature of humanitarian disarmament, emphasizing the importance of partnerships among governments, international organizations, and civil society. The speakers highlighted the need for open communication and close collaboration across these sectors. Moderated by GDP’s Richard Lennane, the panel included:

  • Austrian Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi;
  • Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN); and,
  • Hector Guerra, International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC).

The workshop set the stage for the Geneva meetings on three disarmament issues that are frequently framed as humanitarian. This week, states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons discussed options for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems. Also known as killer robots, these systems raise serious humanitarian, moral, and accountability concerns because they would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

Next week, countries party to the Arms Trade Treaty will hold their fifth annual conference. The theme this year is gender and gender-based violence (GBV), and the conference president will seek agreement on recommendations for states parties to improve gender diversity, understand and address the gendered impact of the arms trade, and improve implementation of the GBV risk assessment mandate by the treaty.

Finally, during the first week of September, states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions will convene for their annual meeting. This treaty exemplifies humanitarian disarmament’s combination of prohibitions on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of problematic weapons and obligations to remediate the harm caused by past use.


PLAP Appeals MA Parole Board’s Decision to Deny Parole to an Inmate with Mental Health Needs

By: Jarrod Nelson, JD ’21

Source: Pixabay

*Calvin resides in a prison that for him is also a purgatory. For nine years, Calvin has found himself at the center of a legal controversy that involves two state agencies which, despite their considerable power over his life, have portrayed themselves as helpless to assist in his transition back to society.

In 2010, Calvin was granted parole by the Massachusetts Parole Board, on the condition that he be admitted to a Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) inpatient facility for continued treatment of his mental illness. For years, Calvin had handled his illness well, consistently working at a job in the prison and avoiding any disciplinary issues. “Calvin’s institutional adjustment has been excellent,” the Board said at the time.

However, this seemingly straightforward condition turned out to be anything but. Massachusetts is a state of over 6 million people but has just over 2,500 inpatient psychiatric beds for them. Thus, when DMH denied him services, Calvin found himself between the rock of knowing he had qualified for parole, and the hard place of not being able to claim it. DMH’s denial of services meant that Calvin had his conditional parole rescinded.

It was at that point that the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), jumped in on Calvin’s behalf. PLAP is a student practice organization in which HLS students volunteer to represent state prisoners in parole and prison disciplinary hearings. Since 2014, six student attorneys from PLAP have appeared before the Parole Board on Calvin’s behalf, and finding no adequate resolution there, have filed suit in the Superior Court. The case was being handled by Regina Powers ’19 and Justin Kenney ‘19, who were supervised by Joel Thompson, one of two attorney supervisors that work with PLAP. The parole process has been marked by the Board’s insistence that DMH be involved in any potential placement for Calvin, and DMH’s insistence that Calvin does not qualify. A Board-appointed forensic psychologist made his own determinations about Calvin’s treatment and potential release plan, noting that Calvin’s case represented “a classic example of bureaucratic rules overcoming common sense, and an unnecessary correctional system expense with no clear end-game to break the deadlock.”

Unfortunately, the psychologist’s report fell on deaf ears. When the Board last saw Calvin, in 2017, it flatly denied parole, postponing his next parole hearing for three years. Moreover, and seemingly without irony, the Board suggested that Calvin apply for DMH services while he awaited his next hearing.

PLAP appealed the Board’s decision to the Massachusetts Superior Court. This is not the first time that PLAP students have sought judicial review of an agency’s decision. It is the first time, however, that PLAP has pled in not one but two agencies: the Parole Board and DMH.

Along with a claim that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, the lawsuit alleges that the Board and DMH have each violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to develop a workable release plan, essentially keeping Calvin in prison because of his mental illness. The claim follows a recent PLAP victory in a case involving the ADA’s application to the parole process, Crowell v. Massachusetts Parole Board.  In that case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts confirmed that the mental disability of a parole candidate must be accommodated as part of the parole process.

Powers and Kenney successfully fended off a motion to dismiss from DMH. Oral argument was recently held on the question of whether the Board’s latest decision is arbitrary and capricious, with further development of the ADA issue to follow.

Calvin is 61 years old. He has been in prison for 22 years. For the last nine of those years, he has been advised that, with the right treatment plan in place, he could be released on parole. It is hoped that, with a favorable outcome in court, he will not have to wait any longer.

*Names changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

Going Against the Government at the Public Defender in D.C.

By: Alyssa Bernstein, J.D. ’19

Alyssa Bernstein ’19

“There should be a copy of the Guidelines  in your office,” my supervisor at the Assistant Federal Public Defender told me. There wasn’t a copy of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in my office. If there had been, it would have been hard to miss. It’s a red tome, published in paperback  because it becomes obsolete every few years. The back cover features a giant table with roman numerals indicating an individual’s criminal history level and 43 rows determining months of sentences ranging from 0-6 months to 360 months-life. The 2018 edition comes in at about 600 pages and eight pounds. It makes a satisfying thwack on a desk when you throw it down in vexation. For a first-timer, it can be a bit overwhelming.

It was a week into my semester-long clerkship at the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia. Instead of shivering in Cambridge all spring, I’m in the Government Lawyer: Semester in Washington program. There are about a dozen other 2- and 3Ls who don’t mind missing a semester of Wasserstein lectures and non-pizza lunch each year. Instead, we work full-time in government offices across the federal branches.

But being a public defender in the government is not synonymous with representing the government. I’ve drafted numerous motions against the government on a number of issues, including arguing that a pre-schooler’s muffled statements should not be the basis of probable cause for a car search and why spending 90 days transporting someone 250 miles for a mental health evaluation (when a statute permits 10 days) cannot be justified as a “reasonable delay.”

I did eventually delve into those Federal Sentencing Guidelines. My assignment was to analyze how the guideline for illegal possession of a firearm (§ 2K2.1) developed over time. The guideline originally gave nine offense levels in 1987, but today goes as high as 33. Moreover, I found that the length of recommended sentences under the guideline has only increased in its 30 years of existence, with increases added as recently as 2015.

The Sentencing Guidelines are the standards that judges use to decide how long to send people to prison. There is an entire government commission to develop them. There is a smaller NGO dedicated to deciphering and reforming them. The whole set was first developed in 1987, at Congress’ behest. Congress was concerned about two things: wide disparities in sentences meted down on defendants for the exact same crime; and the prevalence of early release for good behavior – a practice that many representatives viewed as too lenient.

The Sentencing Commission confers with the Department of Justice and other agencies before revising guideline ranges. While, technically, public defenders have an opportunity to also provide feedback, my research revealed that the Sentencing Commission has not historically heeded their input, at least for the firearms possession guideline. Instead, the Sentencing Commission seems to always respond to the voices of law enforcement and prosecutors, justifying its changes in the name of “increasing deterrence” and “enabling law enforcement.”

Regardless of my personal positions on gun ownership, I believe that the law should be administered equitably across geographic areas. Prohibited weapon possession is a broad category, however. One of the problems with the prohibited possession laws is that they are disproportionally levied against those who are also subjected to the most intense level of police surveillance and searches –that is, communities of color.

D.C. recently changed its criminal gun policy. In order to obtain harsher penalties and sentences, D.C. now prosecutes gun possession charges in federal court, instead of D.C.’s equivalent to state court. It’s fair to surmise that the change in D.C. policy is intended to protect the people in neighborhoods where gun violence is more prevalent. But the targets for gun possession searches are almost always people of color – in fact, every firearm possession case I’ve worked on has been for a client who is a person of color.

Unfortunately, the very communities that are the most affected by the Sentencing Guidelines have the least influence over their determination. During this clerkship I’ve watched trial attorneys work every day, from meeting a client for the first time to attending their sentencing.

Sentencing is a sobering experience that couldn’t be farther from analyzing cases in class. More than any other experience at law school, this clerkship has shown me how the legislative, executive, and judicial branches can form structures whose course and policies are difficult to re-direct, especially for those with the least access to effective democratic mechanisms. Perhaps my classmates on the Hill who listen and respond to constituent input feel that our government is for and by the people. In the Public Defender’s office, the gap couldn’t be wider.

Reflections on the U.S. Attorney Clinic

Medha Gargeya ’19

Judge Merrick Garland wrote, “The great joy of being a prosecutor is that you don’t take whatever case walks in the door. You evaluate the case; you make your best judgment.”

This semester I was fortunate to work at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Initially assigned to the public corruption unit, I was unsure what to expect when I moved to the major crimes division my first week. Over the past semester, I worked on international kidnapping, homicide, armed robbery, and food stamp fraud cases. Through reading records, attending trials, and speaking with FBI and other law enforcement agents, I tried to learn about the defendants. In the myriad cases I worked on, I felt that my supervisors were thoughtful, deliberate, and compassionate in considering the aims of federal prosecution, defendants’ histories, and their best chances at rehabilitation.

My experience may not have been the norm and reminded me that several things that need to be improved in the criminal justice system, but it affirmed my deep respect of the bureaucratic norms, independence, and integrity upheld by the attorneys in the office.

My time at the USAO taught me that doing justice is extremely difficult, but ultimately an aim worth pursuing.

— Medha Gargeya, J.D. ’19


Pamela Gaulin ’19

I chose to participate in the United States Attorney Clinic because I knew it would provide an experience unlike anything I would get in my first few years as an Army Judge Advocate. While in the clinic I was able to work with both the major crimes and appeals units and found both aspects extremely rewarding. In the major crimes unit, I was given the opportunity to sit in on numerous court sessions, interview and prepare witnesses for hearings, and attend meetings in the judges’ chambers. It was beneficial to see just how different each lawyer’s advocacy style is, and that regardless of how I choose to style my own advocacy for clients I can be successful. As part of my work in the appeals unit I was fortunate to help draft a response brief for a case involving charges of material support to a terrorist organization. This case was particularly rewarding for me because of my background in the military, and also because it gave me a chance to help create the end product that was eventually argued in the circuit court. The feedback I received on my writing and research for the appeals unit was far superior to any of the feedback on legal research and writing that I received elsewhere during my time at Harvard Law School. This experience helped to strengthen my writing skills and provide confidence for me in my abilities to research and craft persuasive and effective arguments. Lastly, in April I was invited to come back to the courthouse to watch my supervisor argue the brief at the circuit court. I also found that the lawyers, legal, and administrative staff at the office were fantastic people to be around. Not only were they passionate about their work, but they were intent on ensuring I was given a robust and rewarding experience in my short time with the clinic.

— Pamela Gaulin, J.D. ’19

My Time in the State Attorney General Clinic

By: Sharon Kelleher, J.D. ’19

Sharon Kellher ’19

One of my most meaningful experiences at Harvard Law School was serving as a clinical student with the Consumer Protection Division (CPD) of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in the fall of my 3L year.

As a part of the State Attorney General Clinic, my three months at CPD provided firsthand exposure to the variety of ways in which the Attorney General protects the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable consumers through civil investigations, litigation, and policy work. I now more fully appreciate the expansive ability of the Attorney General to advocate for fairness in the treatment of consumers by organizations that do business in our state. I also gained valuable legal research, writing, and advocacy skills and a significant glimpse into public service within state government, which is a career path I am now interested to pursue.

