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Animal Law & Policy Program files amicus brief in Supreme Court challenging border wall

via Harvard Law Today

Photo of the front entrance of Langdell Library

The Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on Thursday. By Kathryn S. Kuhar

In early March, Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic filed its first Supreme Court amicus brief  in support of a petition for certiorari by the Center for Biological Diversity. The brief challenged the Trump administration’s waiver of all environmental and other laws in connection with the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The clinic represents as amici curiae the North American Butterfly Association and National Butterfly Center, which operate an important wildlife refuge in the area where the wall is to be built.

The brief argues that construction of the wall without compliance with any of the environmental laws (which include the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act) that would normally apply to such a massive project will have devastating and irreparable impacts on dozens of imperiled species of butterflies, moths, and many other species that rely on this habitat for survival, and it will also destroy a unique, rare, and fragile ecosystem that is already under siege by development and other human encroachments.

The brief was drafted by clinic student Ashley Maiolatesi ’20 and clinical fellow Kate Barnekow ’19Maiolatesi recently corresponded by email with Harvard Law Today about what is at stake, the specific ramifications of these waivers, and her own personal connection to the project.

Harvard Law Today: What is at issue here?

Ashley Maiolatesi: The amicus brief aims to illuminate the struggle that animals, many endangered and unique to the area, will face if the border wall proceeds as planned. Over 40 federal laws, in addition to many state and tribal laws, were waived in order to expedite the building process—that means that there was absolutely no consideration of the impending environmental impacts the border wall will cause. Additionally, there was no consideration of less harmful alternatives or mitigation measures that would have helped to minimize the border wall’s environmental toll.

HLT: In your brief, you write that this wall will be far more harmful than any existing barriers. Can you talk about the ways this structure would be particularly harmful to butterflies and the other animal and plant species that inhabit the area?

Maiolatesi: The border wall as proposed will be a solid structure made from concrete and steel, as opposed to fencing that would allow smaller species to move from one side of the wall to the other. Additionally, the proposed wall will include stadium lighting 24 hours a day/7 days a week, which has been shown to interrupt the migration and breeding patterns of many different pollinators and insects that many in the Rio Grande Valley depend on. Further, the proposed wall will have a much wider “enforcement zone,” which is essentially a clear cut area where pesticides are sprayed and which is patrolled by vehicles traveling at high speeds. All of these factors pose incredible challenges to animals, butterflies, and insects living in the Rio Grande Valley.

HLT: The secretary of Homeland Security has waived federal, state, local and tribal laws to allow the proposed Border Wall to be built quickly. Can you give an example of the types of laws that have been waived and why that’s significant?

Maiolatesi: One of the most impactful laws in this case would have been the National Environmental Protection Act, which requires an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement of the proposed government project. In the assessment, the government is required to consider both less harmful alternatives and possible mitigation measures. Because no assessment was ever performed, we have no way of knowing how truly damaging the wall as proposed will be, or how small changes could have greatly helped the ecology of the surrounding area.

HLT: How did you get involved with this clinic and why is this issue important to you?

Maiolatesi: It is my second semester as a student in Harvard’s Animal Law and Policy Clinic and I was thrilled when our Clinic’s Director, Professor Kathy Meyer, asked me to work on the project as I am from the South and care deeply about the impacts that the proposed border wall will have there. When considering a border wall, environmental and animal issues are not normally the first issues that come to mind, and it was great to be able to bring these issues to light.

Waste not, want not

via Harvard Law Today

by Emily Newburger

man in green shirt holds a box of produce that reads "stay home we deliver"

Delivering food ordered online while in home isolation during quarantine. Stay home we deliver sign on box.

During a pandemic, a lot of things come to a halt, but one thing that never ceases is our need for a reliable supply of safe, nutritious food. Harvard Law School Professor Emily Broad Leib ’08, director of the HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), and her students have been working furiously to ensure that the most vulnerable—and ultimately the rest of us—are fed.

Broad Leib and the clinic have long been a resource for food producers, food-focused nonprofits, government agencies, legislators, policy experts, and other food system stakeholders. But since early March, as the COVID-19 crisis has grown, she and a team of students and clinic staff have worked around the clock, writing briefs aimed at saving tons of food that could feed the hungry, and working to inform the response to COVID-19, including legislation that Congress has been hammering out.

According to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, one in seven Americans relied on food banks to get enough to eat before the pandemic. The clinic is a national leader in policy efforts to prevent food waste and promote food recovery, which it undertakes by partnering to provide legal and policy support to a range of programs that pick up excess food from universities, restaurants, and other organizations and get it to food banks.

As universities suddenly began to move to online learning and close down most campus operations, and many businesses reduced hours or shut their doors, Broad Leib knew this would leave behind excess food. The clinic mobilized quickly to prepare a handout urging organizations not to shutter without passing on food that could feed the hungry, explaining liability protections and tax incentives for food donations, and providing information on where and how to donate food. Many organizations responded, including Harvard Law School, which now has a food donation program in the works.

Broad Leib also understood that the basic problem the clinic has been addressing was about to grow dramatically. “There are already so many people who were in vulnerable situations,” she says. “The crisis has exacerbated food access challenges for those people, and it has added so many more individuals and families in need. Workers are losing jobs, especially those doing hourly work—many, in fact, who work in the food industry. We are going to see a huge increase in people who suddenly need help getting basic needs met, especially food.”

COVID-19 also adds a complex new layer to concerns about food safety. Not only are more people going to need food; they also need safer ways to get it. As the emphasis on the importance of social distancing has increased, new ways must be found to deliver food directly to seniors and immunocompromised individuals in their homes.

In response, the clinic put out a brief with recommendations for federal and state governments, as well as for agencies such as FEMA and the USDA, looking at opportunities under existing government programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, to facilitate food delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. They also have come up with proposals for getting food from food banks and other organizations delivered directly to people’s doors, and for getting Congress to supplement existing community-based food delivery organizations.

This is probably one of the most meaningful projects I have worked on since coming to law school, if not in my life.

Jesse Lazarus ’22

The clinic shared its brief with contacts in Congress on March 23 as the House and Senate, the president, executive agencies, and state governments across the country debated many of these policies. They have been working closely with members of Congress, helping support congressional requests to the USDA to use its authority to support food delivery. The team is also tracking state and local policies to stay on top of the best models for how state and local governments are ensuring vulnerable people stay fed in this crisis.

The brief also encourages investment in a growing number of technology solutions that match food donors to recovery organizations that pick up and deliver the donated foods, such as Food Rescue Hero and Replate.

“We make the point that these technologies can be really responsive to the challenges of the moment,” says Broad Leib, “but most of them have been developed by small nonprofits. Helping them scale up quickly to meet the needs of the growing number of people who need food support is going to require an investment.”

Jesse Lazarus ’22, a student in Broad Leib’s Food Law and Policy seminar, played a major role in preparing this brief, focusing on public-private partnerships, describing existing efforts, and making policy recommendations to expand home delivery. “This is probably one of the most meaningful projects I have worked on since coming to law school, if not in my life,” says Lazarus. “It is an experience I will likely recall for many years to come, as I think back on this incredibly challenging time for the U.S. and the world.”

Broad Leib and the clinic also focused on anticipated new challenges to the food system as a whole, in particular the loss of market access for the many farmers and producers who sell in farmers markets or depend on large purchases by schools and universities. The clinic collaborated with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to propose legislative actions to unlock already appropriated funding to these farmers, and to redirect funds that will be underutilized during this crisis. “Local foods are now a $12 million business in the U.S.,” Broad Leib says. “We don’t want these food producers to go out of business or sell their farms.”

Brianna Johnson-King ’21, a student now in the clinic for her second semester, worked on that brief, researching what flexibility existing statutes allowed. She found, for example, that a statute that supplies vouchers to low-income seniors to purchase food at farmers markets could also allow the government to make bulk purchases directly from farmers for distribution to seniors, a step that could help ensure the money is flowing to small farmers even if farmers markets are closed during COVID-19.

Johnson-King grew up in rural Ohio and has a strong interest in agriculture and the farmer’s perspective. As she researched and wrote for the brief from home, she kept the TV on in the background. The situation worsened from hour to hour as more cities and states announced shutdowns and farmers markets voluntarily closed. She says she felt the pressure: “In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Are we going to get this out in time for Congress to have a chance to act on any of it?’”

The clinic got that brief out by March 23 and followed it up with a companion document for state governments. By March 27, both the Senate and House had passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which includes funding for direct assistance to food producers, and President Trump had signed it into law. “The act does not directly address the changes we recommended; however, it still provides funding for the local and regional producers we aim to help,” Johnson-King says.

Broad Leib believes they are gaining traction. The clinic is involved in ongoing discussions with members of Congress on other aspects of the brief that may find their way into the next relief package. She is also looking ahead to the impact that COVID-19 may have on the food supply chain as a whole. “I don’t intend to cause panic, but I am certainly thinking about that.”

“A lot of the workers harvesting our crops are coming across the border,” says Broad Leib. “We need to be sure that we are keeping them safe and taking care of them. At the same time, we hear that in agriculture and manufacturing, trying to do social distancing and keep workers safe means having fewer people work at one time. That means we will have to be creative about meeting demand.” But Broad Leib also sees opportunities: “This may be the time for us to be more thoughtful about how we are regulating food and compensating and protecting workers—supporting food from farm to fork. If what comes out of this is that we better appreciate the value of the people and the resources that go into producing our food, that will be a silver lining.”

“It’s been a really chaotic and frightening time,” Broad Leib says. “It’s as if everywhere we turn there are ways this crisis is impacting the food system.” She goes on: “I’ve been blown away at the number of our students who have reached out and asked to help, even during spring break. They dove in to this important work while they were also in the midst of moving, transitioning to remote learning, and figuring out their new lives. It’s been amazing. Our students are always amazing, but never more so than in this time.”

See the Food Law and Policy Clinic’s COVID-19 Response website for more information and resources.

HIRC students win deportation relief for East African man

via HIRC blog

Though Massachusetts is far from the Southern border, many immigrants are still detained across the state. Until recently, one of those detainees was John*, a man who was tortured in his home country in East Africa. John ended up in detention because certain criminal convictions triggered the deportation process and eventually led his case to the Clinic. HIRC students Michael Hur ’20, Sarah Libowsky ’20, and Eun Sung Yang ’20 were assigned to the case, working under the supervision of HIRC’s Director Sabi Ardalan and Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata.

John’s clinical team began by meeting with Crimmigration Clinic students Niku Jafarnia ’20 and Krista Oehlke ’20, who used their knowledge of the criminal and immigration systems to determine what immigration protections John would be eligible for. Because of the nature of some of John’s convictions, he was barred from asylum and withholding of removal. Ultimately, John’s legal team concluded that his best option would be to pursue deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Having determined what relief was available to John, Michael and Eun Sung began to build a case. However, because John was detained, they were unable to communicate by phone, which meant three-hour round trip drives to visit their client in person at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Not only did working with a detained client mean long days of travel, but detention also created additional challenges to representation. Like many clients who come to HIRC, John had faced persecution and violence in his home country. He was detained and tortured as a young child and suffered from severe trauma as a result of these experiences. This lasting trauma often made discussions necessary to build his case very difficult to navigate.

“Although a necessary part of preparing his case, recounting his childhood experiences to us in detail retriggered his trauma, which caused him to lose his appetite and to develop insomnia,” Michael explained. HIRC clinical social worker Liala Buoniconti traveled with the team to the detention center to help provide support, but John, like many detained individuals, was still unable to access the medical and mental health services he so desperately needed.

“There were times when his trauma symptoms compromised his ability to remember key details, to recount his story, and to process and understand fully what we were explaining to him,” Michael added. This was particularly difficult because, in order to be granted deferral of removal under CAT, the students had to prove that it would be more than likely than not (greater than 50%) that John would be tortured if returned to his home country. By comparison, asylum-seekers need to demonstrate only a 10% likelihood of persecution.

Yet despite facing these numerous obstacles, the students continued to work to build the best possible case for John. “I would often leave meetings feeling upset that we could leave Plymouth but our client could not, but also feeling more motivated to fight for our client’s release from detention,” said Sarah. After numerous meetings with John and many hours spent compiling supporting documents and expert testimony, the students submitted an over-700 page filing. Two weeks later, John and his legal team arrived at the Boston Immigration Court for his merits hearing. Both Eun Sung and Michael described the hearing as a highlight of their experience working on the case.

“The hearing provided a great opportunity to see our client share his story so powerfully in court and to observe (alongside a multitude of students, attorneys, and volunteers who had worked on the case) how the semester’s work could support him and help shape the hearing,” Eun Sung said. Both John and his supporters were overjoyed when the judge granted John deferral of removal. After so many hours of hard work and preparation, their client was now finally going to be released from detention.

“There were several nights when I had trouble sleeping because I was worried about our client getting deported, which very likely meant torture or even death,” Michael recalled. “When the judge finally gave us her oral decision, my immediate reaction was to clutch the client’s hand and smile.”

Detention is a painful and dehumanizing experience for many of our clients, especially for those like John who have mental health needs that are rarely met in detention facilities. We are relieved that John can now begin to access the support he needs to build a secure life in the United States.

*Name has been changed to respect client confidentiality. 

Thanks to HIRC staff Sabi Ardalan, Liala Buoniconti, Phil Torrey, and Cindy Zapata for their supervision of this case. Thanks also to HIRC & Crimmigration clinical students Michael Hur ’20, Niku Jafarnia ’20, Sarah Libowsky ’20, Krista Oehlke ’20, and Eun Sung Yang ’20 for their hard work.

Emily Broad Leib talks Food Law and COVID-19

via Food Tank

Emily Broad Leib talks Food Law and COVID-19

Today on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Dani interviews Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School & Director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law & Policy Clinic, about protecting and promoting better wages for food workers in the COVID-19 crisis. “If part of what comes from this is that we realize all the people who are handling the food from the beginning on the farm to the end of the chain are really vital. We need to treat them better, pay them better, give them benefits,” says Broad Leib. 

You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunesStitcherGoogle Play MusicSpotify, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.

Cravath Fellows pursue research and independent clinicals around the world

via Harvard Law Today

by Audrey Kunycky

2020 Cravath Fellows (from left) Bryce urgwyn ’21, Layla Wehbe ’21, Sean Rail ’20, and Madhulika Srikumar LL.M. ’20. standing with their hands folded in front of them in the WCC lobby.

The 2020 Cravath Fellows include (from left) Bryce Burgwyn ’21, Layla Wehbe ’21, Sean Rail ’20, and Madhulika Srikumar LL.M. ’20.

In 2020, 12 Harvard Law School students were selected as Cravath International Fellows. During Winter Term, they traveled to 12 countries and jurisdictions to pursue independent clinical placements or research projects with an international, transnational, or comparative law focus. Four of these students describe their experiences.