Throughout the semester, I reviewed consumer complaints for investigations of unfair and deceptive practices by debt collectors, observed depositions and interviews, and conducted legal research to support arguments in litigation over data breaches. I also had the chance to observe court appearances, draft motions, and learn more about the legislative side of CPD’s work, such as advocating for consumer protection policies. I was introduced to nearly all facets of CPD’s practice areas during my clinical experience, and each project proved educational and eye-opening. I appreciated the unique latitude the team afforded to me in contributing to CPD’s efforts.

Of all the experiences during this clinic, I was proudest of my legal research and writing projects. By receiving active feedback from attorneys throughout the process, I honed these skills and contributed to ongoing matters at CPD. While these projects often revealed the difficulty in advocacy work, I felt energized to craft the strongest argument or to master the law on a niche issue presented. I am more confident entering my legal career having had this experience and, as a Massachusetts’ native, am proud and honored to have contributed to the important work CPD handles every day on behalf of citizens.

States where HLS students have worked through the clinic over winter term.
Credit: Melissa Courage Korta

Besides the substantive work, I also felt welcomed and appreciated by the attorneys working in the CPD. Through the leadership of the clinical program and CPD supervisors, I hit the ground running and felt part of the team from day one. The attorneys included me in case meetings, conference calls with opposing counsel, and court visits. These opportunities provided vital insight into the interpersonal, analytical, and judgmental skills necessary to work in a division that deals with a variety of pressing, and often publicized, legal issues.

I am so grateful for my time working with the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. Few experiences in law school have so significantly contributed to my understanding of the power of lawyers to make positive changes in our communities, and I hope to continue seeking experiences that provide a similar balance of intellectual rigor and public service.


Prosecuting a Jury Trial

By: Joseph Rosenberg, J.D. ’19

Joseph Rosenberg, ’19

“An hour-and-a-half?” I repeated over the phone. “But the trial is starting now!” Today, I was prosecuting an operating under the influence (OUI) jury trial, but the state trooper who arrested the defendant had forgotten. Now he was on the way, his day off interrupted.

I relayed this information to the judge in Boston Municipal Court’s Dorchester District Court. He was more understanding that I thought he would be. While we waited, we could return to the problem more immediately at hand: a surprise witness (the complaining witness, no less) had shown up at 8am after not responding to our summonses for months. He recounted some observations and third-party statements that weren’t in the trooper’s report. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I thought I had better tell defense counsel immediately. The defense counsel told me he’d object to at least the new third-party statements because they were hearsay.

“Your honor, that’s actually not hearsay. It’s not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted but rather to show its effect on the listener,” I argued. I was an Evidence scholar just weeks removed from my final exam. That third-party statement was excluded.

After the evidentiary hearing—while still we waited for the trooper—the judge suggested that we begin the trial. Before long, I had conducted voir dire, opened, and put on the complaining witness.

It was speeding by. Now the trooper was here. I met him, and then he took the stand ten seconds later. I had prepared an examination for him and hoped to meet with him beforehand to prepare. Alas! This would have to do. It went better than expected. He was an expert. He’d done this a hundred times.

I rested my case, defeated a motion for a directed verdict, and closed. I couldn’t believe I had just done all that. I had no idea what I was doing; I was sure I’d lost. I was happy that I would lose, actually. True, the defendant was drunk— breathalyzer results that the jury couldn’t see confirmed that he was twice over the legal limit—he was driving, and he caused a crash. But he was younger than I was, he had no record, and his parents were there in the courtroom to support him. He held the courtroom door open for me once. I  was happy for him: he had the good fortune to come up against me. He could move on from this mistake, never drink and drive again, and no harm would have been done.

The jury returned after about an hour and found the defendant guilty. I didn’t react on the outside, but my mind was racing. “I won?! Good for me—he has a private lawyer. But poor guy. Now he’s been convicted. I convicted him.” I couldn’t look at him or at the jurors. When the jurors finally filed out, the judge said:  “Alright, shall we proceed to sentencing?” “Sentencing?” I asked. “Of course, your honor,  just one moment.” I hadn’t had any idea that sentencing for OUI convictions takes place right then and there. I turned to my supervisor and asked her what was going on. She said to ask for one year of probation with mandatory attendance at alcohol counseling: the standard sentence for a first OUI offense. “Can I ask for six months?” I asked. “Sure.” My proposed sentence—crafted at counsel table the moment before it was offered—was accepted by defense counsel as “generous.”

I picked my things up off the table and finally turned to the defendant. He was facing the back of the courtroom. His head was buried in his parents’ chests, and they held him tight. His whole body heaved as he sobbed. I shook defense counsel’s hand and walked out as quickly as I could.

At 5:30, I left the courthouse and started my walk towards  the Shawmut stop on the Red Line. I called my girlfriend and my parents to tell them about my day—the good, the bad, the I-still-don’t-know-what.

Looking for Tools to Change

Via the Harvard Dispute Systems Design Clinic (Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP))

Margaret Huang ’19

Margaret Huang ’19 came to law school looking for tools for change. Inspired by seminal Supreme Court cases like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, Huang set her sights on finding her particular path into change agency. At the time, law school seemed like the best way for her to acquire the skills to combat systemic racial and economic inequalities. However, by providing new frameworks for analyzing problems, law school has complicated her theory for how change happens.

HNMCP: When you were a student in the Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP), you worked on a project with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Office of Mediation & Arbitration, which oversees alternative dispute resolution programs in the state. Your project looked at the use of alternative dispute resolution models in the family division specifically, focusing on the process for handling re-opened divorce and parenting cases. But this wasn’t your first hands on experience with clients, was it?

Margaret Huang: In undergrad I volunteered as a telephone counselor at the Women’s Law Project. My role was to provide legal information and referrals when people called in with their stories. It was the first time that I truly began to understand how interconnected problems in people’s lives were. Divorce, parenting, domestic violence can affect safety, shelter, and food insecurity, as well as be affected by them. This experience helped me in thinking about the project with the New Hampshire court because it gave me a deeper understanding of divorce and parenting disputes.

HNMCP: What was it about HNMCP that made you choose it for a clinical experience?

Margaret: I wanted to do more work in alternative dispute resolution. The Negotiation Workshop and the Harvard Mediation Program influenced the way I looked at disputes. These experiences taught me that sometimes the truth can be impossible to determine, but they also gave me the tools to figure out how to move forward despite that. And then the clinic, HNMCP, does a good job of providing a framework in which to analyze how individuals act within a system. By figuring out how a system influences the people who are within it (e.g., through the options it provides, or the difficulty or ease of taking a certain path), we can figure out how we might shift things for a different experience.

HNMCP: How did you see this fitting in with the work you want to do after law school?

Margaret: Like many people at this law school, I feel an urgency in the work of reforming the criminal system. The criminal system is both a result of, and a force in, perpetuating trauma and racial and economic injustice. But because of the power that prosecutors have, I also believe that to implement effective change, we need progressive prosecutors. After law school, I am going to the New York City Law Department’s Family Court Unit to work as a prosecutor in the juvenile court system, with the diversionary programs that exist there, and its focus on rehabilitation. When I worked there last summer, I learned about all the alternatives to placement programs like job training, family therapy, etc. to help keep a child from going back through the system. I think it’s a good model on how to handle juvenile cases and I am thinking about how can it translate into the adult system. No matter how gung ho individual prosecutors are, at the end of the day the outcome is supposed to be the least restrictive. Understanding systemic models better will help me move into policy work at local and state levels in the future.

HNMCP: While respecting client privilege, what were some rewarding and challenging experiences you had in your clinical work that you felt helped you move forward in your growth as a lawyer?

Margaret: I was amazed at how the people we worked with in the New Hampshire Court System were so forward-thinking. I feel like the way law school teaches the common law means there is a focus on the past, a mentality of ‘we do things this way because this is the way we’ve always done things.’ But the people we met in New Hampshire were constantly innovating and trying new models to help the people who go through their system. They were so inspirational!

The most rewarding part of the clinic was when [my project teammate] Michael [Haley] and I presented our findings and recommendations to the court administrators. Our analysis was objective, presenting both the positive and negative things that we had seen, but the court administrators were excited about our findings and seemed energized to start fixing some of the problems that we had found.

We did have challenges. As part of the project, we spent time calling folks who went through the New Hampshire system to get stakeholder feedback. Not all of them were very happy that their number had been given to us and one guy called around 15 times in 10 minutes to complain.

Margaret Huang & Michael Haley

HNMCP: So you had that on-the-ground learning of interacting with folks who had challenging experiences in the system and you were the one who had to talk to them and take that blow back.

Margaret: Yes. This is one of the places we got support from our supervisor. I learned a lot seeing Rachel [Krol] talk to him and calm him down. It was so admirable.

HNMCP: You also participated in the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP), a student practice organization. What was it about alternative dispute resolution as a discipline that attracted you to spend so much of your time in law school focusing on these skills?

Margaret: It was learning that 90% of cases settle out of court that made me want to learn about ADR. I stayed with it because of the experiential learning model and the practical skills I was receiving. Black letter law classes teach one set of skills, so studying ADR gave me that continued learning.

HNMCP: You started in HMP your 1L year, served as Training Director your 2L year, and by your 3L year you served as co-President (along with Laura Bloomer). What are some important leadership lessons you’ll be taking with you into your career?

Margaret: One of the gifts of being co-President was being able to see the organization in the long term. It also gave me the opportunity to tackle some of the problems I saw as a 1L.  As Training Director, I had the ability to address issues, make changes right away, and move forward quickly. But as co-President, of course, I had to run things by the Board and Staff, and know that I might not see changes before I graduated. Hearing [Advisory Board Member] Florrie [Darwin] share with me the growth she’s seen in the organization over the years, helped me understand that despite the fact that I could not immediately see the progress the organization was making, the changes Laura and I tried to implement might have an effect in the future. I also learned that working with colleagues who are committed and caring makes a huge difference.

HNMCP: What did you learn about yourself in your work in HNMCP and HMP?

Margaret: In both HNMCP and HMP I learned how to receive feedback, which is much harder than people acknowledge. But I needed to acknowledge where my weaknesses were in order to improve. So now I hear feedback as not about what’s wrong with me, but where I can get better.

I know I have said this a lot already, but HNMCP and HMP has influenced how I think about change. I used to believe that it was extraordinary individuals who were change-makers. Not to diminish the extraordinary things these individuals have done, but the picture is much more complicated. I now understand that because ADR teaches people how to analyze situations as stakeholders with their interests and agendas, I can see that change happens when some stakeholders agree on a solution that fits their needs. By using this framework, one can make change by influencing stakeholder agendas, by empowering certain stakeholders, finding creative solutions, and countless other possibilities.

I’ve also become more aware about how people make choices in a system. I was at the Prison Abolition Symposium that the Harvard Law Review put on earlier this year, and one of the speakers, Angel Sanchez, said something that really resonated with me. Paraphrasing, he said, “we should allow people to be normal.”

We should allow people to be normal. How can we construct a system where people do not need to be extraordinary to “make it?” How do we construct a system where people are allowed to make mistakes?

HNMCP: How have you found these skills translating into your own life?

Margaret: I’ve become a much better active listener [laughs]. In law school, we’re taught to provide solutions when people come to us with problems, but sometimes that’s not what someone needs. Sometimes it’s better to just acknowledge what’s going on and help them figure out what is the best solution for them.

HNMCP: Anything you want to add before we go?

Margaret: A big shout out to the 5th floor of Pound Hall [where HNMCP and HMP have their offices] for being so welcoming!

“They Don’t Teach You This in Law School,” Moments in the Domestic Violence and Family Law Clinic

By: Tara Louise Casey, LL.M. ’19

Tara Louise Casey LL.M. ’19

As an LL.M. student who has recently finished my primary law degree in Ireland – where there is not a great amount of emphasis on practical legal  education – I was eager to explore clinical and pro-bono opportunities at Harvard. I had previously studied domestic violence from an academic perspective and completed an internship at a prominent family law firm in Dublin so a clinical program that combined the two sounded like a perfect fit.

While I had previously participated in a clinical program at the University of Texas while studying abroad there during my primary law degree, working at the Legal Services Center (LSC) was unlike anything I had done before. From the very beginning, my supervisor Nnena Odim made it clear that the cases I would be working on would be my own, that I would be responsible for the vast majority of the case – keeping the client up to date, getting information from them, communicating and negotiating with opposing counsel and representing the client in court. Being thrown into the deep-end was at first rather intimidating, but the community spirit at LSC was a great help. Surrounded by other law students – some in the Domestic Violence/Family Law Clinic, some in other clinics, some returning students, some first-timers like me – I quickly got to grips with drafting documents in the correct form, who to call at the court house for certain information and appropriate tones to take with opposing counsel, parties and my own clients on the phone.

My favorite aspect of the clinic was without doubt meeting with the clients. Before our meetings, I would generally read up on their case and try to ascertain where they were at procedurally, what was the most recent thing they had asked for and what further information we needed to get from them for our next filings with the court. I often thought about my academic study of domestic violence, trying to remind myself to keep in mind its multi-faceted nature. When I met with the clients, however, oftentimes all of my forethought would go out the window. There would be a new issue we had never heard about before – she had received a document from the court that did not make sense,  the visitation  arrangement for her child  was drastically different from that ordered by the court or she had a separate legal issue that could be dealt with by other clinics at LSC. These were classic “they don’t teach you this at law school” moments and I relished them. The skills that would come out of these interactions, I have come to learn, are some of the most fundamental that any lawyer can have – adaptability, understanding and basic people skills.

While it was fantastic to have the opportunity as a law student to speak to a judge as an authorized student attorney and argue on behalf of my client against seasoned opposing counsel, it was the meetings with clients where we could chat about what was going on in their lives now, what they wanted and what it was that I could do to help them achieve their goals that stand out as the highlights of my clinical experience at Harvard.


From Student to Lawyer: My Time in the Environmental Law & Policy Clinic

By: Heather Romero, J.D. ’19

Heather Romero ’19

Looking back at the many opportunities afforded to me as a student at Harvard Law School, the one that was undeniably the most rewarding and impactful to my understanding of how to practice law was participating in the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. Coming to law school, I knew that I was interested in environmental law but did not have a strong idea of what my area of focus could be. The Clinic gave me the space to explore different areas of environmental law and develop a set of skills that I can apply to the practice of law in any setting.

I was nervous when I first enrolled in the Clinic. I did not have an academic or professional background in environmental science and in many ways felt like an imposter among my classmates who had dedicated years of study and work to environmental issues. However, my apprehension was unnecessary. The faculty in the Clinic were, and continue to be, incredibly supportive and worked with me to leverage the skill-set I brought with me and build the skills I needed not only to be an effective environmental lawyer, but a strong advocate for my clients in general.

During my first semester in the clinic, I had the opportunity to work on an amicus brief written on behalf of farmers injured by the pesticide dicamba, which was eventually filed in the Ninth Circuit. Though working on the brief taught me much about legal writing, what was most impactful to me was being able to use my legal education to represent the interests of people who suffered real harm. I was also able to explore the ways just one pesticide can have long-lasting, wide-ranging effects. My research on this brief was my first exposure to the effects of modern agricultural practices on wildlife. Though a minor point in the brief, that research motivated me to explore the issue more in depth through two other course papers outside the clinic.

Additionally, one of the experiences in the Clinic I have found most valuable is the opportunity to work on interdisciplinary teams. After my first semester in the Clinic, I enrolled in Professor Jacobs’ Climate Solution Living Lab. The Lab consists of several teams comprised of diverse sets of students: my team included six students from five different Harvard graduate schools and MIT. My team’s assignment was to develop a project to mitigate climate change in the agriculture sector via a behavior change strategy. The Lab was the most challenging class I took at HLS. However, it also taught me the most about how a lawyer can add value beyond just being an advisor on the law—lawyers can offer critical insight on strategy, help manage disparate groups of experts, and ground a project in a way that specifically focuses on the client. My team was able to develop a project that would transition conventional farmland to alley cropping, a practice that can sequester carbon from the atmosphere while providing concrete financial benefits and increased climate resiliency to participating farmers.

Group photo of Heather's Living Lab Team

Group photo of Heather’s Living Lab Team

My experience in the Lab brought me back to the Clinic for both semesters of my 3L year. For my last semester, I am again participating in an interdisciplinary team in which I am the only law student. My team is advising a group of Florida municipalities on formalizing a partnership to develop climate change adaptation strategies. This experience has allowed me to practice the skills I developed in the Lab and build on them even more. I’ve also worked much more closely with our clients than in previous projects, giving me the opportunity to gain experience in working directly with clients. I even will be able to travel to attend our clients’ final stakeholder meeting  of the semester and share our research and advice in person.

Participating in the Environmental Law Clinic has given me my most valuable experiences in law school. No other class has taught me as much about how to be a lawyer in the real world. I feel confident that I am prepared to start my legal career because of the skills I learned in the Clinic and am excited to continue working on issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Small Victories Mean the Most

By: Gege Wang, J.D. ’19

Gege Wang ’19

Gege Wang ’19

Before leaving law school, I wanted to gain some exposure to public interest and legal services work. I chose to gain this experience through the Employment Law Clinic because it is an important area of law that I wanted to learn before practicing. My clinical placement was at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). It is the most highly respected legal services organization in the Greater Boston area and its employment unit is particularly renowned for its dedication and expertise. While working there, I was under the direct supervision of the head of the employment unit, Mr. Brian Flynn.

One of the most memorable takeaways from my time there is  the passion and belief the staff attorneys bring to their work.  The rapport between the attorneys and their clients is so genuine. The clients that GBLS is devoted to are vulnerable to unfair and exploitative employment practices for one reason or another, whether because they are poor, underrepresented racial minorities, undocumented workers, or people with disabilities. A three-month unemployment benefit that the staff attorneys helped them to fight for might seem like a small victory in monetary terms, but it means so much to low wage workers, who needed to support their family. The attorneys care about their clients’ mental health issues and they spend the time and energy to understand their clients’ community. They discuss how the case strategies in a particular matter can have wider social implications. There is no profit underlying the attorney-client relationship. When the attorneys say they wanted to help their clients, that is truly what they meant.

The most meaningful assignment I worked on at GBLS was a class action suit against a restaurant employer. I spent a lot of time conducting clients intake and collecting material facts that would be later summarized in the facts section of our complaint. I listened to their stories and understood why they feel the system has wronged them. Confronted with such real, raw accounts of hardship, I thought about how I can use the learning and  skills I have gained from law school to be a better advocate for them.

One unique feature about GBLS as a legal services organization is its decision to refuse to give up on using class action as a strategy to promote social changes. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has certain restrictions on legal aid programs that are eligible to receive LSC funds, including the restrictions on engaging in class action lawsuits and legislative advocacy. GBLS is committed to fully utilizing all these tools and legal options to provide its clients with the best representation, so it decided to forgo LSC funding. My involvement in this class action case made me think about how class-action suits are such an important device for public interest lawyering, especially in the context of employment law. Employers are typically the repeat players in the larger legal machine. They are the parties who structure the transactions, draft the contracts that govern the employer-employee relationship, and have abundant legal resources to resolve disputes. The employees, on the other hand, are the one-shotters (people who do not use lawsuits often) and they are disadvantaged because of lack of bargaining power and information asymmetry. Using class action and gathering multiple claimants with the same grievances, the balance of the scale is changed. GBLS itself is the repeat player in the employment space, and employees are now in the position where they are afforded with the repeat player advantages, such as litigation expertise and efficiency in litigation expenses. This is why my class action assignment at GBLS is so important to me.

Sometimes, the readings, assignments and exams at the law school can be overwhelming, which is why I was so grateful for clinical experience. Working for the attorneys at GBLS constantly reminded me of why I chose to go to law school and re-charged me with the sense of purpose. I enjoyed the contagious atmosphere at GBLS where everyone is passionately and humbly pursuing what they believe in, and siding with the underdogs and have-nots to make changes to the world. It is a very inspiring experience.

My Time with the Mississippi Delta Project

By: Emanuel Powell, J.D. ’19

From left to right, Emanuel Powell ’19, Sacajawea “saki” Hall, a Environmental Justice Initiative Client at Cooperation Jackson, and Megan Barnes ’19. Students interviewed saki and other community activists, jurists, and lawyers to learn about criminal legal issues in Mississippi.

From left to right, Emanuel Powell ’19, Sacajawea “saki” Hall, a Environmental Justice Initiative Client at Cooperation Jackson, and Megan Barnes ’19. Students interviewed saki and other community activists, jurists, and lawyers to learn about criminal legal issues in Mississippi.

Back in 2015, I decided to become an attorney so I could play my part in what I saw as the continuing efforts of the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Despite the end of Jim Crow’s form of legalized and explicit racial subordination, my home state still ranks last in “almost every leading health outcome” with a disproportionate burden on Mississippi’s black population and other communities of color, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. This situation is directly linked to our state’s unique history of discrimination, exclusion, and ongoing lack of investment to radically change the conditions in which people are born, work, grow, and age. I decided to go to law school to explore how I may support those fighting in Mississippi to make my state a home in which poverty, hunger and homelessness were not tolerated, where Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” could finally be realized.

Because of these goals, I asked everyone I could about Harvard Law’s Mississippi Delta Project. The Mississippi Delta Project (MDP) is a student practice organization dedicated to supporting Mississippi-based organizations fighting for racial, economic, and other forms of social justice by providing research and guidance on policy issues. An HLS alum created the project after learning from community partners based in Mississippi that there was a need to support local farmers. I wanted to be part of an organization that not only put the needs of Mississippians first, but met those needs with legal and policy strategies as only an attorney could. The presence of MDP on campus made it easy to choose HLS when the time came to make the decision of where I would spend my three years of law school.

I joined MDP in my first semester, working on our Child and Youth Initiative. Our project focused on exploring ways to invest in advocacy for children in Mississippi. I helped create MDP’s Criminal Justice Initiative to address issues in the criminal legal system in my second year. We collaborated with the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi, which advocates for human rights and social justice through litigation, focusing on issues such as police misconduct, wrongful search and seizure, conditions of confinement, and juvenile justice. Through interviews with leading jurists, attorneys, activists, and politicians, we developed a project with MacArthur focused on improving community engagement and advocacy so that Mississippians can advocate for themselves against injustices in the criminal legal system. This initiative has meant a lot to me because I lost my cousin Ronnie “Pie” Shorter in a police shooting during my 1L year. It gives me hope that our project may help Mississippians better advocate  against  injustices  like what happened to Ronnie and continues to happen to so many others in Mississippi and around the  country.