Bryce Burgwyn ’21

Bryce Burgwyn ’21

Bryce Burgwyn ’21. Credit: Lorin Granger

Bryce Burgwyn spent Winter Term in Palau, pursuing an independent clinical with its Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism. Before law school, Burgwyn served for eight years in the U.S Coast Guard, where she became involved in a variety of environmental issues. When she was stationed in Guam, she had an opportunity to visit Palau, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, about 950 miles west of the Philippines. “I really fell in love with it,” she recalls. “It’s an incredibly beautiful place, with a heavy dependence on tourism. I came to law school because of my interest in environmental issues, and when I learned about the international opportunities over Winter Term, I jumped at the chance to go back to learn more about their approach to environmental protection.”

For her Winter Term project, Burgwyn drafted regulations to implement a recently enacted ban on reef-toxic sunscreens. There are similar bans in progress in different parts of the world—Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Key West—but Palau’s is the first to take effect, and the most aggressive. “This sunscreen law is only a tiny piece of their overall effort toward environmental protection,” she explains. “It doesn’t seem like they encounter a lot of the same stumbling blocks that we see in other parts of the world—perhaps because of their small size, or the extreme importance that tourism has for their economy, but it also seems like a cultural value. It’s impressive to see this.”

In consultation with her supervising attorney, Burgwyn identified the issues that the regulations would need to address; they also consulted with scientists, tourism officials and customs officers. “One of the first steps in my process was to determine exactly what sunscreen ingredients should be banned, which led to another challenge: Palau’s tourists come from many regions, each with different labeling requirements and approved ingredients for sunscreens. We found that they fell into classes of chemicals with similar characteristics, some of which had already been shown to be reef-toxic in one way or another. I’ve never used my undergraduate degree in environmental science so much, but it meant that I was already fluent in the language of chemical names and structures,” Burgwyn says with a laugh. But on a serious note, her research, combined with the need to provide customs officers with a simple, straightforward way to distinguish between reef-toxic and safe sunscreens, led her to recommend a strong, precautionary ban on all chemical ingredients except zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Her courses at HLS in legislation and regulation and administrative law were also relevant. “I’ve read a lot of regulations, but I’ve never written one before, so finding the right words to say exactly what we meant, in a way that everybody would understand and nobody would misunderstand, was definitely a process of workshopping every sentence. Having gone through the kind of statutory interpretation that we learn in class, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know that it would be so involved.”

At HLS this spring, Burgwyn is enrolled in an advanced environmental law class; this summer, she will undertake internships at Earthjustice in Seattle and the Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section in Boston. “I know that I want to pursue environmental law, but I’m really interested in having as many experiences as I can and seeing different practice types,” she notes. “The possibilities definitely include working overseas, and seeing how a government lawyer’s job works in a small government, and how much responsibility they can take on, would attract me to that kind of work in the future.”

Sean Rail ’20

Sean Rail ’20

Sean Rail ’20. Credit: Lorin Granger

Sean Rail traveled to Ethiopia during Winter Term, to examine the potential for using mini-grids for rural electrification. A mini-grid is “essentially a distribution grid that is separate from the main transmission system,” he explains; the one he visited served about 100 households. Mini-grids pool the costs of battery storage, installation and maintenance, creating the economies of scale needed to make the technology affordable. In Ethiopia, they are most often financed by the government and operated by the state-owned utility, but a small number are owned and operated by private companies with the help of substantial foreign aid funding.

“The energy situation in Ethiopia first interested me when I considered that, despite the country’s impressive economic growth over the past decade, the vast majority of Ethiopians still engage in subsistence farming. For a country with a long history of cyclical famines, this is dangerous, especially given that the region is likely to face increasingly unpredictable weather through the effects of climate change,” he observes. “This then led me to a consider the link between economic development and access to electricity, and a second paradox: the country has extremely low rates of electrification yet a massive amount of untapped renewable resources.” With the construction of the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, near its border with Sudan, “Ethiopia will soon have all the electricity it needs, but not enough places to put it, and currently electricity consumption is so low in rural areas that there is no economic incentive (or resources) to build transmission lines to reach those populations.” Ethiopia has an ambitious goal of universal electrification by 2025, and is relying on off-grid technologies to deliver the power, and private investment to build the infrastructure.

In Ethiopia, Rail conducted interviews with regulators, the lead policy advisor to the Minister of Energy, NGOS involved in energy development, private mini-grid operators, and mini-grid customers, and reviewed documents, including draft proclamations, only available in Addis Ababa. Originally, he planned to focus his research on the regulatory challenges involved in integrating mini-grids into Ethiopia’s larger transmission system, but “it became clear that this was only one of many issues that shaped the investment environment for mini-grids, and was likely having very little impact on investment decisions at the moment,” he explains. As a result, he broadened his research goals, ultimately identifying four regulatory issues that impede investment—the very low, government-mandated tariff paid by consumers, the licensing process, a ban on foreign ownership of mini-grids, and a trade imbalance that makes it extremely difficult for foreign companies to repatriate profits. Using a comparative lens, he has also examined how mini-grid operators and regulators in other countries have addressed similar issues.

“I knew coming to law school that I wanted to work with renewable energy,” Rail notes. At HLS, he has enrolled in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, a reading group on powering the U.S. electric grid, and an autonomous vehicles and local government lab, where his project focused on using autonomous vehicles as “mobile batteries” to transmit their unused power through a city or region. He has also undertaken internships with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, where he was exposed to complex litigation involving off-shore wind and nuclear power.

“This was the first time that I was able to apply my knowledge of energy law to international development, and I hope that my paper will be a useful tool for future policymakers,” he adds. After graduation, Rail will join Milbank LLP in New York and hopes to work in the firm’s Project Finance group, which handles utility-scale renewable energy projects around the world. “The deeper understanding of energy development I gained from my time in Ethiopia will enrich my perspective,” he predicts.

Madhulika Srikumar LL.M. ’20

Madhu Srikumar ’20

Madhu Srikumar ’20. Credit: Lorin Granger

Madhulika Srikumar spent Winter Term in Berlin, Germany, conducting an independent clinical with the Digital Freedom Fund, an NGO that supports strategic litigation on digital rights. She notes that her interest in technology, law and policy—and her connection to HLS—reach back to her law studies at Gujarat National Law University in India: one of her first scholarly publications was a prize-winning case study written for a student writing competition sponsored by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and published by the Center in 2016. Before she arrived at HLS, Srikumar examined cyber governance in emerging economies as a public interest technology fellow at New America in Washington, D.C. and as an associate fellow and program coordinator at one of Asia’s largest think tanks in New Delhi.

Her Winter Term work focused on providing resources to support strategic litigation against the use of artificial intelligence or algorithms when they infringe on an individual’s human rights. As an example of this approach, a Dutch court recently ruled that the government’s use of an algorithm-based system to identify people who may be at high risk for committing benefits fraud conflicts with EU human rights and privacy protections.

“AI doesn’t have to be incredibly advanced, but it can still be incredibly biased, especially against marginalized communities,” she explains. The jury is still out on what causes this problem; in some cases, “algorithmic tools are adopted and used by state agencies and the private sector with little or no transparency, accountability and oversight, and algorithms can often operate in ways unintended by those developing or deploying them.”

While there have been some cases in the U.S. challenging the use of automated decision-making systems, the European Union has made a more concerted effort.  When its General Data Protection Regulation was enacted in 2018, “it was really clear that they wanted to prioritize user rights,” Srikumar observes. It’s an issue of transparency: “If someone is using a machine in place of a human in any kind of decision-making, you have a right to know.” For this reason, “any fundamental reimagination of existing laws or comprehensive regulation on AI and human rights will most likely emanate from the EU.”

In Berlin, Srikumar worked with the Fund’s legal advisor to frame and design the scope for a toolkit, for lawyers, technologists, data scientists, and digital rights activists, that will provide an overview of various government and private uses of AI and the human rights that could potentially be affected. She began her work by conducting an extensive literature review to identify current trends in scholarship. “I found that reading these papers allowed me to understand an entirely new vocabulary on bias, classification and opacity in data,” she notes. Srikumar also participated in interviews with attorneys and technologists, including a lawyer in New York who is challenging the state’s use of pre-trial risk assessment tools, and analyzed the results of surveys that the Fund has undertaken.

Srikumar served last fall as a research assistant to Jessica Fjeld, the assistant director of the Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, working with her on a report on “Principal Artificial Intelligence” that was published by the Berkman Klein Center in January. Fjeld also served as Srikumar’s faculty adviser for her Winter Term project, and Srikumar is quick to acknowledge the “tremendous support” that she received.

Her Winter Term project was “a chance to make connections and to see, up front, what the organization does. I have a better idea of what having a career in AI policy and AI rights actually entails,” Srikumar adds. That is exactly what she hopes to pursue after graduation, possibly at a think tank, an advocacy organization, or on a tech company’s policy team.

Layla Wehbe ’21

Layla Wehbe ’21

Layla Wehbe ’21. Credit: Lorin Granger

Layla Wehbe traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, for an independent clinical with Legal Action Worldwide, an NGO which provides legal advice and representation on human rights violations in conflict-affected areas; its Lebanon project focuses on women’s rights, “something I care deeply about, especially coming from a family of really strong Texas women,” Wehbe says. Before law school, she has spent time living and studying in Beirut, so when protests erupted in Lebanon last fall, “I wanted to be on the ground, to be in touch with people doing the good work,” she recalls. In planning her Winter Term, Wehbe reached out to advisers at HLS and to alumni working in Lebanon, and was connected to Terry Flyte LL.M. ’19, currently a Satter Fellow in Human Rights at Legal Action Worldwide. Wehbe admits that her initial excitement turned to nervousness, as family members in Lebanon told her about closed roads, limited access to banking, and a rise in petty crime. In the end, “I never felt unsafe,” she notes, citing the regular updates she received from Harvard’s Global Support Services and from the organization’s security officer.

Initially, Wehbe expected to assist the organization with trainings and advocacy relating to a series of labor reform laws that were due to be announced in January, but the upheaval in Lebanon’s government derailed that project, and she worked with her supervisor to devise a new work plan.

Among other projects, Wehbe conducted comparative research to find examples of countries in the Middle East/North Africa region who have amended or abolished discriminatory laws surrounding child marriage, domestic violence and divorce. “I learned that Saudi Arabia, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in recent years have outlawed child marriage and increased the rights of women in divorce proceedings,” she reports, but notes that Lebanon lags behind. She also began the process of identifying source law for international law arguments against child marriage, reviewing all of the human rights treaties that Lebanon is a party to, and reading the Lebanese penal code, in Arabic. Her research will inform the work that Legal Action Worldwide is undertaking, including efforts to draft legislation to amend Lebanon’s penal and civil procedure codes and to work with Lebanese civil rights lawyers on strategic litigation to challenge discriminatory laws.

Wehbe studied Arabic as an undergraduate and during her earlier studies in Beirut, and notes that she her language skills were critical to the success of her project. In addition to reading documents in Arabic, she communicated with most of her coworkers in a mix of Arabic and English.

She also had exposure to Lebanon’s religious courts, one for each of 18 major denominations. Every denomination has different rules about child marriage. In some, “it is perfectly legal for parents to enter into a marriage contract for their child, or to exchange goods for their child,” and although some denominations have increased these ages recently, “in some instances, parents can marry off a girl as young as nine years old or a boy as young as twelve,” she adds. “One of the biggest arguments that I see against child marriage is that it inhibits your right to education. You lose a lot of agency when you marry, and have children, that young.”

Wehbe’s Winter Term work has led her to rethink her HLS course selections, and possibly her future plans. “At least while I’m in law school, I want to take all the opportunities I can to think about international and comparative law,” she notes. She will spend this summer at Vinson & Elkins in Houston, where she will have an opportunity to pursue a firm-sponsored public service fellowship, and she may also apply for a postgraduate fellowship in human rights, either of which might bring her back to Lebanon or to another placement with Legal Action Worldwide.

The Cravath International Fellowships were created in 2007 by a group of partners and HLS alumni at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, led by Sam Butler ’54 and the late Robert Joffe ’67.

Expect More Litigation Over IRS Penalty Approval Rules

via Bloomberg Tax

by Aysha Bagchi

Street view of the front of the IRS headquarters in Washington.

The U.S. Tax Court is grappling with a legal requirement governing penalties issued by the IRS. Above, the agency’s headquarters in Washington. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Courts are likely to continue examining a requirement that IRS employees get their boss to OK penalty decisions before they are presented to taxpayers, even after the U.S. Tax Court issued a recent string of opinions addressing the issue.

The Tax Court’s 2017 ruling in Graev v. Commissioner interpreted tax code Section 6751(b) as requiring the IRS to obtain supervisory approval in a tax deficiency case by the time it imposes related tax penalties.

Since January, the Tax Court has grappled with multiple aspects of the requirement, trying to establish the exact point in the process when the requirement must be met and which penalties need approval. But recent wins for the agency on large penalty amounts are likely to be appealed and the approval issue is expected to continue to come up in new cases.

Frank Agostino, who represented the petitioners in Graev, told Bloomberg Tax his firm is working on more cases at the Tax Court tied to the approval requirement. Agostino mentioned three specific cases his firm is litigating before the Tax Court, including Grajales v. Commisoner, which questions whether the penalty for taking early withdrawals from qualified retirement plans is subject to Section 6751(b) approval requirements.

“Everyday we find another issue,” said Agostino, founder and president of Agostino & Associates P.C. in Hackensack, N.J.

The court’s interpretation of these issues is significant for the IRS because it can lose out on penalties if judges rule the agency failed to get approval when it should have or got approval too late in the process. The IRS collected billions in accuracy-related penalties from individuals, estates, and trusts in fiscal 2018, according to the IRS’s most recent databook.

Appeals on Divisive Issue

Potential appeals of two recent decisions involving the same legal question—what constitutes an “initial determination” when it comes to assessing whether the IRS got supervisory approval on time—may be the most closely watched going forward.

Eight Tax Court judges signed onto the lead opinion in January 6’s Belair Woods, LLC v. Commissioner, holding that the initial determination occurs when the IRS “formally” notifies a taxpayer of its decision to impose penalties.

But the remaining eight judges disagreed either with the concrete outcome in the case or on whether the initial determination is always the first formal communication of the penalty decision—in this case marked by a 60-day letter informing a partnership of its right to appeal the penalty decision.

The decision from the eight lead judges in Belair was also applied in Tribune Media Co. v. Commissioner to uphold penalties against the Chicago Cubs holding company and former Cubs part-owner Tribune Media Co. In that case, Tribune was hit with a nearly $72.7 million penalty.

“My odds are that both the taxpayers in Belair Woods and Tribune Media will appeal,” said Bryan Camp, a former IRS lawyer who is now a professor at the Texas Tech School of Law.

Waiting for More

In each case, the Tax Court has further issues to resolve before the parties could appeal a final judgment.