In my time with MDP, we’ve worked with Mississippi-based organizations fighting to get access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for those who have served their sentence for felony convictions, improved access to reproductive health for youth, and help make the City of Jackson zero-waste.  I could not have  asked  for a better place to start building my career as a lawyer in the ongoing Freedom Struggle. I am excited to  see MDP continue its great work and look forward to cheering on as an alum.

Public Health and the Law: Planting the Seeds for Healthy Food Access

By: Grace Truong, J.D. ’19

Grace Truong ’19

I joined the Health Law and Policy Clinic because I wanted to experience firsthand how communities use policies to promote a culture of health. As a JD/MPH Joint Degree student at Harvard Law School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I have been exposed to health policy largely in a classroom con- text. My coursework showed me the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system and the barriers to healthcare access that many Americans face. But while my classes taught me the problems associated with this lack of access, I wanted to put my learning to practice by actually implementing policies to address these problems.

Through the Clinic’s Community Approaches to Public Health Projects, I was able to work on both national and local policy to expand access to healthcare for vulnerable populations and reduce health disparities. My projects largely centered on the social determinants of health. In particular, I worked with communities to build a culture of easy access to healthy, affordable food. Food insecurity and overconsumption of unhealthy food is associated with a multitude of negative health outcomes, including: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The clinic has worked with national and local advocacy groups across the country to implement innovative policies that reduce sugar consumption and increase healthy food access.

On the national level, our team provided law and policy technical assistance to various state advocacy leaders, empowering these advocates to enact policies that will lower population-level consumption of sugar. I had the chance to meet and work closely  with community champions to build a strategy for short- and long-term policy change. On the local level, my projects focused on broadening access to nutritious and affordable foods. The Clinic gave me the opportunity to travel for site visits around the country, meeting our clients where they were to better understand  their questions and goals. In one site visit, I found myself in a freezer room wearing a hairnet and gloves, surrounded by pack- aged vegetables and fruits. We were meeting with a  community kitchen to build community-use policies that increased access to vital and unique food production resources. In another, I found myself trekking across vegetable fields and herb gardens. We were meeting with a community farm dedicated to providing healthy produce to vulnerable populations and promoting agricultural education opportunities. Together, we created policies for the farm that increased the community’s access to the space for education, recreation, and healthy food production.

The Health Law and Policy Clinic was an incredible experiential learning opportunity. The hands-on experience of shaping health policy has been a unique highlight of my HLS education, and I look forward to honing these skills further throughout my career in law and in public health.

“No Matter What It Takes”

By: Laura Stelianou, J.D. ’19

Laura Stelianou ’19

Before law school, I was a kindergarten teacher and about one third of my students had disabilities. I helped implement and develop plans to meet their individualized needs. I earned a master’s degree in special education. Yet, my coursework did not focus on the law and I was far from fluent in the specific rights of students with disabilities. The families of many of my students similarly did not know all of the rights afforded to children with disabilities and some felt a lack of agency during special education meetings. Our laws nonetheless rely heavily on families to participate in the special education process and, when necessary, advocate for their children’s rights. For families with fewer re- sources, whose home language is not English, or whose children have experienced adverse experiences, it can be particularly daunting to navigate the system. I knew when I started at Harvard Law School that I wanted to participate  in the Education Law Clinic to gain a better understanding of special education law and support families to advocate for their children.

Through the Education Law Clinic, students engage in individual special education advocacy as well as systemic change projects to ensure that children who have endured adverse childhood experiences succeed in school. My clinical experience taught me that knowledge of the law is an incredible, albeit limited, source of power.

In the Clinic, I represented a high school student whose school district failed to provide an appropriate school placement, which left him with minimal access to education for many months. The student, who is incredibly bright, funny, and introspective, said he wanted to graduate “no matter what it takes.” This would be impossible without an  appropriate placement. With the help of an expert and the support of the Education Law Clinic, the student is now closer to achieving his goal of graduating. For our systemic change project, students in the clinic traveled to community service agencies across the state, including agencies in Lawrence, Taunton, and Dorchester, to give trainings on education law. We trained providers such as family partners and care coordinators, who teach and assist families to access re- sources and services including special education. I was struck by the strong engagement of the providers at the trainings. More than once, after we presented an aspect of the law, providers expressed surprise that certain rights existed or shared anecdotes of schools’ failure to comply with students’ rights. Many expressed a sense of empowerment and shared their plans to reference aspects of the law in the future to support students.

Knowledge of special education law was a source of power in my clinic work, but educational inequities remain even when families are equipped with knowledge. In our clinical course, we discussed ways that education laws operate unequally. For example, while some families can ensure appropriate placements for their children by changing a placement immediately, paying for it themselves, and later advocating for reimbursement from the school district, many families lack the resources to pursue that option. Independent evaluations help inform students’ placements. Families with knowledge and resources can access experts for independent evaluations, while others face long waitlists or cannot afford high quality experts. In our clinical course, we also discussed racial inequities in education, including disparate rates of school discipline for students of color. Relatedly, I observed the way that educational disparities influence children’s experiences when I interned with a juvenile judge through Harvard’s Child Advocacy Clinic. I witnessed several instances in which children’s educational opportunities were tied to their involvement with the juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

My experience in Harvard’s clinics has empowered me with a fluency in special education law that I can now use to both enforce rights and teach others. After law school, I plan to work in education law and advocate for educational equity broadly. On an individual level, if I have children, this will mean making appropriate choices about where they go to school and advocating for all children in the school. I encourage my fellow graduates to join me in considering their role in promoting educational equity as they educate their own families.


Becoming a Cyberlaw Advocate

By: Alexandra Noonan, J.D. ’19

Alexandra Noonan, J.D. ’19

I have had two wonderful opportunities to work with the Cyberlaw Clinic. Reflecting back on my time at Harvard Law School, both of these opportunities shaped me as a lawyer and as an advocate.

I originally decided to participate in the clinic because its work aligned with my interests and values. I entered HLS very interested in intellectual property, digital civil liberties, and privacy and wanted a chance to learn about these areas in a hands-on way. During my first project, I worked primarily on my client-counseling skills as my partner and I helped a city develop its first data privacy policy. Professor Susan Crawford supervised us but let us define the scope of the project, work directly with our clients, and interview other city officials all over the world.

It was during my advanced clinical with the Cyberlaw Clinic  that I developed enough ownership in my work to consider myself an advocate. Over the 2019 winter term, I drafted an amicus brief for a group of former United States Magistrate Judges advocating for the unsealing of government surveillance orders  and applications. Jason Leopold, a BuzzFeed News journalist, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press appealed a district court decision granting the parties only limited access to the old sealed applications and orders for pen registers, trap and trace devices, and other types of surveillance for which Leopold had petitioned. As amici, the United States Magistrate Judges wanted to help the D.C. Circuit understand why unsealing these old surveillance applications and orders would not place undue administrative burdens on the judges who would actually process them. They also wanted to explain why focusing on administrative burdens place undue limits on the public’s common law right of access to judicial records.

This project was my first opportunity to write a brief from start to finish. Although I had assisted with parts of briefs in the past, this was my first opportunity to define the main arguments and structure, draft the brief in full, and refine it with my clients. In just a few weeks, I learned everything about sealed surveillance applications and orders, from the law governing their approval and use to what judges on the ground do when they receive them. Each of my clients had tens of years of experience on  the bench and with sealed orders, but they were extremely gracious and appreciative of my work. At the same time, my supervisors Kendra Albert and Mason Kortz helped me work on  structuring an amicus brief and improving my prose, even though we were up against a very tight deadline. I have worked on a lot of projects in my time at HLS, but this one in particular took me from law student to lawyer.

I am so grateful for my time in the Cyberlaw Clinic and for the incredible instruction I received there. The projects I have worked on were exactly the kind of work I had hoped to do when I decided to attend HLS. Although I plan to practice patent litigation next year at a law firm, the skills that I have acquired in the clinic have helped me become a more confident lawyer and more effective advocate.

Tackling Legal Questions for Start-Up Clients with HLEP Defined by Law School Experience

By: VJ Vesnaver, J.D. ’19

VJ Vesnaver, J.D. ’19

Working with The Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project (HLEP) was one my most meaningful and fulfilling experiences during my time at HLS. I came to law school with the intention of gaining the skills necessary to help early stage companies navigate mission critical legal questions. HLEP gave me an opportunity to develop and hone those skills almost from day one. 1L year can be a bit of a grind. For students interested in corporate and transactional law, it can be especially draining since the required curriculum has limited relevance to your career interests. SPOs like HLEP offer a phenomenal opportunity  to step outside of the classroom as a first-year while using your newly acquired legal knowledge to add value on real client projects with help from actual practicing attorneys at firms like Cooley, Goodwin, Fenwick, and Wilson Sonsini.

During my first semester of law school, I worked with a group of four other students as a team leader on my first HLEP project. Our client was an early stage non-profit organization working to build a legal-tech platform that enabled prisoners to easily file post-conviction petitions with the court. Their product allowed prisoners to continue their legal process on their timeline and with limited resources. Our client had tons of interesting questions about how to build their product in a compliant fashion and we were thrilled to be able to help so early in our legal careers. We also were incredibly lucky to be working with two seasoned attorneys from Cooley on this project. We were learning and developing new skills every step of the way. Our client was ultimately able to use our advice to shape the development of their product and to assist in fundraising efforts with outside donors. Seeing the immediate impact of our work on an actual client’s business model was truly inspirational. I was hooked.

After my rewarding experience as a team leader during the fall semester, I joined the HLEP board as the Director of Operations that following spring. This gave me the incredible opportunity to serve in a leadership position as a first-year student, while also providing exposure to the full range of interesting projects that were coming through our doors at HLEP. In my time as Director of Operations (and later as President), I was repeatedly blown away by the diversity of clients that our students were working with. We had clients ranging from a company working to launch a network of satellites into space (my first introduction to “space law”), to a team at Harvard College working to re-imagine how we interact with online news media, to a founder launching a children’s clothing line. We’ve had students join client teams as co-founders and client companies fall apart and disappear mid-project. There was truly never a dull moment.

I was drawn to HLEP because of the amazing exposure to interesting startups and hands-on legal work, but there is no doubt that I stayed because of the people. HLS is a huge place with seemingly unlimited opportunities to engage and learn. It’s completely amazing, but it can also be a little overwhelming. Finding a group of students with similar interests was crucial to my well-being and made me instantly feel that I had a community to return to whenever I began entertaining creeping doubts about my path at school or in my career. I made many of my best law school friends through HLEP, and found that there was truly no better way to engage with other people interested in the world of innovative startups and the unique legal challenges they face.

I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opporutnity to be a part of such an awesome orgniazation while at HLS. I’m headed to BCG in Seattle after HLS to work as a management consultant. While this is a bit of a pivot outside of the world of start-up law, the client management skills, creative problem solving practice, and leadership experience I gained through my work with HLEP will be an invaluable resource as I embark on this next phase in my career. Thanks so much to Linda Cole and everyone within the TLC and OCP for helping us build such an impactful organization at HLS. I can’t wait to continue working with HLEP as alum in the years to come.

Empowering the Powerless on Death Row

Credit: Fabiola Perez Castro J.D. ’19

By: Fabiola Perez Castro, J.D. ’19

When I set foot inside the Allen B. Polunsky Unit in Texas, my heartbeat was sent into overdrive, despite the calm demeanor I worked so hard to emit. It was only my third day on the job with my clinic supervisor, Gretchen Sween. We left Austin at 6am and drove four hours through the barren Texas countryside to the prison. In my slightly tremoring hand was a list of questions I was prepared to  ask my client in Spanish. I had never met a client, much less one on death row, and my restlessness stemmed not just  from my fear of collecting the right information, but of being able to establish rapport with a person with whom I believed to have little in common.

And yet the next seven hours, during which I met my first client and three others, proved to be a transformative experience for which I never could have truly prepared myself. Despite my nervousness and fear about meeting my Spanish-speaking client, I felt at ease from the moment I picked up the phone on the wall to start our meeting. Through a glass barrier, we discussed not only the inter- view questions, but also topics spanning family, religion, and our Latino backgrounds. We spent hours building a level of rapport that easily carried over when I visited for a second time towards the end of my clinic, and we picked up right where we left off. I met seven clients during both visits to the Polunsky Unit, and the hours we spent together felt like a time warp during which I learned more than I could’ve hoped about the humanity behind the legal cases we so deeply engage with.

Credit: Fabiola Perez Castro, J.D. ’19

The work I did for the clinic varied widely, ranging from high-level tasks such as reviewing a comprehensive, 150-page omnibus brief attacking all aspects of Texas death penalty jurisprudence, to investigative, on-the-ground, fact-finding tasks. Working with Gretchen gave me an experience in the legal profession unlike any I had encountered before. Her recent foray into solo practice provided me a level of one-on-one mentorship and camaraderie that I have always craved in a work environment, as well as a wealth of legal knowledge to  pick her brain from given  her extensive experience as a brilliant trial lawyer. Even the drives to and from Polunsky felt like educational adventures of the greatest kind, and her energy and enthusiasm for the work was nothing short of contagious.

Perhaps my favorite experience of the clinic was traveling back to Texas in April to continue work on our Spanish-speaking client’s case. Working on a claim to show intellectual disability on the part of our client, we decided to drop in on his estranged siblings, to interview them about our client’s childhood. Without pre-arranged meetings, we managed to locate, interview, and obtain declarations from all three siblings—including two in Spanish requiring English translations. Throughout the trip, Gretchen and I were presented with a number of obstacles—for example, one sibling was hesitant to meet us in his own home and would ask us to meet him in a number of obscure locations, the last of which was a meat market. Yet by the end, our sense of accomplishment was tremendous not only because we obtained the declarations, but also because we gave a voice to these family members who had spent years feeling powerless in the face of the criminal justice system. Their tears of joy and excitement in relaying critical details about their childhoods demonstrated an empowerment that they had lacked throughout their brother’s trial phase and, possibly, throughout their entire lives.

The second part of my trip back to Texas involved another visit to Polunsky, to visit our client and prepare him for an expert’s assessment. I welcomed the chance to play a crucial part of pushing the case forward.

This clinic was perhaps the most impactful aspect of my law school career. The training we receive in law school classes provides a strong intellectual backbone to our future legal practice, and yet the Capital Punishment Clinic provided me with a window into the human, interpersonal aspect of the law that we so often forget about in our studies—an insight which I know will serve me immensely going forward.

In the Fight for Student Loan Relief

By: Drew Henderson, J.D. ’19

Drew Henderson, J.D. ’19

For years, Corinthian Colleges, a network of over one hundred for-profit schools, defrauded students to rake in profits from taxpayer-funded federal student aid. Tens of thousands of students—many the first in their families to seek out higher education—were promised serious career training and job prospects, but left Corinthian’s campuses with little more than thousands of dollars in debt. The company’s bankruptcy in 2015 followed a series of investigations into the fraud that the school inflicted nationwide. But for many who were victimized by Corinthian’s practices, relief has yet to arrive. Over 100,000 applications for loan discharge remain pending at the Department of Education, with tens of thousands coming from Corinthian students.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard’s Legal Services Center has long represented students who attended Corinthian schools. When I first joined the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic, in the spring semester of 2018, the Project was involved in at least three lawsuits against the Department of Education for its failure to provide legally mandated relief on the federal loans of former Corinthian students. One of those lawsuits, Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, was a class action involving Corinthian borrowers whose applications for relief remain pending. Under a summary process established in the previous administration, those borrowers are entitled to prompt and full discharge of their debts.

A few weeks after the clinic started, I began working on Calvillo Manriquez. Corinthian students were beginning to hear back on their claims—but they were receiving much less than the full relief they had been promised. This news was concerning: not only would these partial denials require that our clients be forced to pay back unjust loans  that they could not afford, but the adjudication of their claims also meant that they would face collection soon, before we could challenge the Department’s actions in court.

Project directors and attorneys, Eileen Connor, Toby Merrill, and Josh Rovenger, decided to amend our complaint to challenge the Department’s new methodology for partially denying students’ discharge applications. And to prevent the Department from collecting on our clients in the meantime, we would also file for a preliminary injunction. The expedited schedule of a motion for preliminary injunction meant that I would get to file our motion and attend oral argument in the Northern District of California before the end of my semester in the clinic.

To amend our complaint, we would need additional named plaintiffs who themselves had received partial denial of their claims. These individuals would need to be able to convey to the court why the Department’s illegal policy shift threatened to cause them irreparable harm, such that it should be enjoined. Ordinarily, such preliminary relief is not available when money is at stake, but an exception exists for extreme financial hardship.

We had received word from legal aid colleagues in Los Angeles that one of their clients might be willing to serve as a named plaintiff in our lawsuit. When I spoke with the client last March, she explained how she had attended a Corinthian program after school recruiters promised that her degree would qualify her for a job in medical billing. She graduated on-time from the program, only a few months before Corinthian shut down. She never even received her diploma. Since that time, she has found that deficiencies in the school’s curriculum meant that she cannot obtain a job like she was promised. Only a week before our call, the Department had told her that she would receive only twenty percent discharge of her loans. Alongside the expenses of caring for three children, this partial denial would be a tremendous burden for her family. Her story was one of hope for a brighter future that  sadly turned to disappointment, and it is one that I heard many times during my clinical semester.

I worked to capture the client’s story in a declaration attached to our motion for preliminary injunction. In April, when I attended the oral argument in San Francisco, it was reassuring to hear the court reject the argument that our client had not faced irreparable harm — her story had  been heard. It was similarly gratifying a few weeks later, when the court ruled in our clients’ favor, enjoining the Department from implementing its partial-denial policy. But the reality is that for these students, staving off collection is not enough: long after Corinthian closed, their debts remain.

The fight continues.

Learning to Serve

Casey Connolly, J.D. ’19 and Laurel Fresquez, J.D. ’19

By: Casey Connolly, J.D. ’19

I distinctly recall Betsy Gwin, a clinical instructor in the Veterans Legal Clinic, telling us on our first day: “You’ll never forget your first client.”

I was admittedly nervous to meet mine.  As a law student planning to enter the JAG Corps post-graduation with no prior military experience, I hoped that working in the Clinic would help me better understand and address the legal issues faced by service-members, veterans, and their families.  And the first step towards accomplishing those goals was actually meeting with a veteran and helping them work through their legal issues–a level of responsibility that felt overwhelming as a 2L who had never engaged in direct legal services before.  But with the training and support of the Clinic–which included extensive reading, exercises, and conversations with my clinical instructors and fellow students–I was able to feel more confident when walking into the room to meet with a client for the first time.  We started chatting, and soon I found myself mesmerized by the strength and optimism of a veteran who had faced unimaginable struggles in their lifetime.

From that day, I spent the next two years working with many other clients in a variety of ways that helped me hone my skills as a lawyer.  I performed client intake; interviewed witnesses; collected records; drafted letters of support, administrative appeals, and discharge upgrade petitions; and argued in an administrative hearing.

Then, in December 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued an order scheduling oral argument for two plaintiffs and a proposed class of veterans represented by the Harvard Veterans Legal Clinic and co-counsel Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick.  The argument was scheduled for February 1st, so when the Clinic offered me and Laurel Fresquez ’19 the opportunity to argue the case, we had six weeks to prepare.  This seemed like a daunting task given that neither of us had previously worked on the case.  But under the guidance of our supervising attorneys, we spent those next six weeks poring over briefing and case law, debating strategy, and building and mooting arguments.  This process allowed us both to further develop our skills as lawyers, and to gain deeper insight into the convoluted world of veterans law.

Our case tried to cut to the heart of that convolution by asking the Court to exercise its newly-announced class action powers to grant relief to a group of veterans who have been harmed by the VA Secretary’s application of an unlawful standard.  It was an honor to represent these veterans, who had the right to have their claims adjudicated under the correct standard–and who might not otherwise see that right fully vindicated without the class action mechanism.  I am grateful to the Veterans Legal Clinic and CCK for the chance to argue such an important and historic case alongside an incredible group of co-counsel and supervising attorneys.

And while this case was the most exciting and high-profile of the cases that I worked on with the Clinic, Betsy was right: I’ll never forget my first client.  In fact, that first client was also my last.  In spring of 2019, we received news from the VA that we had won that client’s administrative appeal after nearly 3 years of fighting (culminating in an extremely adversarial hearing that tested all of our resolve).  Walking into the local VA hospital with Betsy and the client to help them gain access to their newly awarded benefits was the quiet highlight of my law school career.  I am thankful to the Clinic and the client for trusting me with the sometimes-terrifying, sometimes-thrilling, always-rewarding responsibility of being an advocate.

Mamani: Lessons and Learning From a Decade-Long Struggle for Justice

From L to R: Nicole Antoine (’18), Lindsay, Elisa, Kelsey Jost- Creegan (’17), Amy Volz (’18), and Lisandra outside of the court- house in Fort Lauderdale. Antoine, Jost-Creegan, and Volz previ- ously worked on the case.

From L to R: Nicole Antoine (’18), Lindsay, Elisa, Kelsey Jost- Creegan (’17), Amy Volz (’18), and Lisandra outside of the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Antoine, Jost-Creegan, and Volz previously worked on the case.

By: Lindsay Bailey, J.D. ’19, Lisandra Novo, J.D. ’19, and Elisa Quiroz, J.D. ’19

Having grown up, lived, or worked abroad for several years in Ghana, Chile, and Cuba, among other locations, the three of us came to Harvard Law School excited about pursuing international law. We had ideas about what a career in this field might look like and were eager to get involved with clinics and student practice organizations. But prior to joining the International Human Rights Clinic and working on the Mamani case, we didn’t really understand what practicing intentional human rights law meant.

Since the fall of our 2L years, we have worked together on Mamani et al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, a federal lawsuit against the former president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and the former Minister of Defense, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, for their respective roles in planning and ordering security forces to use deadly military force against unarmed civilians to suppress popular protests against government policies. In 2003, security forces under their leadership slaughtered 58 citizens and injured more than 400, almost all from indigenous Aymara communities.

On April 3, 2018, following a month-long trial, the jury issued a historic verdict and found both men liable for extrajudicial killings under the Torture Victim Protection Act, awarding our plaintiffs—the parents, husbands, wives, and siblings of individuals who were killed—$10 million in damages. The judge subsequently overturned the jury’s verdict after a Rule 50 motion, and the case is currently on appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.

We have continued to work on the appeal well into our last semester as HLS students. And though our time on the case will at some point come to an end, we are certain the long- lasting effects of this experience will continue to shape our lives and careers.