Belair Woods LLC unsuccessfully sought an interlocutory appeal, which would have paused the Tax Court’s consideration of the remaining issues to allow for an appeal.

“Given the divided decision of the Tax Court, we think it would be appropriate for an appellate court to review the Tax Court’s decision on the 6751(b) issue and determine whether the standard established by the majority opinion is consistent with the statute and Congress’s intent,” said Michelle Abroms Levin, a shareholder at Sirote & Permutt PC, which represents Belair Woods.

An attorney at Mayer Brown LLP, which represents Tribune Media Co. and the Chicago Cubs holding company, declined to comment when asked if an appeal is planned in that case.

If appealed, Belair Woods would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, while Tribune Media would head to the Seventh Circuit.

The fact that all the judges weighed in on the Belair decision increases the chances that it will get reversed, according to T. Keith Fogg, director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

“When you look at fully reviewed opinions that get appealed, they get reversed more than other Tax Court opinions that have also been appealed because they’re controversial—they’re close questions,” Fogg told Bloomberg Tax.

Other recent penalty approval cases that could be appealed include: Laidlaw’s Harley Davidson Sales, Inc. v. Comm’rChadwick v. Comm’r; and Carter v. Comm’r.

“I expect appeals in every case the taxpayers have lost involving 6751(b) where the taxpayers are represented by counsel,” said Carlton M. Smith, who formerly directed the Carodozo School of Law’s tax clinic and now is a retired volunteer at Harvard Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

For International Women’s Day, Harvard Law School honored a host of women nominated by members of the HLS community. Poster stands on the first floor of Wasserstein Hall showcased their achievements. Congratulations to our clinicians who were honored.

profile photo of Nnenna Odim


“Nnena Odim is an attorney, teacher, mediator, trainer, and consultant. Odim began her career at Harvard Law School in 1997 in the Law School’s first-in-the-nation AIDS Law Clinic. Today she leads the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic at The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, which is a critical resource to victims of domestic violence, most of whom are people of color and many of whom are immigrants, and a phenomenal learning experience for countless students. In addition to her contributions as a community advocate through the Clinics, Odim has worked with the Harvard Mediation Program and Harvard Program on Negotiation to provide training for students and various community members. Odim also designed and led numerous conflict management training programs for several businesses and agencies, including Coca Cola Enterprises, the Boston Public Schools, and the Massachusetts Housing Authority. In 2013, Odim was a Top Woman in the Law award recipient from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. In 2015, she received the Harvard Law School Dean’s Award for Excellence.”


profile photo of Toby Merrill


“Toby Merrill, JD’11, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, is a visionary public interest advocate. She is the Founder and Director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. Under Merrill’s inspiring leadership, the project has shaped the field and become the preeminent advocate for low-income students who have been defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges. Individual clients are eager to put their trust in Merrill because they can see in her genuine compassion and humility combined with unparalleled expertise and talent. Through trailblazing litigation strategies that have produced national headlines, Merrill and her colleagues in the Project combat the massive fraud perpetrated against students and taxpayers by for-profit colleges and oppose the government policies that enable the predatory industry to cheat students. Moreover Merrill is an inspiring clinical teacher. She has trained and mentored a new generation of consumer law advocates who are carrying forward the torch of public interest advocacy.”

Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic Fight Against Border Wall in Amicus Brief

via The Harvard Crimson

by Kelsey J. Griffin

Photo of the front entrance of Langdell Library

The Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on Thursday. By Kathryn S. Kuhar

The Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on Thursday supporting a Center for Biological Diversity-led challenge to the Trump administration’s wall along the Mexico-United States border.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition for certiorari on Jan. 31, asking the Supreme Court to review six decisions by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which allowed the Trump administration to waive over 40 federal laws that would slow down the construction of a border wall.

The Law School clinic represents the North American Butterfly Association and the National Butterfly Center — who manage a refuge along the border — as amici curiae in the case. Their brief claims the waivers DHS approved subvert laws that protect endangered species such as butterflies and moths.

“This includes irreparably harming dozens of rare animal and plant species that inhabit the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and forever destroying the already extremely fragile ecosystems on which they depend,” the brief reads.

Law Student Ashley Maiolatesi said the proposed border wall will differ from the barriers previously in place and could harm animals living in the area.

“It’s going to be made of steel and metal and be completely solid, and it’s going to have stadium lighting around the top and so that affects a lot of animals in their migration patterns and how they breed and travel and all sorts of things like that,” Maiolatesi said in an interview.

“Anything that is like a terrestrial animal — like the endangered ocelot that lives in that area — it can’t obviously get past this 36-foot high wall,” she added. “That is a huge issue because these animals are already so endangered.”

Maiolatesi also said constructing the wall would necessitate clearing land on either side of the border. The amicus brief describes the proposal for this 150-feet-wide clear-cut area as an “enforcement 10 zone” and claims it would destroy an estimated 20 miles of habitat for each mile of the wall built.

“That eliminates over 13,000 acres of viable habitat along the Rio Grande Valley right now,” she said.

The brief mentions additional concerns about the proposed wall, including the lack of a sloped escape route for animals in the case of fire or flood and an increase in danger, pollution, and erosion due to high-speed patrol vehicles.

Maiolatesi said the Law School clinic hopes to raise awareness about the alleged lack of research into the potential consequences of the proposed wall.

“None of the environmental assessments or any paperwork was filed on what these ramifications would be if these changes to the law were made,” she said. “We wanted to really bring to light the animal aspects, and how this was going to be affecting animals in the area throughout the United States and Mexico.”

Reflecting on my Independent Clinical in Switzerland

by Caroline Shinkle ’20

Caroline Shinkle spent the 2020 and 2019 winter terms at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland. At the BIS, she engaged in stimulating and impactful work surrounding tokenization of assets and distributed ledger technology-based securities settlement.


It was a fantastic experience returning to Basel this J-term. Last winter, I conducted an independent clinical with the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, and this past January, I engaged in an independent clinical with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub. While in Basel this J-term, my mission was to provide legal analysis of the various legal issues surrounding distributed ledger technology (DLT) application to the financial sector. Specifically, I focused on investigating the legal issues associated with tokenization of assets and DLT-based securities settlement.


My work was very timely, as many stakeholders at the BIS are very interested and engaged in fintech developments and the potential implications for the global financial system. The BIS Innovation Hub is spearheading these efforts; thus, it was very exciting to work with the group that is on the ground floor of exploring these new technologies and endeavoring to understand how these innovations can be leveraged to promote central bank missions around the world. In addition, because there has been relatively little progress in the development of legal frameworks for these new systems and technologies, it was extremely fulfilling and rewarding to have the opportunity to work in this space and provide insight into potential best practices from a legal perspective.


My independent clinical this year has once again highlighted the importance of the BIS’s work. When working here, one feels as though they are part of a larger mission that transcends geographic boundaries. I was excited to have been a member of the BIS’s team and to arrive to work each day to help take on some of the key challenges facing the global financial system. The work matters, and it is refreshing to feel as though you are having an impact.


I see an opportunity for transformational change in the financial sector through some of these new fintech developments. However, legal uncertainties and complications abound with respect to their adoption. How our policymakers and regulators choose to resolve (or not) these questions will have great consequences for the future. Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, I, too, may be in a position to weigh in on some of these questions. Until then, I look forward to learning as much as possible about these issues.


VA unlawfully turned away vulnerable veterans for decades, study says, with 400,000 more at risk

via Washington Post

by Alex Horton

Dwayne Smith, seen in Afghanistan in 2009, was issued an other-than-honorable discharge in 2012. (Dwayne Smith)

Dwayne Smith, seen in Afghanistan in 2009, was issued an other-than-honorable discharge in 2012. (Dwayne Smith)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has for decades unlawfully turned away thousands of veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, rendering some of the most vulnerable veterans invisible and desperate for help, according to a study released Thursday.


Systemic misunderstanding of the law within VA about which veterans it should care for — and which should be denied services — has triggered improper mass denial of care since 1980, the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School said in the study, leaving an estimated 400,000 more at risk of never gaining access to health care they may have earned.


The discharges, given for misconduct that can range from drug use to insubordination but not proved in court, are colloquially known as “bad paper” for the lifetime of negative consequences they can have.


Experts and advocates have called for VA to properly assess eligibility shown to save lives. Veterans outside the VA system kill themselves at a higher rate than veterans who received recent VA care, the agency has said, and mental health care for veterans with bad paper can lower the risk of suicide, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found last year.


VA declined to say whether it unlawfully denied care to veterans.


Generally, other-than-honorable discharges make it less likely that veterans will qualify for VA services. But the agency is required by law to accept applications, look for mitigating circumstances that could grant them services, issue written decisions and provide appeal information to veterans.


It didn’t happen that way for Dwayne Smith, a Marine Corps veteran who served as an engineer equipment operator in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province in 2009. He returned with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and his best friend died in his sleep days after they came home.


“That was one thing that changed me,” Smith, 31, told The Washington Post. His standing in his unit suffered, culminating in an unauthorized absence he used to go home to visit his mother, who was dying of cancer, he said.


Senior leaders offered him a way out as his enlistment neared its end: Take an other-than-honorable discharge or risk a dishonorable discharge later. He saw it as a plea bargain to be with his mother, and in 2012, he left the Marine Corps with bad paper.


Months later, unmoored and in need of care, Smith drifted to VA in search of help. A front-line worker at the Brockton VA outside of Boston looked over his discharge paperwork and sent him away without documenting his visit, he said. Multiple denials followed during the next two years.


“I was supposed to be able to turn to them,” Smith, now an athletic trainer for children, said of VA.

His experience is emblematic of the struggles of many of the half-million veterans issued other-than-honorable discharges since 1980, when certain eligibility requirements began to apply, said Dana Montalto, an attorney for the law clinic and co-author of the report.


Many veterans are simply given a verbal denial, while others are told incorrectly that the only solution is to go back to the Pentagon to try to get their discharge upgraded.


VA could not produce numbers for how many eligibility decisions it has made involving bad paper. The legal clinic estimated the number was around 100,000.

“VA has done more outreach to other-than-honorable former service members in the last few years than ever before,” VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci said Wednesday, which includes a call center launched in December to contact veterans who left the military in the past year, including those with bad paper.

VA also sent 444,487 letters sent to veterans with bad paper describing some mental-health benefits granted in 2017.


However, VA pulled their home addresses from Pentagon records — information that could be decades old for a Vietnam or Gulf War veteran, for instance, who may have used a parent or guardian’s address at the time of enlistment.


The result: 2,580 veterans with other-than-honorable discharges received care at VA in 2018, the agency said in a blog post last year, one day after a reporter in Seattle detailed the case of a veteran denied care.


“That is horrifically low by any measure,” said Kris Goldsmith, the associate director for policy and government affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America. “It shows how unserious VA’s leadership is in getting these guys and gals into the system.”

It is impossible to know how many veterans VA has turned away without evaluations, Montalto said.


In one case detailed in the study, a Vietnam veteran who left with bad paper suffered from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder for 50 years after he was incorrectly told he was ineligible for VA care. An attorney working on his case helped him win the benefits he earned, the report said.


Internal guidance from the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center on how to assess other-than-honorable discharges. (Dana Montalto)

Internal guidance from the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center on how to assess other-than-honorable discharges. (Dana Montalto)

Much of the confusion comes from inside VA, the report found, after records requests revealed guidance for staff that was wrong or incomplete at VA facilities across the country.


The Pittsburgh VA Medical Center used a clip art image of a thumbs-down to describe other-than-honorable discharges, implying they are a non-starter. VA’s hospital in El Paso incorrectly told a veteran that only honorable and general discharges lead to VA care, the study said. Those cases contradict other guidance VA has provided.

In 2017, VA allowed veterans with bad paper to use VA services in mental-health emergencies, and a law expanded that coverage a year later.

For tracking purposes, the legal clinic characterized bad paper as any discharge besides those considered honorable. Some of the categories — dishonorable and bad conduct — can be the result of serious crimes in uniform. But others, like in Smith’s case, are administrative actions enforced by a commander, not a judge or jury in a military court.


Often, they are infractions that mushroom from physical or mental wounds, such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol after combat or sexual assault. From 2011 to 2015, the drawdown period from the highest troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than half of the 91,764 troops separated for misconduct were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries before discharge, the Government Accountability Office found.

They can also be the result of discrimination — the study found that more than 100,000 veterans in the LGBT community left the military with bad paper from the end of World War II until 2011, when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed.


After a five-year battle, Smith ultimately won his appeal and received VA care and compensation in 2018 for his traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. And that was only after Montalto represented him pro bono.

“That was the biggest win,” he said, “to walk into VA with my head held high.”

From clinical student to clinical instructor

via Berkman Klein Center

photo of Kenra Albert sitting on a bench on a porch

The 2019–2020 academic year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Cyberlaw Clinic, which is based at the Berkman Klein Center. To commemorate the occasion, we spoke with Kendra Albert (Harvard Law J.D. ‘16), clinical instructor in the Cyberlaw Clinic and former student in the Clinic about their takeaways from that experience, their current work, and what they’re the proudest of in their time at the Clinic.

Responses have been edited for clarity.

When you were a student at the Cyberlaw Clinic, what projects did you work on and who did you work on them with?

Vivek Krishnamurthy was my supervisor and I worked on a project for him related to computer security and rolling out changes to the clinical IT system at HLS. I also did some work for a tech policy NGO hacking back and computer security. And then I did some trademark work with Andy Sellars. All of those things were fun, and it was a really interesting mix of things. The clinical IT project was internal advising, thinking about how the university should handle things. And then the other work was for real-life clients, which was exciting.

I think I also learned about section 1101 of the Copyright Act and the Beijing Treaty, which is the anti-bootlegging statute — which basically, I think that my takeaway was, no one’s ever heard of this and that’s probably good. Because if they’d had, lots of people would sue with it. So that was a valuable lesson into maybe you don’t need to teach people more about any particular thingMaybe it’s just good that sometimes people don’t know a ton about it. But now I’m talking about it. So, oops.

What were your main takeaways from working in the Clinic, in terms of your career trajectory?

I worked for the Clinic spring of my 3L year, so by then, I was pretty certain of what I wanted to do. But it was valuable to have the opportunity to do real legal work for clients. And so I think the projects that resonated with me the most when I was working in the Clinic were the ones where it’s like, “Okay, this real client needs this real thing involving trademark or so on and so forth.” That’s something I take into my work with students now — the unique opportunity of clinics is to take things out of the research, academic thinking and to, “Okay, this client needs this real thing.”

And so I actually err, maybe even more so than the other supervisors in the Clinic right now, towards focusing on projects where the person has a particular legal need rather than more broad research or policy projects. Because I know that as a student that was something that was really important to me. And student investment in the work is quite different when it’s, “Oh, I need to answer legal questions because I need to figure out what I need to do next,” rather than, “Well let’s blue-sky think about how we should approach this entire field.”

I’m continually trying to find ways to give my students now those direct client experiences that allow them to have that same reaction. Which is, “I can actually help people solve problems,” rather than, “This is an academic exercise.” I think that’s what’s special about the Clinic as opposed to other parts of the Law School — is that you have the opportunity to both do focused technology law work, and to serve clients who have particular legal needs.

How did working in the Clinic help you to kind of come full circle, back to working at the Clinic as a Clinical Instructor?

I certainly think my application for being a clinical instructor was a better sell having been in the Clinic, and knowing Chris [Bavitz], and Vivek [Krishnamurthy] and the rest of the team. I also think my time in the Clinic inspired me to think that, oh, this is something I could be — a supervisor, I could do this. It wasn’t that long before I came back! It was maybe a year and a half between when I was a clinical student and when I started teaching. That was only possible because I had a significant amount of technology law experience before I took the Clinic.

So I think that that experience of being in the Clinic, and learning about how the Clinic functions, and what the expectations are, and what the Clinic was trying to do, did mean that when the clinic job opened up, I was really excited about it. And it ended up being a fantastic fit so that worked out really well.

What is your area of focus and what do you work on with your students?

I’ve stolen my former boss’s phrase — I’m a militant generalist. I do a little bit of everything. That’s actually part of what I like about the job, sometimes you’re an hour and a half ahead of the students. And that’s how real lawyering is a lot. Something comes in, and you have to figure out how to do it because you’ve never done it before.

In terms of my specific area of focus, I really like to work on things that are technically complicated. So I do a lot of work with computer security for clients like Voting Village. I do a lot of work with software preservation for folks like the Software Preservation Network. Both of those are areas where there are technical details and they matter. It turns out, actually, a bunch of the same law applies to those two things. But even independent of that, I really like getting into the weeds and the nitty-gritty of how the factual details work.

Fact-specific stuff is where I really feel like I excel and it’s a great opportunity for the students. They can do that work for the first time, or one of the first times, in a space that’s a little safer than your first job out of law school, or even a summer job where you’re hoping to get an offer or you want to come back to the organization. So I see my job as getting folks comfortable with the idea that they have to become subject matter experts, not just on the legal research, but also on the case, the underlying facts, the entire area.

I also do a bit of First Amendment work across a whole variety of different things. Everything from Freedom of Information Act work to representing an individual using a pseudonym who gets subpoenaed for their information. And that’s actually something I started doing. I was interested in it in law school and did an independent clinical where I worked at Public Citizen with Paul Alan Levy, and that’s a significant part of what he does.

My areas of focus are pretty broad, but so are the substantive set of skills I practice. Many lawyers sort of pick between transactional work or litigation, but instead, as a militant generalist — I do a little bit of everything. I don’t spend a lot of time in court though. Almost all of my litigation work is defense side pre-litigation counseling. So people often ask if I end up in court and the answer is hopefully not. (Knock on wood!) Because usually, that would mean that something’s gone wrong for my clients. But if someone receives a cease and desist letter, we’ll help them figure out how to respond. That’s what I focus on and work on.

Thinking about your tenure at the Clinic, from a student to now, what are you the proudest of?

The easy answer would be “I’m proud of this particular work product or whatever.” But honestly the thing I’m most proud of as a clinician is being able to get better at working with and learning from students. I think so much of being a clinician — and what I really appreciated — is we get the opportunity to start over every three months with a new crop of students and try new things. I think my practice as a clinician has gotten much, much better in terms of supporting students. There’s this concept called “support and challenge,” which is that you both want to support students who are doing something new but also challenge them. And I think I’ve gotten much better at balancing those things, as I’ve done it more.

I think the thing that I’m most proud of is the experience we can provide to students and watching them get excited about doing real legal work that helps solve people’s problems, rather than more abstract or academic work. And I think that’s a really important part of what the Clinic brings to the technology law space at HLS and also to Berkman Klein.

HLS to create new legal clinic to support rights of vulnerable clients to practice their religion

via Harvard Law Today

Daylight photo of the corner of Wasserstein Hall

Harvard Law School in Cambridge. Credit: Brooks Kraft.

Harvard Law School today announced plans to create a new legal clinic focused on cases involving the rights of individuals to practice their religion.

Clinical instruction plays an important role in legal education at Harvard Law School. Through the collective efforts of HLS’s 46 legal clinics and student practice organizations, the school deepens students’ practical experience by enabling them to learn the skills lawyers engage in.

The new Religious Freedom Clinic will be an important addition to HLS’ clinical program and will give students valuable preparation representing clients from a diverse array of religious traditions. It will join other new clinics established over the past year, including those focused on animal law and policyLGBTQ+ advocacy, and voting rights.

Under the supervision of clinical professors, students practice law on behalf of clients, while helping improve the lives of those in need through pro bono legal services. More than 80 percent of J.D. students take at least one clinic, and more than 40 percent take two or more. Existing HLS legal clinics focus on a wide range of legal areas, from cyber, tax and veterans’ law to human rights, immigration, health and housing law.

“Providing students with practical lawyering experience and skills is one of the most important aspects of a Harvard Law School education,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “By enabling students to learn how to be lawyers by representing vulnerable clients who face impediments to practicing their religions, our new Religious Freedom Clinic will build on our long history of clinical education.”

The new HLS clinic will be modeled on Stanford Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic, which has represented a wide range of people restricted in the exercise of their religious freedom. Recent examples include Sikh employees of a large trucking company who were not permitted to maintain unshorn hair in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs; a Seventh-day Adventist employee who couldn’t work on Saturday in order to observe the Sabbath; and a Muslim individual facing capital punishment and seeking equal access to pastoral services in the execution chamber.

“The new Religious Liberty Clinic will be a fantastic addition to our strong clinical program” said HLS Professor Kristen Stilt, faculty director of the Animal Law & Policy Program (which now includes the Animal Law & Policy Clinic) and director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

“Students will have the opportunity to directly serve individuals from a wide range of faiths who would not otherwise have an advocate,” said Stilt, who teaches a course on Islamic Law and Human Rights. “Students will learn the skills needed to engage with clients from diverse backgrounds, understand their faith commitments and the obstacles they are facing, and make legal arguments to achieve their clients’ goals.  Developing the tools to work with the clinic’s clients will make our students better lawyers and better citizens of the world.”

In keeping with the tradition of clinical education at HLS and elsewhere, the new Religious Freedom Clinic at HLS will represent underserved individuals. It will be designed to bring together students from diverse political, ideological, and philosophical perspectives and structured to reflect this commitment.

Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic launches at HLS

via Harvard Law Today

by Grace Yuh

A collection of voting pins in red, white, and blue on a white background. Some read 'VOTE' or 'iVOTE'

“New York, USA – August 14, 2012: Vote buttons featuring elephants for Republican and donkeys for Democrat American political parties sit on white background” Credit: PeskyMonkey/iStock

Harvard Law School has launched a new Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic. The clinic joins the 46 legal clinics and student practice organizations that make up the school’s clinical program.

The new externship clinic focuses on voter suppression and redistricting law and policy, with a particular emphasis on voting rights threats and opportunities, the role of identity in litigation and advocacy, and multi-dimensional advocacy. Students may also choose to work in other areas of election law, including election administration, campaign finance, political party regulation, and ethics.

Students may work with nonprofit litigation and advocacy groups at the local, state, or national level, and could focus on the needs of a particular community or a broader audience. This spring, students are working with organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and Voters Not Politicians.

The clinic is led by Ruth Greenwood, who joined Harvard Law School in January as a lecturer on law. A voting rights advocate for more than 10 years, Greenwood has focused her advocacy work on ending partisan gerrymandering and promoting minority representation. She previously served as an adjunct professor of law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Profile photo of Ruth Greenwood.

Credit: Lorin Granger

“The Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic will give our students the opportunity to learn, contribute, and practice law in a field that is central to American democracy,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Ruth Greenwood is a deeply experienced practitioner, thoughtful and principled lawyer who will be both a superb teacher and a wonderful mentor to our students. I am delighted to welcome Ruth to Harvard Law School.”

While directing the Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic, Greenwood also teaches the Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Workshop. Students in the clinic are required to take Election Law, which is taught by Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos. Election Law was first offered this winter term to prepare students for their spring clinical placements.

Since 2016, Greenwood has served as co-director of voting rights and redistricting for Campaign Legal Center (CLC) in Chicago, where she developed and implemented redistricting program plans and engaged in litigation on a variety of redistricting issues. She litigated two partisan gerrymandering cases from the trial level to the Supreme Court of the United States (Whitford v. Gill and LWVNC v. Rucho), and has advised dozens of states on how to draft and implement independent redistricting commissions. She will continue to serve as co-director of the voting rights and redistricting at CLC, in the Cambridge office.

She was previously lead counsel for voting rights at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where she managed and developed voting rights litigation, youth civic engagement programs, and advised community groups on legal strategies to improve minority representation. Prior to that, she was a redistricting fellow with the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute.

“As we see efforts across the country to restrict the franchise, it is crucial that we train a new generation of lawyers to take on cases to defend and promote voting rights. I am thrilled to be working with brilliant HLS students to do the important work of defending our democracy. I also can’t wait to see the innovative litigation and advocacy strategies they generate once they are practicing attorneys,” said Greenwood.

In 2016, Greenwood was a Chicago Civic Leadership Academy Fellow. She was awarded an Exceptional Service Award by the Chicago Board of Elections in 2014 for her work on Chicago Democracy Week.

A native of Australia, Greenwood received her undergraduate law and science degrees from the University of Sydney in 2005 and 2003, and her masters in law from Columbia Law School in 2009.

Clinical instruction plays an important role in legal education at Harvard Law School. Through the collective efforts of HLS’s 46 legal clinics and student practice organizations, the school deepens students’ practical experience by enabling them to learn the skills lawyers engage in. Under the supervision of clinical professors, students practice law on behalf of clients, while helping improve the lives of individuals in need through pro bono legal services. More than 80 percent of HLS J.D. students take at least one clinic, and more than 40 percent take two or more. Existing HLS legal clinics focus on a wide range of legal areas, from cyber, tax and veterans’ law to human rights, immigration, health and housing law.

Nevada Joins Other States In Fight Against E-Cig Maker

via KXNT

JUUL logo with a warning sign posted above it

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A coalition of 39 states, including Nevada will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday.

Attorneys general from Nevada, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon and Texas said they will lead the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products.

The state officials said they also will investigate the company’s claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices.

Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.

“We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes,” the statement said.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said, “Preying on children and those looking for help to quit smoking is the one of the most despicable examples of risking people’s lives for corporate profit.”

The scope of the investigation by dozens of states leaves Juul with little choice but to change its marketing practices, said James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine.

“When you see these kinds of numbers, it means they’re in a world of hurt,” said Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “They can’t seriously litigate this.”

The brainchild of two Stanford University design students, Juul launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market.

The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavors, including mango, mint and creme. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with one in four teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures. Juul is the most popular brand, preferred by 60% of high schoolers.

Juul’s meteoric rise has been followed by a hasty retreat in recent months amid a nationwide political backlash over vaping.

Although Juul remains the dominant player in the U.S. vaping market, the company has made several concessions, including halting its advertising and pulling all its flavors except menthol and tobacco from the market. The Food and Drug Administration recently put in place flavor restrictions designed to curb use of small, pod-based e-cigarettes like Juul.

The FDA and a congressional panel are investigating whether the company’s early marketing efforts — which included online influencers and product giveaways — deliberately targeted minors.

Nine attorneys general previously announced lawsuits against the company, most alleging that the company adopted the playbook of Big Tobacco by luring teens with youth-oriented marketing while failing to stop underage sales.

Massachusetts’ Maura Healey sued the company this month, citing company records to allege that Juul bought advertisements on websites designed for teens and children, including and

California sued Juul Labs in November, alleging the company deliberately marketed and sold its flavored nicotine products to teenagers by, among other things, using bright colors and youthful models to attract underage users and failing to adequately verify customers’ ages and identities on its website.

President Donald Trump late last year signed a law raising the minimum age to purchase all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 nationwide. Juul supported the measure, citing the need to curb underage vaping.

A spokeswoman for Tong said officials could not provide a complete list of the 39 states, saying some states are barred from disclosing investigations.

Other states investigating include Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to official announcements.

Juul’s biggest investor is the tobacco giant Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, which owns a one-third stake in the company. Since October, Altria has slashed the value of its Juul investment by more than $8.5 billion, citing the company’s mounting legal challenges.

Attorneys general have repeatedly banded together to force settlements with powerful industries.

In 1998, 46 state officials reached a $200 billion settlement with major tobacco companies for smoking-related diseases and medical expenses.

More recently, nearly all states have sued opioid drugmakers and distributors for their alleged role in the epidemic of drug addiction tied to prescription painkillers.

Kiwi Climate: Climate Change Policy when the Government Actually Cares

by Lowry Yankwich ’21

Lowry Yankich '21 and supervisor Brooke Cox

While Boston was cloaked in winter, I spent January in Hamilton, New Zealand, working at the Department of Conservation (“DOC”). Coming from California, Hamilton felt like Sacramento – a major city within an agriculture belt, a business center where the business is land. To its north lies Auckland, New Zealand’s megacity, population 1.7 million.  An hour west, over rolling coastal mountains, sits Raglan, a funky surf town with the longest left-breaking wave in the world. An hour east and you approach the Coromandel, a remote peninsula with white sand beaches, winding mountain roads, and whole forests planted for logging. To the south a few hours and you’re literally at Mordor, the volcano into which Frodo Baggins cast his precious ring.

With its natural bounty, New Zealand finds itself at a crossroads. On the one hand, traditional Māori culture, much of which permeates discussions today, places nature at the center of its world and mythology. Take Mt. Taranaki, a gorgeous volcano on the western coast of the north island. Legend has it that Taranaki once lived in the center of the island with the other volcanos. But Taranaki became embroiled in a battle with Tongariro over Pihanga, who they both loved. Tongariro won the battle, and Taranaki fled west, creating a major river where he passed, and a swamp where he paused.

The flipside of this veneration of the country’s natural beauty, however, is exploitation. Settlers in New Zealand have long profited off of New Zealand’s natural splendor, and its friendly climate. Huge forests blanket hillsides with non-native trees, all grown to be logged; they grow faster in New Zealand. Dairy farms pepper the north island. Thanks to the efforts of colonial entrepreneurs, who dreamt of making a hunter’s paradise, the country is full of invasive species: chamois and Himalayan tahr; Canadian geese and mallards; catfish and trout; hares, hedgehogs, rabbits, and deer. Some of the prettiest plants are also invasive. Native species have suffered. In particular, endemic flightless birds are like free dinner for non-native predators like possums and stoats. Nearly 80% of native bird species are currently at risk of extinction.