Our time on Mamani contributed significantly to our lawyering skills and career paths. Between the three of us, we traveled to Bolivia to conduct interviews of witnesses that would testify at trial; helped lawyers from HLS and Akin Gump  take and defend depositions of expert and lay witnesses prior to trial, in locations ranging from Washington D.C. to Ecuador; and spent, collectively, hundreds of hours in two weeks between the hotel “war room” and the federal courthouse in Fort  Lauderdale,  Florida, working on the first civil trial in U.S. courts against a living former head of state for human rights abuses committed abroad. We learned how to interview plaintiffs, conduct depositions, review evidence, and prepare nervous witnesses, who had traveled thousands of miles to an unfamiliar place, for a historic trial.

More importantly, however, Mamani shaped our identities as lawyers. With our clinical instructors – Susan Farbstein, Tyler Giannini and Thomas Becker – we were lucky to experience firsthand how to be an effective lawyer while retaining compassion, humility, and humanity. We observed Thomas treating plaintiffs and witnesses not just as clients, but as equals and friends. We watched how Tyler was able to bring peace of mind to a nervous plaintiff, who had witnessed the death of his father, and remind him that the truth was his  own. We learned from Susan about the importance of caring for each other during tough times and working as a team, which became a true family.

Our time in the human rights clinic confirmed our passion for and commitment to international law. Next year we will be pursuing a Fulbright in Spain to research the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate Franco-era crimes; litigating cases of universal jurisdiction in Geneva, Switzerland; and continuing to pursue human rights litigation in U.S. courts. Through these new and challenging experiences, we will bring with us the frustrations, joys and lessons we learned on Mamani wherever we go.

Radhika Kapoor: ‘I want to be able to help develop transitional justice norms’

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Heratch Photography

By: Audrey Kunycky

After consecutive internships at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court, Radhika Kapoor LL.M. ’19 came to HLS to take advantage of Harvard’s institutional expertise in international law, humanitarian law, and post-conflict stability. “I really wanted to equip myself with tools that would let me explore questions that had come up during my internships. For example, I think there are a lot of countries that have concerns about acceding to international instruments like the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. How could they be self-sufficient in addressing issues of transitional justice?” Kapoor asks.

As she wraps up her LL.M. studies, Kapoor can readily identify the ways in which her LL.M. coursework has sharpened her thinking. She took a course on the Nuremburg trials, with Professor of Practice Alex Whiting, which “asked the question of whether an international court is the best stage to process large-scale humanitarian or human rights violations. I came away from it thinking that courts are perhaps best seen as a complement to a system of transitional justice and not necessarily the only way forward.” Kapoor also especially enjoyed a class on “Geopolitics, Human Rights and Statecraft,” with Professor of Practice and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. “I learned that it’s possible to think about foreign policy in humanistic terms,” she recalls, adding with a laugh that “we got to see somebody we had only seen on TV, in class, cold-calling on us.”

She also immersed herself in clinical opportunities at HLS. Last fall, for HLS Advocates for Human Rights, one of the law school’s student practice organizations, she led a team monitoring the trial of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the Côte d’Ivoire, for crimes against humanity. This spring, in the law school’s International Human Rights Clinic, she worked on two projects, both conflict-related and related to gender, but through very different lenses. One of the projects concerned accountability for sexual violence perpetrated against detained men and boys in conflict situations. The other was an arms and gender project that brought her, classmate Terence Flyte LL.M. ’19, and their clinical instructor, Anna Crowe LL.M. ’12, to Geneva, Switzerland, where they joined signatories and NGOs in working meetings to discuss ways forward for implementing the United Nations’ landmark Arms Trade Treaty. At the conference, Crowe presented “Interpreting the Arms Trade Treaty: International Human Rights Law and Gender-based Violence in Article 7 Risk Assessments,” a paper co-authored by Kapoor and three other HLS students enrolled in the International Human Rights Clinic. The clinic has been collaborating with ControlArms, an international NGO, in advocating for countries to restrict arms exports if there is a risk that the weapons will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law, with a specific focus on gender-based violence.

Credit: International Human Rights Clinic Radhika Kapoor LL.M. ’19 and Terry Flyte LL.M. ’19 at the Working Group Meetings of the 5th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty.

Credit: International Human Rights Clinic
Radhika Kapoor LL.M. ’19 and Terry Flyte LL.M. ’19 at the Working Group Meetings of the 5th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty.

Participating in these working sessions “really brought to the fore how important it is to really listen to different countries’ concerns and circumstances when it comes to helping them implement treaty provisions. We got to know concerns that we hadn’t known about before, like constraints that operate, and different shackles [on] political capacity even when there is political will. I went away with a much more comprehensive understanding of why states behave the way they do,” Kapoor observes. “Being in that conference room in Geneva, while states actively debated how to interpret the treaty, was a mind-blowing experience,” she adds. “The clinic gives you opportunities to do things that you would otherwise only engage in at an advanced stage of your career.”

This spring, in another partnership with ControlArms, Kapoor and the IHRC clinical team travelled to Latvia to deliver a training to Eastern and Central European weapons export officials on how to implement the gender-violence provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty.

These types of opportunities were not even on Kapoor’s radar when she started her studies. In fact, she first decided to study law because of her love of reading. As a child growing up in Lucknow in northern India, “I was really into Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton,” she recalls. Later, “I went on a crusade where I only read authors of color. These were the best two reading years that I had, because I came across so many new treasures of literature.” So when it came to university, “I knew I wanted to study something where I could read a lot, and law of course allows you to do that,” she explains. When she enrolled in the B.A./LL.B. program at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), “I wasn’t really sure what to expect, because nobody in my family was a lawyer. But it was love at first sight.”

While at NLSIU, “I started thinking about conflict, and how countries grapple with it. That’s what led me down the path that I’m on now,” Kapoor adds. Armed conflict is “rampant in Asia, where I’m from. What struck me was that often when these conflicts were over, there was hardly any thinking on how to move past it. These conflicts were often bloody; they involved extreme factionalism, or ethnic or religious hatred; it’s not as though these things are just buried. They’re going to flare up again. What happens after the conflict is over?”

After graduation, she expects to focus on this question, working on projects relating to Sudan and Myanmar. Recently named a Public Service Venture Fund Kaufman Fellow, Kapoor plans to work at Public International Law and Policy Group in Washington, D.C., a global pro bono law firm that works with clients to further their capacity to achieve transitional justice.

Outside of class, she has continued to read voluminously, turning more to nonfiction while at HLS. She also found time to feed her lifelong love of travel, joining friends on a spring break road trip to Charleston, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta and New Orleans over spring break. “It was so amazing, because I’ve read a lot of books about growing up in the American South. There was so much natural beauty there — and so much history.”

All of these experiences have been deeply meaningful for Kapoor. “I want to be able to carry forward the learning from this year, which has been immense, and establish a career in my home country, or my home region, in helping to develop transitional justice norms,” she explains. Looking back, “it really has been the best year of my life.”

Learning by Doing: A Student’s Perspective from LSC’s Safety Net Project

Via the Legal Services Center

By: Bryan Sohn

Bryan Sohn, center, pictured with attorney David Young (left) and LSC Tax Clinic Director Keith Fogg at LSC’s 40th Anniversary on April 5, 2019.

Bryan Sohn, center, pictured with attorney David Young (left) and LSC Tax Clinic Director Keith Fogg at LSC’s 40th Anniversary on April 5, 2019.

Before law school, I spent four years working in the education and non-profit world. By the end of my 1L year, I was feeling frustrated about being trapped in the “HLS bubble.” Without a doubt, my courses were fascinating and my professors wonderful. But I felt disconnected. And so I decided to seek out clinics. I considered the education law and child advocacy clinics but realized that I should branch out beyond my comfort zone. I signed up for the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) in large part because it reminded me of my students (from my high school teaching days) who have gone on to join the armed forces. And I ended up making the best decision of my law school career so far. My time at the clinic has been extraordinarily formative: in fact, the wonderful team at LSC couldn’t get rid of me and I’m now back for a second semester as an advanced clinical student!

The Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic is divided into three projects: the Veterans Justice Project, the Estate Planning Project, and the Safety Net Project. I signed up for the Safety Net Project, which focuses primarily on Social Security benefits litigation. My wonderful supervisor, Julie McCormack, wasted no time in throwing me straight into the deep end. On my first day at the LSC, I was informed that I had a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) the following week: I needed to get up to speed on Social Security law and draft that 15-page brief right away!

I quickly learned that this is a huge part of what makes the Safety Net Project and the Veterans Law Clinic so special. There is very little hand-holding. Students learn by doing. I was expected to the take the lead in building client relationships, building up medical records, and defining case strategies. Once I got staffed on a new case, I would spend several days wrestling with the facts and the law, shuttling back and forth between my carrel and Julie’s office. I would take the lead, but Julie was always available to share her support, wisdom, and incredible feedback despite having (at least) a gazillion other cases on her docket. Rinse and repeat. In my first semester, I ended up handling four ALJ hearings and three cases at the Appeals Council. The experience has supercharged my legal research and writing skills. I like to describe the LSC as a high-powered litigation boutique with a twist. Students take full responsibility for their cases and learn by tackling their cases head-on. But it’s a litigation boutique where the partners actually care about you. In fact, they are there precisely to support you. And most importantly, it’s a firm where the work itself is extraordinarily meaningful.

Above all, I will continue to treasure the relationships that I’ve built with our clients. My time at LSC has taught me what it means to lawyer as friend. So many moments come to mind: giving our client a hug after she broke down at the end of a successful hearing, finding out that a client who had suffered through post-traumatic stress disorder and over two dozen reconstructive surgeries would not lose her home because she had just won her benefits, and so much more. I’m so incredibly grateful to our clients for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their stories.

In my second semester at the clinic, I have continued to handle ALJ and Appeals Council cases. I am also partnering with a student at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau as we prepare to argue a Social Security appeal at federal district court. Briefs have been submitted and oral argument is scheduled for September. I am incredibly excited to continue my LSC journey and get our clients the results that they deserve!

Compassion and Commitment in Child Advocacy

Florence Bryan ‘19

By: Florence Bryan, J.D. ’19

I was fortunate to work with the dedicated attorneys at the Children and Family Law Trial Division (CAFL) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the public defender agency for Massachusetts, during my 2L year. As a student in the Child Advocacy Clinic, I worked on-site at CAFL three days a week learning both the law and key lawyering skills under experienced supervising attorneys. There I realized how important it is to be a zealous advocate both in and out of the courtroom.

The attorneys at CAFL represent children and parents in both Care and Protection cases, which involve allegations of abuse or neglect, and Child Requiring Assistance cases, which involve children alleged to have challenges at school or home. As an intern at CAFL, I assisted attorneys with preparing for termination of parental rights trials, drafting motions, reviewing client files, and researching various issues for cases. After diving into this new area of law, I also had the opportunity to represent clients in court. It was a privilege to get to know children and parents, even as they faced some of the most difficult times in their lives, and to help them navigate the legal process alongside my supervising attorneys.

At CAFL I observed attorneys with a variety of advocacy styles. But despite having different approaches, everyone in the office shared a truly client-centered mentality. Their advocacy went far beyond the courthouse doors. The attorneys were continuously working to connect their clients with services, negotiate with other attorneys on cases, and reach out to family, friends, and community resources.