As the agency responsible for managing one third of all land in New Zealand – millions of acres of native forests, alpine areas, wetlands, dunes, coastal ecosystems and estuaries – DOC is at the center of the national debate over what to do with New Zealand’s natural endowment. It is DOC that embarks on eradication campaigns to clear out invasive species, and DOC who negotiates the fragile balance between encouraging tourism and protecting the “unspoiled” nature that draws tourists in the first place.

I worked on the policy side of DOC’s “permissions” team, which is responsible for granting temporary permits for private uses of public lands. While the easiest thing to do to protect conservation lands would be to close them to the public, DOC can’t do that as a matter of law. Instead, it regularly permits helicopter and bus tours, foot races and fishing competitions, film crews and sheep ranchers. DOC “decision-makers,” who sit in regional offices across the country, review applicants’ proposed uses of conservation lands, and consider the effects that such uses could have on the land. A decision-maker can decline an application that is inconsistent with conservation, or set conditions on the use of the land to mitigate adverse effects.

This is where climate change comes in, and where the bulk of my work took place. I studied how the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change could factor into the permitting process, and by what precedential or statutory authority. Last year, New Zealand became one of the first countries to pass a national bill setting stringent carbon dioxide and methane emissions targets. By 2050, the country plans to have “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering as much as it emits. The bill is not a total win for environmentalists – New Zealand being a major agricultural economy, there is a carve-out for methane emissions from livestock – but is a major step forward. Interestingly, the bill did not articulate how the country would reach its targets. And, in addressing government departments, the bill said that guidance would come later.

DOC doesn’t want to wait for guidance; it wants to begin addressing climate change now. So what tools, and what authority does it have? My research, derived from statutes and case law governing DOC’s permitting process, supports two contentions. The first contention is that the “effects” a decision-maker can consider in reviewing a permit application are broad, and could conceivably include the effects of emissions, however small, on global climate change. The second is that DOC decision-makers have substantial discretion to impose conditions on permittees, including emissions reporting requirements and reasonable emissions reduction targets.

I found strong statutory support for reading “effects” and the discretion of DOC decision-makers expansively. This could be good news for those wanting to adopt a ground-up strategy for addressing the impacts of climate change; however, it also raises questions about the competence of regional decision-makers to implement national policy. I also tried to argue that, in any case, DOC should act sooner rather than later – that the new emissions targets will ultimately result in liability for government departments that do not consider them. Of course, saying these things is easier than implementing them, but I hope that my work offers my team solid footing from which to begin refining DOC’s permitting process.

New Zealand seems to have all the right ingredients: a parliament attuned to climate change, a culture that venerates the land, a reputation for its wilderness and thus an incentive to preserve it. Yet even in New Zealand, addressing climate change is a daunting challenge. As a nation of five million, how much can it really do to combat climate change? One option, fatalistically, is to do nothing. The other is to do all you can do, leading by example, hoping that even if your action doesn’t make a dent, those it inspires do.


Experiencing impact litigation off the beaten path

by Brendan Schneiderman ’21

headshot photo of Brendan Schneiderman

Law school is a weird place. Year one primarily involves tolerating classrooms with 80 strangers where we’re judged by our ability to answer pop questions about abstract legal concepts. As 1L closes, most of us turn to career pursuits, where the most “prestigious” options involve working at corporate law firms for high salaries. Many students then turn to clerkship prospects, after which life becomes counting down to graduation. In short, the path of least resistance steers us right past the kind of advocacy that inspired many of us to come to law school in the first place.  Fortunately, my independent clinical at the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) was a perfect departure from that beaten path.

I first came across the NCLC while searching for impact litigation organizations focused on consumer advocacy. During 1L, consumer protection cases consistently outraged me most: mortgagors selling loans designed to default; landlords renting out uninhabitable spaces to poor mothers; foreclosures and evictions triggered by the termination of public benefits. Once I committed to finding an organization working in this space, the NCLC, a nationally renowned organization, surged to the top of my wishlist.

Spending a semester there required formulating an independent clinical. This kind of clinic has several unique benefits. First, it allows students to find an organization tailored to their individual needs. I was interested in seeing a range of litigation subject matter, from consumer protection to administrative law. I also wanted to see what kind of work attorneys do outside the litigation space. On both axes, the NCLC excels: they litigate all sorts of subject matter, including those I was interested in, but they also provide education, policy advocacy and field research services to other attorneys. This interdisciplinary approach made the NCLC a perfect fit. (Independent clinics are also graded Credit Received/Fail, which helps mitigate end-of-semester stress.) The independent clinic experience is also valuable because of its informality. While I was assigned a supervising attorney, I never felt bound to work only with him.  Instead, as I saw emails passed around about projects needing an extra hand, I felt free to offer my services. Moreover, oftentimes independent clinical students will be the only interns at their organizations, giving them higher odds of contributing to the work they are most interested in.

I worked on a wide variety of projects during my semester. The majority of my time was focused on making sure low-income communities aren’t left behind as state and local governments incentivize the purchasing of clean-energy vehicles. For example, some states offer an income tax rebate on these purchases, but a low-income family wouldn’t have any income tax liability, and therefore wouldn’t benefit from this incentive. My research involved outreach to non-profits and state legislators to learn about current policies. I also developed a cost-benefit calculator to show exactly how much a given state’s policies would impact the challenges a low-income consumer faces when purchasing an electric vehicle.

In addition, I worked with a team that was challenging a regulatory action that would re-define the standard for racial discrimination in housing. I researched how a recent Supreme Court decision defining the standard had been subsequently applied by lower courts. Relatedly, I conducted background research on why black families own homes in the United States at a much lower rate than white families. This task inspired my final writing project, which was a deeper statistical dive into the underlying causes of the homeownership gap, and why more research on the phenomenon is necessary.

I also experienced NCLC’s reputation as a first-rate consumer advocacy shop in a more personal way: this year, the NCLC celebrated its 50th anniversary with a big party at the conclusion of its annual conference, to which I was invited. There, I met Congresswoman Katie Porter of California, the keynote speaker and a hero of mine. Other guests included Senator Ed Markey (a former intern of the NCLC himself!), State Representative Nika Elugardo, and Elizabeth Cabreser, an esteemed plaintiffs’ attorney who litigated both the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the VW emissions scandal.

My most important experience at the NCLC, however, was simply getting a taste of its spirit. For me, much of the first year of law school involved biting my tongue or grimacing at insensitive statements made by well-to-do partners. Many conventionally successful attorneys become convinced that procedural technicalities and intellectual puzzles make their work rewarding, and thus never feel the need to reflect on the impact their legal advocacy has on the world outside.

The atmosphere at the NCLC is just the opposite. While people there are incredibly friendly and welcoming, they come to work with a clear motivation to improve things on the ground. Every decision is made out of a commitment to relentless, sober, and diligent advocacy, because that is what is needed in the communities the NCLC serves. While HLS’s path of least resistance may not expose students to such a clear-eyed, ends-driven focus, my time at the NCLC sure did. For receiving that perspective, I will always be grateful.

Growth in Animal Law Advocacy

by Elizabeth Melampy ’21

headshot photo of Elizabeth Melampy in front of an apple tree


During winter term, I began a litigation externship with Animal Outlook (formerly Compassion Over Killing). Animal Outlook is an organization that works to protect farm animals and to challenge the standard industry practices of animal agribusiness. Through undercover investigations, litigation, and consumer and corporate campaigns, they use a variety of advocacy tools to reveal the truth about animal agriculture and promote protections for farm animals.


During my externship, I have had an opportunity to research federal agricultural subsidy programs, allowing me to understand how complex and deeply rooted the agricultural exceptionalism is in our society. I have written memoranda on a variety of topics relating to regulations on farm animal raising and slaughter. I even got to write an Op-Ed relating to a recent decision in Kansas striking down an “ag-gag” law that impermissibly restricted investigators’ First Amendment right to record and publish the operations of industrial animal farms. In conversations with my supervisor, I’ve learned so much about how animal advocacy organizations operate, and how they choose to prioritize their limited resources to achieve the largest possible progress and protections for animals.


Animal law is a niche field, at least here at Harvard Law School. I have spent my time at HLS so far delving deeper and deeper into the field, learning as much as I can at every step. I interned at the Animal Welfare Institute last summer, where I worked on farm animal protection. I also participated in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic last semester, where I conducted legal research, drafted memoranda, and interacted with clients all seeking creative strategies for protecting the lives and well-being of the animals with whom we share our world.


This externship with Animal Outlook has been a perfect complement to my experiences so far. When working with farm animals in particular, legal advocacy requires creativity; there are very few federal or state protections for farm animals, so rarely is there a slam dunk case or even a type of case that lawyers can rely on as a model. I have been impressed with the creativity—and even courage—that I’ve seen during my externship as we brainstorm legal theories.


Many people come into law school seeking to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I have found so much purpose and excitement in living out that goal by working for beings who cannot participate in the legal system, yet who are incredibly burdened by it. There are many kinds of abuse that farm animals endure that are routine and perfectly legal, like dehorning, debeaking, or castration without anesthetizing pain medication. Whatever your views on animal agriculture, practically everyone agrees that they shouldn’t needlessly suffer. Yet getting into court to challenge a practice like that, or getting a bill on the books to prohibit it, is literally impossible for the cows, chickens, and pigs who suffer the pain for their whole lives before they are slaughtered for our lunch.


In many ways, the law ignores the interests, well-being, and worth of non-human animals, and they need lawyers and advocates who are willing to speak a human, legal language on their behalf. I am excited to be part of a rising tide of animal advocates seeking to use the law as a tool for protecting animals and promoting humane treatment. As I continue my externship into the spring semester, I am looking forward to conducting more research, having more conversations, and participating in meaningful advocacy.

Winter Independent Clinical Reflections

by Olivia Klein

Over the course of their winter term, many HLS students choose to partake in independent clinical projects. Students travel far and wide to work at organizations they are passionate about, completing a variety of projects during the three-week term. Some students stay close to home, working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Boston, while others work on the other side of the world, researching environmental law at the New Zealand Department of Conservation. No matter where their work takes them, our students gain valuable knowledge from their independent clinicals, which they share in weekly reflections.


Week 1


During their first week, students get situated at their placements, form relationships with their supervisors and coworkers, and begin the projects they planned ahead of time. Even with only one week under their belt, many students reflect on the immense amount they have learned, not only about their organizations and areas of the law, but also about themselves.


“Reflecting a bit on my own career, my first week of work has made me question my ideal role within an organization like DOC. Is it most fun to be a regulator, cogitating and pronouncing on policy? Or would I get more satisfaction from working within a community? If I were to work within a community, would I miss the higher altitude vantage point?” – Lowry Yankwich, New Zealand Department of Conservation


“In coming here, I expected to learn a lot more about the inner workings of a massive nonprofit health care system. I had somewhat forgotten that the Legal Department has a significant “people focus” as well. The lawyers regularly work with doctors and hospital police to keep patients and the hospital safe… I am excited to learn more about the issues that are so unique to public health care settings. My projects and observational opportunities cover many of these varied subjects, and I am glad that I can contribute my work to the department. It is a great learning environment, and I am looking forward to making the most of my time here.” – Evelyn Atwater, UNC Health Care System, Legal Department, Chapel Hill, NC


“So far, my projects ask for a lot of my input and creative legal thinking, which I appreciate – it isn’t about finding case law to support a certain theory or set of facts, but rather about going out to find the issues and then figuring out how to attack them. My supervisor mentioned that he views animal advocacy as following the “death by a thousand paper cuts” strategy. We rarely get the giant blow that will take down the entire animal agriculture system, but we can find small avenues and chip away at structures and norms through careful reading of the law and creative legal strategies. This notion builds on what I learned in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic last semester, too – animal law is by necessity a creative field, because the laws were not written to protect animals in any way. I enjoy this kind of research and creative thinking.” – Elizabeth Melampy, Animal Outlook, Washington D.C.


“As the week draws to a close, I feel that the placement is off to a great start. The ICC proved itself extremely efficient in settling us in, and our supervisor has done a great job of balancing expectations of productivity with encouragement to utilize the unique resources currently available to us here in the Hague. I think that I have also improved my teamwork by working collaboratively at length each day. Simultaneously, I am exercising my legal and policy analysis in editing a report that combines both. I am glad to be here.” – Matthew Farrell, International Criminal Court, Netherlands


“There are a couple of things I have noticed much more prominently now that I am physically in chambers… Judges have families, they deal with day-to-day issues, and they have a life outside of the courthouse… I will be sure to consider this in my future writing and argument to the courts.” – Brian Kulp, U.S. Court for the District of Columbia


“This week has reaffirmed that I do want to work on local policy issues, because even seemingly minor agency procedure can have large impacts on individuals and communities.” – Jessica Katzen, Legal Aid Society of New York – Law Reform Unit, New York City


“I appreciate the thoughtful, creative, and rigorous approach the team takes to considering legal questions and making decisions about the types of cases they dedicate their resources to. Each member of the team has different experiences in immigration and human rights work, and it has been really informative to listen to discussions about the implications of taking on a specific case as well as legal strategies in the ongoing litigation. The team is incredibly collaborative in these discussions, and each team member’s different perspective and experience allows them to challenge the team to think about questions from a variety of perspectives. By the end of my J Term internship, I hope to contribute to these discussions more. While I do not have the experience of many other team members, I hope to challenge myself to think deeply about the questions the team confronts and contribute in team discussions.” – Sarah Libowsky, RAICES, San Antonio, TX



Week 2


During the second week at their placements, students are feeling energized by the experience of practical work in areas they are passionate about. This week brings the opportunity to delve deeper into their projects and to continue immersing themselves in the legal issues their organization works with, while also building community at the organization itself. After two weeks of hard work, students pause in their reflections to recognize their own growth as lawyers.


“For the first time I’m thinking about the advantages of starting one’s own organization to create the work environment that one deems as ideal, and how admirable and difficult it is to not only articulate but also practice the very values that the organization wants to promote in society. It makes me think about what one might be able to gain if one compromises money, stability, and a little bit of efficiency.” – Ayoung Kim, Advocates for Public Interest Law, Seoul, South Korea


“Learning about the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and its work in academic classes is important and has been helpful, but experiencing the work first-hand as a member of the organization’s team is quite different and very engaging. When working here, one feels as though they are part of a larger mission that transcends geographic boundaries… One can sense that BIS employees (myself included) are excited to arrive to work every day and to take on the challenges that face the global financial system. The work matters, and it is refreshing to feel as though you are having an impact.” – Caroline Shinkle, Bank for International Settlements, Basel, Switzerland


“I am finishing up my second week interning with Chief Judge Garcia’s chambers. I finished drafting my first assignment and the judge’s order is now online. It is very exciting to see something I participated in on WestLaw!” – Dustin Fire, Western District of Texas – Judicial Chambers of Orlando Garcia


“This week I worked with the elder law team. I had never been particularly attracted to working with the elderly—I have friends who work in nursing homes, and I hadn’t fully understood that choice. But I get it now. The clients have been, more than anything, kind. After I called an elderly man an alarming number of times, trying frustratingly to get ahold of his eviction notice, the man thanked me for all the calls—”You showed me a lot of love,” he said. The highs were higher and the lows were lower this week, and I think that goes to both the kindness and the helplessness of these elderly clients. It’s hard not to be emotionally invested—there’s something especially jarring about a 70-year-old woman with cancer getting harassed by a collections agency, or an 80-year-old deaf man being evicted. When people reach a certain age, can’t we all just agree stop chasing them for their debts? To let them be?” – Sara Carter, Legal Services Alabama – Birmingham


“Writing about the law for an audience of non-lawyers is hard, especially in a workplace where you want to make sure you’re giving people every piece of information that they need to achieve a goal that you fully support. You have to recognize that if you want them to achieve that goal, you must balance giving them the information they need with the risk of burying them under so many pages of legalese that they can’t get through it all… I didn’t perfect any of those skills this week, but I got some valuable practice. Taking time to critique my own work is helping me to see my strengths and weaknesses, and it’s motivating me to keep working to be better.” – Amanda Odasz, Rise, Washington D.C.


“I’ve found that I really like the adviser role, and that having the opportunity to help clients and advocate for the respect of law and international law in particular, is rewarding. It’s exciting to work on critical issues and I think the trade off in voice that comes with an adviser role may be worth it to have a hand in such high-level and impactful work.” – Samantha Lint, US Department of State



Week 3


By the end of their third and final week at their independent clinical sites, students are proud of the meaningful work they have accomplished and sad to say goodbye to their new colleagues. Even in such a condensed amount of time, students form close bonds with their supervisors and complete projects that will benefit the organizations and individuals they work with. Students feel a renewed sense of purpose and motivation at the end of their independent clinical, and they bring their new experience and lessons learned back to HLS with them.


“Overall, this has been an incredible trip and an even more incredible opportunity. It already felt surreal to even be in the building on the first day, and yet we will close out the week meeting the President of the Assembly of States Parties to discuss the project. Everyone we have talked to has been generous with their time and encouraging to the project (even those who were ultimately critical). I am beyond grateful to have been able to spend January term here, and am coming out of this experience hoping to continue with the project itself and this field of law.” – Celeste Kmiotek, International Criminal Court


“I am disappointed, outraged, and heartbroken to see what is going on at the border. But I’m also motivated. Without the work of thousands of volunteer legal advocates on the ground, even more people would be completely shut out of the courts. After law school, I intend to return to Tijuana to work full time with people stuck in the terrible limbo where targeted violence prevents them from going home and policies rooted in racism and xenophobia prevent them from accessing the protections of the law.” – Ginger Cline, Al Otro Lado, Tijuana, Mexico


“The genuine enjoyment and satisfaction I felt from my work for the past month, coupled with the experience of working with an attorney who shared so much in common with me in terms of interests and goals and had successfully found a job to put his skills and aptitude to great use, has provided me with reassurance that I’m on the right path.” – Bryce Burgwyn, Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Palau, Koror, Palau


“This was an extraordinary career opportunity for me, for which I am very appreciative. As someone who plans to go into this field, I gained so much exposure to the process of litigating on behalf of immigrants’ rights. I worked side-by-side with extremely sharp attorneys, all of whom were kind, open, trusted me with critical assignments, and provided useful feedback. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this small, dedicated team, fighting for a cause I believe in. I know this experience will open doors for me so that I can make the greatest possible impact in the future.” – Madeline Kane, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, NYC, New York



If you are interested in pursuing an independent clinical project, you can find more information on the OCP website or by setting up an advising appointment with someone in the OCP office.


Responsibility and Community in Restorative Justice

Profile photo of Kathryn Combs

by Kathryn Combs ’20

I spent part of Fall 2019 semester working as an independent clinical intern at Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ). I heard about C4RJ during my time in a clinical seminar with Judge Cratsley, who serves on their board. I had been looking into opportunities to do hands-on work during my last year at HLS. When I realized I could plan an independent clinical placement, I immediately thought of C4RJ and contacted Judge Cratsley to speak with him and Professor Lanni about their research, involvement, and thoughts on restorative justice.

I spent the summer of my 2L year at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, which often refers cases to diversion programs run by nonprofits. I was glad those cases were being diverted but was curious about the process after a case is sent to one. I was very excited to get the chance to work at C4RJ, which is headquartered in Concord but takes cases from all over Western Massachusetts, and to see one of those programs in action. I was C4RJ’s first law student intern, and as such was able to craft my role along with my supervisors in a significant way so that I could be most useful.

Restorative Justice is a multi-layered concept, but in the criminal context, it focuses on the harm done in a criminal action and agreements made among stakeholders to make right that harm. C4RJ refers to “responsible parties” and “impacted parties” to push the boundaries of the criminal court system’s focus on distinct offenders and victims. C4RJ’s process works through referrals from police departments and District Attorney’s offices, and will take any case where the offender is taking responsibility, and the victim is willing for the process to go forward.

While at C4RJ, I primarily worked conducting legal research for the attorneys who make up the majority of the staff. I researched the impact of Massachusetts’ Restorative Justice provisions in the 2018 Crime Bill, analogous statutes in other states, and the requirements state and federal law place on C4RJ regarding volunteers with criminal records themselves.

I also was given the opportunity to participate in a Boston case regarding a serious felony that was referred to C4RJ due to the victim’s wishes to have the case proceed through Restorative Justice rather than the traditional court process. I sat in the “opening circle” for this case. In an opening circle, community members, C4RJ volunteers, the responsible party, the impacted party, and family of the responsible party sit together and discuss the criminal action, along with its effects on all parties and the harm done. The group then drafts a “restorative agreement” in which the responsible party agrees to abide by while working with C4RJ volunteers. This particular opening circle was very powerful, especially given the intense impact the event had had on the victim coupled with the responsible party’s clear regret and desire to apologize.

Having observed that case, been briefed on all open C4RJ cases, and looked at the files regarding past agreements and cases, it was very meaningful to me to see the process of restorative justice as something more concrete than an abstract theory. I was able to see the ways that victims were served by the process, responsible parties were able to own up to what harm had been done without facing overly punitive consequences in court, and how family members and supporters were able to be meaningful participants.

This, combined with my research on states nationwide enacting restorative justice statutes, was a great balance of seeing the human, on-the-ground work of restorative justice combined with the policy and legal realities needed to make restorative justice practicable. I am very glad that other HLS students will begin working at C4RJ this upcoming spring semester; and am grateful to my supervisors at C4RJ for letting me participate, observe, and research the complex and impactful work of their organization.


Eloise Lawrence named assistant clinical professor of law and deputy faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Headshot of Eloise Lawrence

via Harvard Law Today

Eloise Lawrence, a community lawyering advocate, was named assistant clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and deputy faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), effective Jan. 1.

She was previously a clinical instructor and a lecturer on law at HLS. She was also the director for community lawyering and strategic initiatives at HLAB, a student-run civil legal aid organization founded in 1913.

“I am delighted that Eloise Lawrence has joined our faculty. She played a pivotal role at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, finding novel and effective ways for lawyers and law students to work hand-in-hand with clients, community members, and community organizations to secure protections for individuals and families facing eviction and predatory practices,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Eloise is a terrific lawyer, advocate, and teacher, and her skill and dedication provides our students and our community with an outstanding example of what great public interest lawyers can accomplish.”

Lawrence joined HLAB in 2011 at the height of the foreclosure crisis to work with students and community organizers to defend hundreds of families—homeowners and tenants who were losing their homes due to foreclosure. During the crisis, her cases involved predatory lending, improper foreclosure practices, discrimination, and unfair practices in the servicing of loans. She also worked with organizers to advocate for policy changes at the local, state and federal level. Since 2015, she has defended families who are being displaced from their homes and communities due to gentrification and speculation. In addition to protecting tenants in the courts, she, along with her students, works closely with community organizers to ensure tenants realize their collective power.

At HLS, Lawrence co-teaches Housing Law and Policy on a biennial basis and is a member of the HLAB teaching team for courses specifically geared towards HLAB student attorneys. She also serves as supervisor and faculty adviser for the student practice organization Project No One Leaves.

From 2008 to 2010, she served as a staff attorney in the consumer rights unit at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), where she brought affirmative suits on behalf of mortgagors against loan originators, servicers and foreclosing entities.

Earlier in her career, she worked for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in Boston, leading its Environmental Health and Justice Initiative using community lawyering to tackle issues such as removing lead from Boston’s drinking water, providing accessible public transportation and ensuring adequate environmental review for bio-containment labs.

Prior to working at CLF, she was a Skadden Fellow with Business and Professional People for the Public Interest in Chicago, where she represented public housing residents in civil rights class actions.

“I am deeply honored to join the HLS faculty. This position will allow me to continue to teach and work with HLS students, to serve the individuals and communities who are traditionally underrepresented by our profession as well as to collaborate with other members of the remarkable HLS faculty,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence received a B.A. in history from Stanford in 1995 and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law in 2002, where she focused on a variety of social justice issues including juvenile justice, affordable housing and LGBTQ rights.

Finding human solutions to global problems

via Harvard Law Today

by Dana Walters

Headshot photo of Aminta Ossom

With headlines declaring 2019 the year that the world woke up to climate changeAminta Ossom ’09 sees hope in approaching the issue from a specific angle: human rights.

“Human rights has a lot to offer the climate change movement because it’s a way to humanize the issue. It becomes less scientific or technical and more accessible,” she said. “The human rights approach also says that everyone has a buy-in and should have a say. Everyone is a potential victim of the effects of climate change,” she added.

After years working at Amnesty International and the United Nations, Ossom returned to Harvard Law School this fall to teach in the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), where one of her projects focuses on how human rights organizations are advising governments on climate change. The new clinical instructor, who self-identifies as a “regional human rights systems nerd,” had not originally planned on a career in law.

A childhood attending science summer camps and a STEM magnet school propelled her to the University of Oklahoma as a chemical engineering and pre-med major. But when Ossom realized she was drawn more toward religion and global politics than thermodynamics, she combined history, philosophy, languages, political science, and literature into a self-designed major. That degree showed Ossom how she might “connect history to current events through broader world issues and theories of justice,” she said.

In 2006, she enrolled at HLS and joined the International Human Rights Clinic, where she researched child labor and diamond-mining in Sierra Leone. Her clinical instructor, Sharanjeet Parmar, taught students how to do legal research with nuance and a historical eye. Both the method and the project proved formative for Ossom, helping her identify a larger theme for her advocacy: economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR).

“It’s a tricky subject. Economic, social, and cultural rights violations frequently result from inaction, like a failure to provide adequate food, housing, or education, so the process of determining responsibility can feel less straightforward than when the violation is an affirmative action that can be identified,” Ossom said.

Ossom leans against a wooden chair in front of a blank board as a group of people sit in chairs to the right.

As a Satter Fellow for Amnesty International in 2011-2012, Ossom helped build an evidence base and capacity for crimes against humanity and war crimes in West Africa.

After earning her J.D. at HLS and a Masters in African Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Ossom was awarded a Satter Fellowship to work at Amnesty International, where she focused on international criminal law and matters of universal jurisdiction. She also contributed to a variety of projects that bolstered her ESCR expertise, from helping organize a demonstration on forced evictions in Ghana to assisting with research on maternal mortality in Sierra Leone.

Following a teaching stint as the Crowley Fellow at Fordham Law School, Ossom landed at the United Nations in Geneva, where she worked with leading experts to monitor state compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. There, she had a front-row view to the human rights movement’s engagement with the U.N., noticing where it was advancing and where more work was necessary. She began to see the human rights movement as a living organism with changing needs.

“I think we’re moving from people who have access to powerful institutions—like lawyers—being the ones raising rights violations to a more decentralized type of work,” she said. “Especially for those of us who grew up in the global north, it’s important for us to see ourselves less as conduits to change and more as allies. Communities and survivors of human rights violations are now the face of the movement. I think that’s super exciting to witness and be a part of, and it’s what I want to foster more with my students.”

These days, Ossom finds herself “thinking a lot about how human rights can respond to issues that aren’t specific to particular communities,” she said. Climate change is one example.

Aminta Ossom sits in a meeting room with three female students, Tara Boghosian, Johanna Lee, and Alicia Alvero Koski

As a clinical instructor in the IHRC, Ossom is leading a team on right-to-work issues, focusing on the types of rights violations faced by workers in the informal economy, and how international and regional human rights law could be invoked to further protect these workers. Pictured from left to right: Ossom, Tara Boghosian ’20, Johanna Lee ’21, and Alicia Alvero Koski ’20.

In her first year as a clinical instructor in the IHRC, Ossom and her students are preparing recommendations for governments trying to adapt to and respond to the climate change crisis, with an awareness of how inequality disproportionately magnifies the impact for some communities. To recommend solutions, the team is looking closely at the principles that have been solidified in the jurisprudence of the Committee on Economic and Social Rights, making sure that states preparing for climate change do not inflict harm by pulling resources away from other responsibilities like education and healthcare.

In addition to her climate change work, Ossom is studying how the changing nature of labor increases the chance that workers might be exposed to harassment, discrimination, or other types of abuses. Her clinical team is researching the types of rights violations faced by workers in the informal economy and how international and regional human rights law could be invoked to further protect these workers.

Tara Boghosian ’20, who has been part of the right-to-work clinical project since the fall, described Ossom as building a “collaborative team ethos.”

“Aminta encouraged us to take ownership of the direction of our project, while still providing us with plenty of support and guidance so that we felt well-equipped to take on new challenges. She gave each member of the team the opportunity to lead a call with an expert, but worked with us as much as we needed to brainstorm agendas and topics for each conversation,” Boghosian said.

Building relationships with students, she sees advising as a way to “multiply [her] impact” and support others on subjects she is equally as passionate about but does not have the capacity to take on herself. At IHRC, she models thoughtful and intentional practices and communicates to her students how to set boundaries, act with humility, and avoid burnout.

“Human rights is not what any single individual does but it’s something that a whole group of individuals and organizations are doing together. I’m not that crucial. It will all still go on if I withdraw at some point,” she tells her students. “This idea also helps me be very deliberate with my projects, both in terms of substance and style. When I teach, I emphasize that human rights is not just fact-finding. You can do human rights and legislative drafting or human rights and criminal defense. I hope my students can find a match between their skill set and the movement’s larger goals.”

LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic launches at Harvard Law School

via Harvard Law Today

Full frame rainbow flag shines bright backlit by summer sun

credit: PeskyMonkey/iStock

Harvard Law School today announced the launch of the new LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.

The clinic will provide students the opportunity to work directly on cutting-edge issues involving LGBTQ+ rights, with a particular emphasis on issues affecting underrepresented individuals and groups within the LGBTQ+ community. Clinic offerings include local and national projects covering the spectrum of LGBTQ+ issues. Students will engage in a range of work encompassing various strategies for advancing LGBTQ+ rights, including impact litigation and amicus work, policy and legislative advocacy, and direct legal services for LGBTQ+ clients.