From watching the attorneys in action, it became clear to me that the foundation of their strong advocacy is effective communication with clients—especially when their clients are children. The attorneys spend a significant amount of their time with clients listening and asking questions to get a complete sense of who they are and what outcome they want. I tried to mirror this in my own interactions with clients, as I wanted to be sure that each client had a full understanding of what was happening and an opportunity to come to a decision about the case that was genuinely their own. I think this kind of advocacy not only leads to better outcomes for families, but also gives children, in particular, a sense of agency when so much feels out of their control.

With compassion and commitment, the attorneys at CAFL help children and parents through incredibly challenging situations, working just as hard for their clients behind the scenes as they do in the courtroom. I hope to carry what I learned from their example in work that I do in the future.


How Practicing Entertainment Law in TLC Made Me a Better Lawyer

Iain McCarvell, LL.M .‘19

By: Iain McCavill LL.M. ’19

The Transactional Law Clinic was one of the most useful, necessary, and enriching courses I took at Harvard Law School. I chose to focus my clinical work in entertainment law. My interest in entertainment law stemmed from my six-year journey as a musician and manager of a touring rock band. The Transactional Law Clinic represented my first opportunity to work in the entertainment industry since 2015 when I traded in practicing music for practicing law by applying to law school. I enrolled in the Transactional Law Clinic because I wanted to learn more about how the entertainment industry works, to understand the types of deals done, and to learn about the legal language used in showbiz agreements. While I learned a lot about those things, what I learned most was how to be a better lawyer.

I learned that my desire to understand the industry, the deals, and the applicable law was vital but myopic. The Transactional Law Clinic helped me discover that in my eagerness to master the legally salient aspects of my chosen profession, I had forgotten about the most important thing: the client – the human being whose legal issues I was being trained to resolve. From the initial client interview to eventual case resolution and beyond, I learned how important it is to be curious, to discover what makes the client tick, and to discover what the client cares about beyond the immediate legal issue at hand. I found out that the more I learned about the person I represented, the better I was able to advocate on their behalf.

Another thing I gained from the Transactional Law Clinic was the opportunity to bump into ethical issues in a controlled environment. As a law student, I did not have a full appreciation for the ubiquity and frequency with which ethical issues arise in everyday practice. Learning the theory behind the Rules of Professional Conduct is a different thing altogether from actually handling ethical issues as they arise. The Transactional Law Clinic gave me the opportunity to spot, consider, and address these issues in real time.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the humbling quality of my classmates in the Transactional Law Clinic. Whether through in-class discussions, attendance at the clinic each day, or trips to the Harvard Innovation Lab, I learned a lot from them and made some lasting bonds.

As a 2019 Harvard LL.M and a 2018 J.D. graduate of a small underfunded Canadian law school (go UNB!), the Transactional Law Clinic was my first opportunity to work in a practical setting under the guidance of experienced lawyers who were themselves not captives of the billable hour. This environment allowed the clinic’s supervising attorneys to provide helpful feedback and support throughout the semester. With this tremendous guidance, I developed important skills related to interviewing clients, case management, negotiating, and communicating better with clients and related third parties. And one more thing: if, like me, you ever thought it was absurd that many law students graduate from law school without ever actually seeing a contract, then you probably should have signed up for the Transactional Law Clinic.

Learning Key Litigation Skills in the Crimmigration Clinic

Lyla Wasz-Piper ’20 and Kaela Athay ’19

By: Lyla Wasz-Piper, J.D. ’20 and Kaela Athay, J.D. ’19

The law school environment can, at times, feel insular and abstract. But supporting a person’s right to stay in the country with his wife and children transforms the theoretical into the practical. Similarly, the law school’s call to act is a lofty goal, but through clinics—and particularly the Crimmigration Clinic—students like us have the ability to take the law out of the classroom and apply our learning to some of our nation’s most pressing issues.

This semester, the Crimmigration Clinic and the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”)—an immigrant rights organization focusing on the interplay between criminal and immigration law—co-counseled an amicus brief on behalf of other immigrant rights organizations in support of a petition for rehearing in the Ninth Circuit. The case involved a longtime lawful permanent resident who came to the United States when he was only ten days old, but is now facing deportation because of a minor criminal conviction that is more than ten years old.

As Crimmigration Clinic students we were charged with drafting the amicus brief. We both found drafting the brief an incredibly valuable experience. Although we plan to pursue different legal careers upon graduation, we both learned important litigation skills that we will take with us whether we’re practicing appellate advocacy or providing direct client services.

The legal arguments in the Crimmigration Clinic’s amicus brief were complex but largely focused on the fundamental unfairness of applying a new law to a guilty plea that was entered into while relying on the old law. In this case, at the time of the client’s plea, he had to make a decision: proceed to trial, or craft a plea agreement with the help of his defense and immigration counsel to preserve his legal immigration status in the United States. For many noncitizens, preserving the right to remain in the country is often a paramount concern. At the time of the plea the law seemed clear that the offense would not trigger his removal. Five years later, the immigration appellate court abruptly departed from well-established practice and found that the offense to which the petitioner had pleaded guilty was, in fact, a deportable offense. Applying that change in law retroactively, the petitioner was then placed in removal proceedings where he was ultimately ordered removed.

The petitioner then appealed the removal order up to the Ninth Circuit where a divided panel upheld the lower court’s removal order and reasoned that the retroactive application of the new law was permissible. One judge on the panel penned a strong dissent demonstrating that the panel’s decision misapplied the Ninth Circuit’s own retroactivity law. In support of the petitioner’s request to have the Ninth Circuit reconsider its decision, the Crimmigration Clinic and IDP submitted its amicus brief.

As Crimmigration Clinic students, we worked closely with our supervisor, Phil Torrey, and co-counsel at IDP to develop three main arguments advanced in our brief. First, we argued that it would be virtually impossible for criminal defense attorneys to advise their noncitizen clients about future immigration consequences of guilty pleas if immigration laws could be altered by immigration officials in the future and then applied retroactively. Second, we argued that the Ninth Circuit improperly applied its own retroactivity analysis. Finally, the brief explained that if the test was properly applied, it would weigh in favor of the petitioner and the new law would not retroactively apply to his prior guilty plea.

Researching and writing this amicus brief has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of our law school careers thus far. Participating in a clinic provides a unique opportunity for faculty engagement and independent work: the complexity of the legal work means that you’re constantly learning new skills while working closely with the supervising attorney. The Crimmigration Clinic has allowed us to develop strong mentor relationships, work with a community of students and faculty similarly dedicated to immigration reform, and gain real experience practicing law at such a critical time in our legal and political climate.

Visiting MCI Concord

By: Liz Archer, JD ’20

Students in the Spring 2019 Judicial Process in Trial Court Clinic. Credit: Jean Lee JD ’19

On April 22, students in the Judicial Process in the Trial Courts Clinic visited MCI Concord, a medium security prison for men. While in the clinic, some students observed sentencing hearings where individuals where sent to serve time at MCI Concord. Hon. Judge John C. Crastley (Ret.), the Lecturer on Law for the Clinic, organized a trip to the facility to help students understand the consequence of those sentences. On our tour of the facilities, we visited the segregation unit, a general population unit, and the prison’s religious spaces. In the final part of our tour, we were introduced to the NEADS Program through which inmates train service dogs. The participating inmates gave a presentation demonstrating the particular skills that they are developing with their dogs. For example, one inmate is training his dog to identify and respond to different sounds in order to serve a deaf client. This was the most interesting part of our visit to MCI Concord because of the powerful impact that the NEADS Program seems to have on participating inmates and the clients that they serve. Students also had the opportunity to meet and speak with the inmates following their presentation. During those subsequent conversations, the inmates shared some of their experiences and advice about how students could best serve their future clients.

I left our visit of MCI Concord feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I believe lawyers should have an informed understanding of the implications of their work, including the experience of incarceration. Visiting a prison is one way to get a better sense of what that experience is like and speaking with inmates or formerly incarcerated individuals is another, perhaps better, way to develop that understanding. On the other hand, I worry about the invasiveness of prison tours. There were moments where being on the outside looking in felt uncomfortable, and perhaps the inmates felt the same way. Ultimately, I believe our visit was a valuable experience, particularly because students had the opportunity to engage with the inmates about their experiences. But I also think that, when visiting these institutions, visitors should be aware of the privilege they carry and the weight of the activity they are engaging in.

Consulting in the Law

By: Julia Nitsche, J.D. ’19

Julia Nitsche J.D. '19

Julia Nitsche J.D. ’19


Over the course of my three semesters with the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), I have worked on numerous projects, from state technical assistance, to the Farm Bill, to international food waste regulations.  All of them presented their unique sets of interesting challenges, and I feel like I have learned a ton from the collective experience of working on them all. Perhaps the most formative experience I had, was the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council Project.

In my first semester with the FLPC, I was assigned to a project where we worked with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC) to help them craft policies that would be more favorable to small or cottage food vendors. PFPC told us that they felt small food vendors in the Pittsburgh area were having a hard time opening new businesses, and they needed both guidance on how to make the process easier, and ideas on how to incentivize healthy food vendors to come onto the market.

The project was broad, and frankly a little scary. I didn’t know the first thing about the cottage food industry, or Pittsburgh, or Food Policy Councils (of which, it turns out, there are many). But with the help of my peers on the project and our clinic supervisor, we designed a plan and got to work. We put ourselves in the mindsets of a new business owner, combed through local food safety and vending regulations, and identified pain points. Then, we did some research on how other cities regulated small food vendors, and what types of incentives people had proposed for healthy food vending, like discounted vending permits for fruit & veg vendors operating in underserved areas. With a little structure and a lot of research, we finally put together a memo on what we had found, and our recommendations for how Pittsburgh could make its regulations less onerous on small, healthy food vendors.

I was lucky enough to go to Pittsburgh in my second semester with FLPC to continue the project and present our findings to the PFPC members. Overall, it was a great experience – they were very receptive, thrilled to have our help, and it really felt like our recommendations might make a difference.

While I am not going to practice law once I graduate, there are many things I take away from this project, and the rest of my experiences at FLPC, that I know will be useful to me in my career as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. First, I know that I can tackle any project, no matter how large. Combing through all of Pittsburgh’s statutes relating to food safety and vending regulations seemed insurmountable at first. But taking a step back, coming up with a plan, and then assigning jobs amongst our team broke a massive project into manageable pieces. I know that in consulting, this type of approach is paramount (and in law too). Second, this project helped me develop my research skills. I doubt I will have the occasion to look up local regulations in consulting, but there is something to be said for learning how to find information – knowing where to look and knowing when to ask. Third, meeting and presenting to our client, PFPC, definitely prepared me for my future career. And finally, this project centered around teamwork. We so rarely have the opportunity to work with others in law school, but on work projects we are often a much smaller piece of a larger whole. This is true in consulting, in law, and in life. I know that it was really helpful to me to have at least one experience in law school where I worked with someone else and truly had to communicate with them and rely on them to render a good result.

I am so grateful to FLPC for the great projects they have exposed me to and recommend anyone interested in food law or getting practical experience to join!