“The LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic will give our students a wonderful opportunity to address vital legal issues in an important and rapidly developing field, to provide first-rate legal representation to the LGBTQ+ community, to develop practice skills and substantive knowledge at the very highest levels, and to make a positive difference in the world,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “I want to welcome the clinic’s terrific new director, Alex Chen, and to wish him and his students well as they undertake the important work of this new clinic.”

Alex Chen ’15, an HLS lecturer on law and clinical instructor, will serve as founding director of the clinic. A graduate of HLS, Chen has been a tireless advocate in recent years in efforts to protect and expand LGBTQ+ civil rights.

Photo of Alex Chen sitting on a brown couch in front of a wood paneled wall, fingers laced in front of him.

credit: Lorin Granger

Announcing the clinic, Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Dan Nagin, vice dean for experiential and clinical education and faculty director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC) and Veterans Legal Clinic, said: “Alex Chen is a fantastic advocate and creative thinker who also possesses a deep commitment to mentorship and community. Under Alex’s leadership, the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic promises to provide singular learning opportunities for law students and critical legal services to underserved populations. We could not be more thrilled to welcome Alex back to Harvard Law School.”

The LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic will be based at LSC, a general practice community law office in Jamaica Plain.

Lisa Dealy, assistant dean for the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs at Harvard Law School, added: “We are so fortunate to have Alex join HLS—I cannot think of a better person to start the new LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic. Alex is already well-known in the national LGBTQ+ advocacy community and will bring his boundless energy, vision, intellect and connectedness to create a clinic that can help shape national movements. I cannot wait to see all that Alex, his students, his colleagues and advocacy partners will do together as part of the new clinic.”

In 2017, Chen was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 for his groundbreaking legal work to expand the rights of transgender youth. As an Equal Justice Works fellow at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in San Francisco, Chen conducted national LGBT civil rights impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and public education, including in education, employment, health care, housing, prison, conversion therapy, and child welfare and juvenile justice settings.

He was a member of the litigation team in transgender military ban cases (Doe v. Trump and Stockman v. Trump) and a landmark Ninth Circuit transgender prisoner surgery access case, Edmo v. Corizon. He co-drafted AB 2119, a bill making California the first state to guarantee transition-related health care access for trans youth in foster care. He also wrote the “Trans Youth Handbook,” a first-of-its-kind legal resource guide for trans youth and their families.

“I am thrilled that Harvard Law School is launching the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, which will offer students the opportunity to develop their legal advocacy skills while providing critical services to the LGBTQ+ community. I look forward to rejoining the HLS community, and working together with HLS’s incredible faculty and staff to build this exciting new initiative,” Chen said.

At HLS, Chen will supervise clinical students on client matters related to LGBTQ+ civil rights law and he will teach a course on Gender Identity and the Law. Course topics will include constitutional and statutory law; sex-segregated spaces and activities; religion-, speech-, and ethics-based objections; access to health care and reproductive technology; non-binary and intersex identities; race and transgender experience, and military, family, and prison litigation.

Chen earned a B.A. from the University of Oxford in 2009, an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2012 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2015. At Oxford, Chen was awarded the Wadham College Prize for outstanding performance in final-year examinations. Born in Colorado, the son of Chinese immigrants, Chen was awarded a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship in 2014. Chen has also lived in Southern California, Canada, and Hong Kong.

While a student at HLS, he co-founded Queer Trans People of Color at HLS and the Labor and Employment Action Project at HLS, and he served as a student attorney in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project. He was also an articles editor for the Harvard Law Review, and on the board of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

During the summer following his second year at HLS, he served as a fellow for the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, D.C., where he drafted policy guidance for federal agencies and performed legal research on employment, criminal, administrative, and education issues involving transgender people, and as a legal intern in the Educational Opportunities Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, D.C., where he drafted legal briefs, reviewed depositions, and prepared witnesses for desegregation hearings. He also performed legal research for Department of Education Title IX sexual violence guidelines and reviewed Title IX complaints.

As a 2013 legal intern for the American Civil Liberties Union, LGBT & HIV Project, in New York City, he conducted legal research for LGBT civil rights impact litigation, including on marriage equality (United States v. Windsor), family law, status decriminalization, health care access, and transgender rights.

He served as a clerk for U.S. Court of Appeals for Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the Ninth Circuit, and Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Clinical instruction plays an important role in legal education at Harvard Law School. Through the collective work of 44 different legal clinics and student practice organizations, HLS students learn the skills lawyers engage in under the supervision of clinical professors by practicing law on behalf of clients, while helping improve the lives of individuals in need through pro bono legal services. More than 80 percent of JD students take at least one clinic, and more than 40 percent take two or more. Existing HLS clinical programs focus on a wide range of legal areas, from cyber, tax and veterans’ law to human rights, immigration, health and housing law.

Emily Broad Leib named clinical professor of law

via Harvard Law Today

photo of Emily Broad Leib sitting on a rock bench in front of a grass lawn

credit: Jessica Scranton

Emily Broad Leib ’08, founder and director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, has been named clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School. She was formerly an assistant clinical professor at HLS.

A national leader in food law and policy, Broad Leib founded the first food law and policy clinic in the country at Harvard Law School. She has used her position to advocate for improvements to the laws and policies that govern America’s food system, including in the area of food waste. She also serves as deputy director of the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation.

“Emily Broad Leib is a superb teacher and is internationally respected for her groundbreaking work on food law and policy,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Through her commitment, intellectual leadership, and teaching, she has inspired countless students and attorneys to pursue options within the legal system to improve the food system and enhance the well-being of others.”

“I am humbled by my promotion to clinical professor, and full of gratitude at the opportunity to continue working alongside the committed and inspiring faculty, staff, and students of the HLS community. It has been a pleasure to make my home at such a supportive institution that has provided the resources and vision for me to build the first clinic in food law and policy, to develop opportunities for students to learn and participate in the vital field of food law, and to see the impact the Food Law and Policy Clinic has had and will continue to have on policies that impact the environment, health, and social justice,” Broad Leib said.

Broad Leib joined HLS’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation in 2010 as a senior clinical fellow. The following year, in 2011, she founded the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), which provides legal advice to nonprofits and government agencies, while educating law students about ways to use law and policy to impact the food system.

Broad Leib focuses her scholarship, teaching, and practice on finding solutions to some of today’s biggest food law issues, aiming to increase access to healthy foods, eliminate food waste, and support sustainable food production. She has published scholarly articles in the California Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, the Harvard Law & Policy Review, and the Food & Drug Law Journal, among others.

In 2015, she was an inaugural recipient of Harvard University’s Climate Change Solutions Fund. Her project “Reducing Food Waste as a Key to Addressing Climate Change,” was one of seven chosen from around the university to confront the challenge of climate change by leveraging the clinic’s food law and policy expertise to identify systemic solutions to reduce food waste, which is a major driver of climate change.

Under Broad Leib’s direction, FLPC has been advocating for the standardization of date labels since the release of its 2013 report “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America.” FLPC has also worked with members of Congress on legislation to reform the expiration date system, and Broad Leib testified for Congress on date labels and other areas of federal policy that impact the amount of food that goes to waste. She led work with the two largest food trade associations to implement a voluntary standard for date labels, which will go into effect this year. Last summer, the clinic released a follow up issue brief “Date Labels: The Case for Federal Action.”

Beyond date labels, Broad Leib has led the clinic in supporting food producers, businesses, and government agencies in understanding and improving laws relevant to food waste and food recovery. The clinic’s work has included consulting to government agencies and legislators at the federal level and in nearly two dozen states, and publication of scores of policy reports and toolkits, including Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill (2017) and Food Safety Regulations and Guidance for Food Donations: a 50-State Survey of State Practices (2018) and a number of resources to support states and localities in addressing food waste through policy, including “Bans and Beyond: Designing and Implementing Organic Waste Bans and Mandatory Organics Recycling Laws” (2019) and “Keeping Food Out of the Landfill” (2016).

Drawing on this expertise, in 2019, Broad Leib launched the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project, through which she and clinic staff and students are partnering with local food donation agencies in fifteen countries around the globe to compare and analyze the laws relevant to food donation, and make recommendations for best practices that can help more safe, wholesome food make it to those in need.

In 2016, she was named by Fortune and Food & Wine to their list of 2016’s Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink. Her groundbreaking work has been covered in such media outlets as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, The Guardian, TIME, Politico, and the Washington Post. She has appeared on CBS This Morning, CNN, The Today Show, and MSNBC.

In 2016, Broad Leib partnered with colleagues around the country to found the Academy of Food Law and Policy, the first-ever academic association for the growing number of faculty and scholars teaching and writing in the field of food law and policy. She served as the founding co-chair of the Academy’s Board of Trustees from 2016 to 2019.

After graduating from HLS, Broad Leib spent two years in Clarksdale, Mississippi, as the Joint Harvard Law School/Mississippi State University Delta Fellow. She directed the Delta Directions Consortium, a group of university and foundation leaders who collaborate to improve public health and foster economic development in the Delta region. In that role, she worked with community members and outside partners, and with support from more than 60 HLS students, to design and implement programmatic and policy interventions on a range of critical health and economic issues in the region.

Broad Leib’s fellowship work in Mississippi inspired the Mississippi Delta Project, a student practice organization at HLS that provides opportunities for current students to continue advocating for similar issues in the Mississippi Delta region. Broad Leib continues to support that organization as the faculty supervisor. She is also the faculty supervisor for the Harvard Law School Food Law Society.

In 2013, she was appointed deputy director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. In 2015, she was named an assistant clinical professor of law.

Broad Leib received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her B.A. from Columbia University.

Sabrineh Ardalan named clinical professor of law and faculty director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

via Harvard Law Today

Headshot of Sabrineh Ardalan

credit: Martha Stewart

Sabrineh Ardalan ’02, who teaches in the fields of immigration and refugee law and advocacy, was appointed a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and faculty director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, effective January 1.  Ardalan, formerly an assistant clinical professor and assistant director of HIRC, succeeds Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, founder and inaugural faculty director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic Program.

“Through her outstanding work in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, Sabi Ardalan has made vital contributions to litigation, advocacy, pedagogy, and teaching in the important fields of immigration and refugee rights,” said John F. Manning ’85, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of Harvard Law School. “Through her exceptional expertise and commitment as a teacher, Sabi has trained countless students to do excellent and impactful work serving countless clients at a critical time.  I thank Debbie Anker for her vision in founding HIRC and training lawyers now working across the globe. I know that Sabi will build on that great foundation to ensure that Harvard Law School continues to lead, to contribute, and to help others through the clinic’s superb work.”

Ardalan joined HIRC as a clinical fellow in 2008. She was appointed a lecturer on law in 2010 and an assistant clinical professor in 2017. In 2012, she was appointed assistant director of HIRC.

At HLS, Ardalan teaches courses on immigration, U.S. asylum law, international refugee law, international labor migration, and trauma, refugees and asylum. In her clinical work, she supervises and trains law students in direct client representation, appellate litigation, research, and policy advocacy.

She has written amicus briefs on cutting-edge issues in U.S. immigration and asylum law submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals, federal district courts, circuit courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Ardalan initiated the clinic’s interdisciplinary approach, partnering with an on-site social worker, and currently oversees and collaborates closely with the clinic’s social work staff as part of her teaching and client advocacy. Since 2017, she has helped lead HIRC’s response to the travel ban and border and interior enforcement executive orders, and launched HIRC’s efforts to provide legal and social services to undocumented members of the Harvard community.

Ardalan is a Fulbright specialist at the University of Zagreb in Croatia, Faculty of Law for a 2020 project on human rights and legitimacy in European Union and U.S. migration and asylum law. She has been a visiting lecturer on immigration and refugee law at Yale University and at the College of Law and Business in Tel Aviv, Israel. She co-taught an international human rights practicum in New Delhi, India, as an adjunct professor with the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Boyd School of Law. In 2016, she conducted research on the development of the asylum system in Morocco and EU border externalization policies as a Fulbright Senior Scholar. In 2015, she was one of the honorees in the HLS International Women’s Day Celebration.

Ardalan’s work has been published or is forthcoming in a wide range of publications, including the Brooklyn Law Review, the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, the Michigan Journal of Law Reform, the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, The Fordham Urban Law Journal, The Leiden Journal of International Law, Westlaw’s Immigration Briefings and in major media publications. Her article, “Trump is Rewriting Asylum Law,” appeared in the Atlantic (Nov. 13, 2018). She has also contributed to several books, including “Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness Expertise and Testimony” (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and “Securitizing Asylum Flows” (Brill, forthcoming).

“I am deeply grateful to the Dean, Clinic Founder Deborah Anker, and Harvard Law School for this opportunity to work with incredible law students and dedicated colleagues to advance the rights of immigrants and refugees,” said Ardalan. “Debbie is a legend in the field who has taught and mentored countless students. I am lucky to be one of them. It is such a privilege to be part of this community. And at a moment when there is an unprecedented assault on immigrants’ rights, it is also our obligation to use our skills to pursue justice.”

Anker, who will continue to support the program as Founder and engage in research in the field, said: “Sabi has that extraordinary combination of commitment to clients, the immigrant community, and brilliant appellate advocacy and scholarship. I know the Program will expand and flourish under her directorship.”

Prior to her work with the clinic, Ardalan clerked for Judge Michael A. Chagares of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and Judge Raymond J. Dearie of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She previously served as the Equal Justice America fellow at The Opportunity Agenda, where she worked on advocacy for a right to health care under U.S. and international law, and as a litigation associate at Dewey Ballantine.

She earned a B.A. in history and international studies from Yale University in 1997 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002.

Crimmigration Clinic wins BIA appeal

via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

red background with 'Crimmigration Clinic Harvard Law School' imposed on it in white

On December 31, 2019, the Crimmigration Clinic celebrated a victory on behalf of a client who had been detained for more than a year. Based on arguments submitted by the Clinic, the Board of Immigration Appeals (the Board) terminated removal proceedings against the client and released him from detention.

“In spite of the injustices our client has faced, I’m thrilled to know that he’ll soon be reunited with his family,” said Niku Jafarnia ’20. Jafarnia, and her case team partner, Joseph Tahbaz ’20, co-authored the appeals brief filed with the Board that resulted in the victory.

Like many immigrants, David* was denied justice in several ways. Although he had a strong case for possible immigration remedies, the Immigration Judge (IJ) denied him relief from removal largely due to a conviction for violating a Florida statute, which the IJ found triggered the “crime of child abuse” removal ground. The IJ’s decision was made in spite of the fact that David had lived in the United States for over 20 years as a green-card-holder, has two elderly U.S. citizen parents, and helps support his U.S. citizen teenage daughter. Additionally, the IJ failed to properly record the favorable testimony from David’s family at the hearing during which the IJ denied his request for relief. Without a transcript of that hearing, it was impossible for the Board to effectively review the IJ’s decision denying his relief. David knew the odds were stacked against him and he sought help.