15 and Monitored – Not Guilty on All Counts

By: Michaela Strout JD ’19 & Ethan Mendoza JD ’19

CJI Student Michaela Strout (right), JD'19, Clinical Instructor Aditi Goel (middle), and Ethan Mendoza JD'19 (left)

CJI Student Michaela Strout, JD’19, Clinical Instructor Aditi Goel, and Ethan Mendoza JD’19

There is one case and one client in particular – a client whom we represented through the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) – that stands out. Jonathan is a fifteen-year-old Black boy from Mattapan who was wrongfully accused of and charged with possessing and firing a gun inside his own home. Despite the fact that he had no prior criminal record and despite the lack of any real evidence against Jonathan, Jonathan was anchored with a GPS monitor device by the court for the entire year and a half leading up to his jury trial. Jonathan once showed us how the monitor’s abrasive plastic strap–which he could never take off, not even at night to go to bed, to go to class at his high school, or to shower–had worn down the skin on his ankle, so much so that it was raw and peeling.

But because Jonathan was unwilling to admit to something he did not do, he suffered both the pain and indignity of the GPS monitor until his trial in March of 2019. We spent hours every week for months with our clinical instructor, Aditi Goel, preparing, practicing and reworking and rewriting our cross-examinations of experts and police officers, our opening and closing arguments, and our trial strategy. Before the trial had started, the ADA prosecuting the case had represented to the defense team that she would not ask for any jail time in a sentencing recommendation if our client was found guilty. Over the course of five days – from empaneling a jury to the jury verdict – the government called three expert witnesses, two police officers, and two experienced police sergeant detectives to testify against Jonathan. At the conclusion of the five-day trial, just minutes before the jury was set to come into the courtroom and read the verdict, the prosecutor changed her position—she decided she would be asking that our client be held in custody until he was 18 years old if he was convicted. The prosecutor told us “this isn’t personal.”

We never gave that sentencing argument in Jonathan’s trial—the jury acquitted him on all counts.  Seeing the relief on Jonathan’s face as the weight of this case was lifted from his shoulders and hearing his mother weep in the gallery behind us knowing that her son wouldn’t be taken off to jail are things that we will never forget. But even if we got the best outcome that we could, it is hard to call what happened “justice.” The fact remains that Jonathan had this case hanging over his head for a year and a half and had to comply with onerous conditions of release. Those are traumatic experiences that cannot be changed or erased. Even though the injustices that Jonathan faced will never go away, this is the system we have, and we were able to prevent further harm to Jonathan.

We are fairly confident that in fifteen, twenty, or thirty years, we will not remember what grades we got class. But we can say, without hesitation and without doubt, that for the rest of our lives, we will never forget what it felt like to have six perfect strangers––after five days of trial with seven witnesses––deliver a “not guilty” verdict on all counts. We will never forget what it felt like to have Jonathan squeeze our hands as the jurors read the verdict as if he would never let go. We will never forget what it felt like to have prevented some harm and done some good. To have helped. And we are thankful to CJI for this.

*This client’s name has been changed to protect client confidentiality.


Innocent Spouse Relief in a Tax Case

By: Oladeji M. Tiamiyu J.D. ’20

Tim* never could imagine how complicated his taxes would become. A disabled veteran following physical injuries from military service, Tim found a steady job. He later discovered his former wife embezzled a large sum of money from her employer.

Embezzlement, though illegal, is subject to similar tax requirements as other forms of income. Since the late 1930s, individuals filing joint tax returns are jointly liable for omitted income or understatements on a tax return. The creation of innocent spouse relief revealed a clear Congressional intent to sever joint liability when one’s spouse accrues unlawful taxable income without the other’s knowledge. The relevant statutory recognition of innocent spouse relief is Section 6015 of the Internal Revenue Code, specifically sections 6015(c) and 6015(f). Section 6015(c) allows divorced or separated individuals to be responsible only for the portion of joint tax liabilities that is attributable to their activity. Section 6015(f) is an equitable vehicle that uses the totality of circumstances to consider whether innocent spouse relief should be granted.

The IRS was initially willing to grant Tim innocent spouse relief until his wife alleged during divorce proceedings that he had known of her embezzlement. As a result, the IRS assessed Tim a liability of over $100,000 in taxes, interest, and penalties.

Tim’s case has now reached the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Although granting innocent spouse relief for one year, the tax court denied relief following his former wife’s criminal conviction. In denying that relief, the tax court overlooked a host of important factors that weighed in his favor. The 7th Circuit will need to better balance the government’s interest in collecting taxes with the equitable principal of relief for individuals lacking knowledge of illegal income accrued by a spouse.

Tim’s background and his actions show that he did not have knowledge of the embezzlement.  His former wife handled their financial matters, while Tim had limited knowledge and experience in finance, accounting, and taxes. In addition, there is no evidence that he ever knew of her criminal conviction before the return in dispute was filed. He provided his financial information to her tax preparer.

Helping Tim receive the relief he deserves has been a great legal experience. Most of my work focused on writing the legal brief that will be submitted to the 7th Circuit, participating in mediation with the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, and communicating with our client to set procedural expectations. The government shutdown added complexities to our work because the mediation process was delayed. I am humbled by the procedural and substantive legal issues that my co-law student advocate—Rocky Li ‘20—and I have had exposure to. We have benefited from working with Keith Fogg and Carlton Smith, our clinical supervisors who are also among the nation’s leading tax experts. If Tim does not settle, our team is optimistic that the 7th Circuit will recognize the injustice he has been subjected to.

Oladeji M. Tiamiyu is a 2L at Harvard Law School

*Name and some identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Facing unexpected realities in North Carolina

By: Merve Ciplak J.D. ’21

Photo of mobile homes

Credit: Lee Mestre

As an international student that had never been to the South, my understanding of North Carolina was limited to what I had heard about Charlotte, the universities, and the food. But from my experience in Pembroke, I learned about the extent of rural poverty and hardship in a community that I really did not have much understanding or awareness of, and a side of America that is probably unknown to many students coming from abroad like myself. My experience was incredibly invaluable as a result of this stark exposure.

Over spring break, I got to work with the Legal Aid of North Carolina in their Pembroke office. We were placed within the office’s disaster relief efforts and set out with the intention of supporting the Hurricane Florence relief efforts, but quickly found ourselves involved in a number of housing and gentrification issues and community organizing efforts.

Credit: Merve Ciplak

The Pembroke office oversees cases in some of the poorest and most rural counties in North Carolina: Hoke, Scotland, and Robeson. According to the information our supervisor gave us, over 30% of the residents of Robeson County live in mobile home parks. The counties are also incredibly racially and ethnically diverse and Pembroke is home to the Lumbee, a state-recognized tribe. On the surface, it seemed like North Carolina needed legal help with FEMA appeals in recovering from Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018). We quickly realized, however, that the hurricanes had brought more pervasive issues to the surface. We ended up working on a mobile home park gentrification issue. The research we conducted uncovered that more than 20 of the parks in Robeson County have been bought up by a single company since 2017, and residents are being forced out of their homes with rapidly increasing rents despite homes that remain in very bad shape after the hurricanes. A site visit we conducted at one of the parks really brought the whole thing and the conditions people are forced to live in to life for me.


Credit: Merve Ciplak

The most surprising thing, however, was probably the level of community engagement and organizing that we saw is taking place around gentrification. We attended a regularly-hosted community organizing event where tenants affected by this mobile home park company, community organizers and lawyers come up with solutions.  I’ve been exposed to a number of community organizing events in the Harvard community, but I realized how different these events are when the organizers are members of the impacted community themselves. The mix of frustration, urgency, motivation, and hope in the air was one I had never felt before, with the forty or so attendants sharing their frustrations to come together and lift each other up. The event also laid out the true extents and limits of legal intervention into issues like this; at some point, efforts need to go beyond what the law can provide and are cross-institutional and truly societal.

Working in a local office with people that had incredible ties to and passion for their community was a really great opportunity, especially given that our main supervisor was Lumbee himself. The people we worked with exposed us to so much Southern hospitality and a willingness to share the realities of the community they were a part of, and really made sure we understood the nuances of the environment we were working in. This exposure to the community from the inside is probably the part of my experience that I wouldn’t have been able to acquire any other way, and the most valuable part overall.


Against All Odds at the South Texas Detention Center

By: Krista Oehlke J.D. ‘20

Exit sign for Pearsall

Credit: Krista Oehlke

Most immigrants at the South Texas Detention Center (STDC) in Pearsall, Texas will bide their time, in limbo, for months: they will don prison uniforms, they will go outside and see the light of day only once a week if they are lucky (the detention center is windowless), and they will scour the law library so that they can represent themselves in Immigration Court. Residents at STDC do not have access to the internet; however, reports on current conditions in their home countries serve as vital corroboration for their claims that returning back to their country would be dangerous or fatal. When the residents are finally up for their merits hearing, the judge will call them by a nine-digit number, not by their name, and will scrutinize them from a three-foot-wide television screen. Most immigrants will not have a lawyer. Most will be turned away and returned to their home countries: one of the judges at STDC denies 85 percent of requests for immigration relief. The other, nearly 70 percent.

STDC is a jail. It is white concrete walls edged by razor-wire fences. For spring break, I traveled with seven other students from Boston to Pearsall, Texas to assist the pro se respondents inside. On the first day, we met the team of American Gateways, a nonprofit legal service provider, at 7:00am, and drove the 40 miles south of San Antonio to get to the detention center, the bread and butter of the desolate town of Pearsall and a source of income for Geo Group, the private company who runs it.

My task was to help three women complete their I-589 applications—a form that is used to apply for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture—and provide translation assistance for declarations that support their claims. To provide a contrast, as a student attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC), I represented one client during a school semester, with the help of a supervisor and another student attorney. At Pearsall, I spent a week providing legal services to three respondents.

One woman I met wrote a declaration that was a homage to her father. *Luisa outlines in clear detail her childhood and later teenage years, spending time with her father who campaigned for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. It details the campaign events she attended with her father, and the events leading up to his speaking out against the government. Luisa’s father later dies at the hands of the government. Fearing for her own life, Luisa flees to Mexico. There, she becomes victim to domestic violence and ends up on the streets. As a migrant, she receives little to no state protection and has no choice but to turn herself in at the U.S. border.

Another woman, *Nory, is barely old enough to be inside an adult detention center. As a Garifuna young woman in Honduras, she has faced discrimination all her life. But, she tells me, she fled Honduras because the 18th Street gang was after her and her younger brother. I have to ask her why she thinks the gangs targeted her so that she can establish “nexus”—the legal term used to connect the persecution suffered or feared to any of the five grounds contained in the refugee definition. She cries. Her first hearing is next week. We try to fit her experiences into neat boxes that constitute the five protected grounds for asylum: race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group.

Back in Cambridge, the stories of the brave individuals inside the Pearsall detention center stay with me. The right to asylum has been a part of U.S. law for nearly 40 years, and yet STDC is evidence that our legal commitments are not meted out, especially for immigrants who cross our southern border. Moreover, last year, a decision issued by the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it even more difficult for asylum seekers to obtain relief based on domestic violence or persecution by gangs, causing confusion amongst immigration judges throughout the country and enabling conservative judges, like those in Pearsall, to take a much harder line against asylum seekers.

The result is not only a failure to comply with domestic and international law, but also the U.S. government’s complicity in creating policies that disparately impact Latinx immigrants. We should be ashamed of this period in history. Luisa and Nory should be given a chance. They are instead criminalized for seeking a life free from violence.

*Names anonymized to protect the identity of the individuals.

Older posts