The Crimmigration Clinic stepped in to represent David with his appeal to the Board. Jafarnia and Tahbaz worked diligently to craft an argument that had not yet been made in David’s case—David was not removable in the first place because his Florida conviction did not actually trigger the “crime of child abuse” ground of removal. Shortly after filing their brief, the Board’s decision was issued. The court agreed that the Florida statute covered criminal conduct that reached far beyond what the removal ground was designed to cover. The Board ultimately held that David’s conviction did not render him removable because the Florida statute criminalizes conduct that does not necessarily result in harm to a child, or even a significant risk of such harm. Without a viable ground of removal, the government terminated proceedings against him and released him from detention.

According to Tahbaz, the legal victory in David’s case is a reminder that even in these troubling times, there is hope that the law will be applied fairly and faithfully. “This case gives me great hope. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in our client’s future.” said Tahbaz.

*Client’s name has been changed to respect his privacy.

Remembering Dale Kensinger

via Procedurally Taxing

by Keith Fogg

Black and white headshot of Dale Kensinger

Dale Kensinger

On January 15, 2020, Dale Kensinger passed away leaving a big hole at the Tax Clinic at Harvard Law School.  You can find his obituary here.  Until very recently Dale put in a few days a week doing volunteer work at the tax clinic, where he had his own dedicated office as part of the supervising team.

I first met Dale on March 14, 1977, when I started working for Chief Counsel, IRS in Branch 3 of the Refund Litigation Division.  Dale was one of nine attorneys in the branch and was the second most senior.  As a newly minted law school graduate, I remember thinking Dale, who was about 35 at the time, was really old.  He was also extremely knowledgeable, generous with his time and kind.  I was fortunate to start my legal career in a small branch of attorneys that included someone like Dale.

Dale moved on to the Kansas City office of Chief Counsel only nine months after I arrived.  I moved on after just 18 months because of a reorganization that sent all of us to field offices across the country or to other National Office divisions.  Dale worked in the Kansas City office from 1978 to 1999 where he became the Assistant District Counsel.  Other than seeing him at the occasional training program, our paths essentially did not cross during these years though we both worked for the same large organization.

He retired in 1999 and founded the low income taxpayer clinic at University of Missouri – Kansas City.  He also became active in the ABA tax section and quickly rose to leadership in the low income taxpayer committee.  When I retired in 2007 and began teaching at Villanova, I reconnected with Dale through the ABA Tax Section.  Then Dale retired again in 2009 to move from Kansas City to Boston to be near his daughter, Elizabeth.  Following his retirement from the UMKC clinic, Dale became less active with the ABA but he was not finished helping low income taxpayers.

My colleague at the Legal Services Center at Harvard, Dan Nagin, arrived in 2012 to start a veteran’s clinic and quickly found that he had many clients who needed tax assistance.  Dan searched around for someone who could help these clients and connected with Dale.  Dale worked with volunteer students from Harvard to service the veteran clients until Dan could convince the Harvard faculty to formally start a tax clinic.  When the tax clinic formally started in 2015, I came to Harvard as a visitor to get it going and had the incredibly good fortune to have Dale there already to guide me once again.

Dale served three years in the air force during the Vietnam War.  His time as a veteran, his kind and patient nature as well as his deep knowledge of tax practice, allowed him to fix the tax problems of many veterans, and others, during the five years I worked with him in the tax clinic at Harvard.  He not only handled a substantial docket but he mentored students, fellows and me.  The tax clinic misses him on many levels.  His clients miss him deeply and several have commented to me over the past two months how much he helped them and how much they hoped and prayed for his recovery.

Because of his extraordinary service to low income taxpayers in his retirement, Dale was selected in 2018 as the co-recipient of the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award which is the only annual award given by the Tax Section.  The ABA Tax Section describes the award and the selection criteria as follows:

This award was established in 2002 to recognize one or more individuals or law firms for outstanding and sustained achievements in pro bono activities in tax law. In 2007 the award was renamed in honor of the late Janet Spragens, who received the award in 2006 in recognition of her dedication to the development of low income taxpayer clinics throughout the United States.

Throughout the 50+ years of his career as a tax lawyer, Dale provided a model of caring about finding the right answer through his legal skills and caring about his clients with his interpersonal skills.  At the tax clinic we are reminded daily of Dale’s work as we try to finish what he started with the clients he was representing.  We were very fortunate to have him as a colleague and a role model for so many years.  I will miss our regular talks about baseball, politics, difficult clients, difficult IRS employees and wonderful granddaughters.  Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this time.

Harvard Law School clinician testifies in support of Massachusetts food and health pilot program

A wooden box with a caduceus and the inscription: 'Food is Medicine' holds fresh producevia Harvard Law Today

Food insecurity and hunger cost the Commonwealth of Massachusetts nearly $1.9 billion in avoidable health care costs every year.

Today, a team of attorneys from the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI) and Community Servings, a nonprofit food and nutrition program, testified at a hearing on proposed legislation to establish a food and health pilot program in the state of Massachusetts.

Harvard Law School Clinical Instructor and CHLPI staff attorney Katie Garfield ’11 and Jean Terranova, Community Servings’ director of food and health policy, testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health at the Massachusetts State House.

The new legislation, titled An Act Relative to Establishing and Implementing a Food and Health Pilot Program, is the first major result of a report CHLPI and Community Servings released last summer—the “Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan.” The legislation, introduced by Massachusetts Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham), provides a blueprint to successfully integrate nutrition services into health care delivery and financing in the Commonwealth—a proven strategy to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs for people experiencing food insecurity and living with chronic illness.

The legislation would require the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to establish a Food and Health Pilot Program that equips health care systems to connect MassHealth enrollees with diet-related health conditions to one of the three appropriate nutrition services, with the expectation that health outcomes will improve and cost of care will decrease.

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader in health care policy,” said Garfield in testimony before the committee. “However, we continue to struggle with two issues that play a fundamental role in driving health outcomes and health care costs: food insecurity and diet-related disease. … A growing body of evidence indicates that connecting these individuals to “Food is Medicine” interventions may be an effective, low-cost strategy to improve health outcomes, decrease use of expensive health care services, and improve patient quality of life.”

Published in June 2019, the “Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan” is a product of a two-year, community-driven initiative that engaged more than 400 people from across the state. The initiative sought to identify health and food system reforms to improve access to critical nutrition interventions and change the culture and practices of the health system.

CHLPI and Community Servings also launched Food is Medicine Massachusetts (FIMMA), a multi-sector coalition comprised of more than 50 organizations representing nutrition programs, patient advocacy groups, health care providers, health insurers, academics, and professional associations.

CHLPI advocates for legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to improve the health of underserved populations with a focus on the needs of low-income people living with chronic illnesses. Community Servings provides medically tailored, nutritious meals to chronically and critically ill individuals and their families.

In recent years, four Mass. jails got $164 million in federal money to house ICE detainees

An ICE officer badge in gold and blue is shown clippped to a belt of an officer


via The Boston Globe

by Danny McDonald

The state has received more than $160 million in funding from federal immigration authorities since 2012, mostly in exchange for keeping and transporting ICE detainees in jails run by four Massachusetts sheriff’s departments, a Globe review has found.

The sum, brought into the state’s coffers through controversial contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has raised the eyebrows of some advocates and immigration attorneys who oppose the agreements and think there are better alternatives.

The sheriff’s offices, meanwhile, have defended the arrangements, with at least two departments saying their relationship with ICE has made Massachusetts residents safer.

The funding in question stemmed from agreements between ICE and the sheriff’s offices for Plymouth, Bristol, Franklin, and Suffolk counties, according to spreadsheets and invoices obtained through public records requests. Suffolk announced in October that it would end its relationship with ICE so it can provide rehabilitative services to more women who will soon be housed at its South End jail commonly referred to as South Bay.

AI Ethics Principles Undergo Meta-Analysis, Human Rights Emphasized


by Daniel Nelson

Word spread containing words related to AI ethics, such as 'morals', 'honor', 'philosophy', 'values', and 'truth'

In 2019, there was more focus on AI ethics than ever before. However much of this discussion seemed hazy, with no codified approach. Rather, different companies created their own frameworks and policies regarding AI ethics. Having a consensus on AI ethics issues is important because it helps policymakers create and adjusts policies, and it also informs the work done by researchers and scholars. Beyond that, AI companies must know where ethical limits are if they hope to avoid unethical AI implementation. In order to create a better picture of the trends in AI ethics, as VentureBeats reports, the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University performed a meta-analysis of the various existing AI ethics principles and frameworks.

According to the authors of the analysis, the researchers wanted to compare the principles side-by-side to look for overlap and divergence. Jessica Fjeld, the assistant director of the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, explained that the research team wanted to “uncover the hidden momentum in a fractured, global conversation around the future of AI, resulted in this white paper and the associated data visualization.”

During the analysis, the team examined 36 different AI principle documents originating from around the world and coming from many different organizational types. The results of the research found that there were eight themes that kept appearing across the many documents.

Privacy and accountability were two of the most commonly appearing ethical themes, as was AI safety/security. Transparency/explainability was also a commonly cited goal, with there many attempts to make algorithms more explainable over the course of 2019. Fairness/non-discrimination was another ethical focal point, reflecting growing concerns about data bias. Ensuring human control of technology, and not surrendering decision power to AI was heavily mentioned as well. Professional responsibility was the seventh common theme found by the researchers. Finally, the researchers found continual mention of promoting human values in the AI ethics documentation they examined.

The research team gave qualitative and quantitative breakdowns of how these themes manifested themselves within AI ethics documentation in their paper and in an accompanying map. The map displays where each of the themes were mentioned.

The research team noted that much of the AI ethics discussion revolved around concern for human values and rights. As the research paper notes:

“64% of our documents contained a reference to human rights, and five documents [14%] took international human rights as a framework for their overall effort.”

References to human rights and values were more common in documents produced by private sector groups and civil society groups. This indicates that AI private sector companies aren’t concerned just with profits but with producing AI in an ethical way. Meanwhile, government agencies seem less concerned or aware of AI ethics overall, with less than half of AI-related documents originating from government agencies concerning themselves with AI ethics.

The researchers also noted that if the documents they examined were more recent, they were more likely to address all of the eight most prominent themes instead of just a few. This fact implies that the ideas behind what constitutes ethical AI usage are beginning to coalesce among those leading the discussion about AI ethics. Finally, the researchers state that the success of these principles in guiding the development of AI will depend on how well integrated they are in the AI development community at large. The researchers state in the paper:

“Moreover, principles are a starting place for governance, not an end. On its own, a set of principles is unlikely to be more than gently persuasive. Its impact is likely to depend on how it is embedded in a larger governance ecosystem, including for instance relevant policies (e.g. AI national plans), laws, regulations, but also professional practices and everyday routines.”

OCP note: To read more about Jessica Fjled and Adam Nagy’s work on ethics and governance of AI, read their report called Principled Artificial Intelligence: Mapping Consensus in Ethic and Rights-Based Approached to Principles for AI.

2019 HRP Summer Fellow Reflection: Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva, SJD Candidate

Cabrera Silva spent Summer 2019 at Colectivo Emancipaciones, in Morelia, Michoacán, México

Summer fellowships for human rights internships are a central part of the Harvard Law School human rights experience. During the summer of 2019, HRP funded five HLS students to intern abroad at nongovernmental organizations for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of their internships, students returned to HRP with a deeper appreciation for the type of work required of human rights practitioners. Over the course of the next month while our summer fellowship application is open, we’ll be excerpting portions from their fellowship reports to provide a glimpse into the kinds of experiences open to human rights students at Harvard Law.

As an SJD candidate studying grassroots mobilizing in human rights, Angel Gabriel Cabrera Silva wanted to immerse himself in a social justice organization working in partnership with indigenous communities. He joined Colectivo Emancipaciones, an NGO that advocates on behalf of indigenous rights. In order to express its democratic goals, the Colectivo organizes itself into non-hierarchical “commissions.” Angel joined the “Litigation Commission” and the “Community Council’s Commission.” In the former, Cabrera Silva worked on strategic litigation on behalf of indigenous communities. In the latter, he worked with communities on socio-political organizing.

He described his work as follows:

“Currently, the Colectivo Emancipaciones is working alongside Community Councils of the towns of Pichátaro, San Felipe de los Herreros, Arantepacua, and Santa Fe de la Laguna to intervene in a legislative process that intends to regulate their budgetary autonomy. The axis of this strategy is to preemptively organize the social and political aspects of a process for free, prior, and informed consultation that will be reclaimed after (and if) this bill is discussed by Congress. As such, my task was to attend meetings with the various Councils, brief them about the legal elements of the strategy, listen to their opinions, and collaboratively think about how to articulate the organizational aspects (like when and how would it be easier to organize a politically efficient process of free, prior, and informed consent).”

Cabrera Silva plans to return to some of the communities that Colectivo partnered with later in his SJD to do fieldwork. Over the summer, he was particularly impressed with the community commitment of the NGO. He explained that working at Colectivo Emancipaciones provided “a clear example of how the outcomes of human rights work change when advocates have direct political commitments to specific social movements (rather than abstract normative commitments or indirect commitments with donors).”

At Colectivo, he said, “the role of lawyers was never to upkeep any norm or to advise the communities about the proper legal avenue to get a favorable decision. Instead, the lawyers were constantly reviewing the political and social usefulness of any legal action. The constant contact with community councils meant that the Colectivo was always in touch with what material solutions were needed, and their work revolved around that aspect. In fact, the very structure of the Colectivo (organized in a Commission) seems to have been learned from the way the Community Councils organize themselves.”

Angel further elaborated on how the funding structure of the NGO provided a positive influence on its culture, saying: “The fellowship also gave me a lot of insights into how NGOs are sometimes influenced by external sources of funding. The Colectivo Emancipaciones has an internal policy of not accepting any money that might condition their work. In this sense, they have almost no external donors. They mostly fund themselves through their own professional independent practice. They have also established collaborative academic research projects as a means to embolden their alliance with the communities. This mode of practice has an important influence on the power dynamics between the Colectivo, communities, and the individual members of the Colectivo, which are much more horizontal and open for reflection.”

Overall, the internship gave Cabrera Silva the opportunity to re-examine what skills are important in human rights work. “Normally, I would think that having expertise in the latest development of international standards and knowing all the international procedures was one of the most important advantages of a human rights lawyer. However, I realize how little this technical knowledge might matter in contrast to developing the skills that relate to political strategizing, community organizing, and even inter-personal support.”

Interested in learning more about HRP Summer Fellowships? Schedule an advising appointment with Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and apply to join our 2020 cohort today! Please note that you do not need to have a confirmed placement organization before you apply for the 2020 HRP summer fellowship pool. Applications are due February 1, 2020!

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