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Where a Lawyer Makes All the Difference – And Only One Side Has One: Adjartey and the Urgent Need for Court Reform and a Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases

via Boston Bar Journal

by Esme Caramello, Joel Feldman, and Geraldine Gruvis-Pizarro

Each week, more than 750 tenants across Massachusetts face eviction in the courts of the Commonwealth. While the vast majority of landlords bringing eviction cases have counsel—almost 80% in the state’s Housing Courts last year—fewer than 9% of people faced with losing their homes have a lawyer to represent them. See Housing Court Department, Fiscal Year 2019 Statistics (2019). This disparity in access to counsel would create an unjust power imbalance in any legal setting. In the context of eviction cases, with their tight timelines and complicated procedural rules, the advantage that represented landlords enjoy over their unrepresented tenants is even more troubling.

In the summer of 2019, the Supreme Judicial Court took up this systemic inequality in Adjartey v. Central Division of the Housing Court Department481 Mass. 830 (2019). In a striking opinion on behalf of a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Gants reached far beyond the individual claims of the parties to describe an onerous summary process system and the barriers that pro se litigants face in trying to navigate it. In its breadth and detail, the opinion illustrates how “the complexity and speed of summary process cases can present formidable challenges to individuals facing eviction, particularly where those individuals are not represented by an attorney.” Id. at 831.

The decision makes a compelling case. Summary process is procedurally complex to begin with, id. at 834, and this complexity is “exacerbated by the web of applicable statutes and rules.” Id. at 837. The Uniform Summary Process Rules are just one part of the procedural maze. Id. at 836-37. The Rules of Civil Procedure also apply, but only sometimes, as do an array of statutes and standing orders. As the Court observed, “[d]eciding when to apply which of these rules—and how to resolve inconsistencies among them—is [a] formidable challenge for an unrepresented litigant seeking to comply with fast-moving deadlines, especially when that litigant is also facing the stress of a potential eviction.” Id. at 837.

Further complicating the task of the pro se litigant, the Court noted, is the speed at which a summary process case proceeds. Id. Once a case is filed, it is scheduled to go to trial on the first court date, just ten days later. Upon receipt of the Summons and Complaint, a tenant must figure out that an “answer” is required, and file and “serve” it, within a week after the case is filed. If she does not properly assert a “jury demand” in that answer, she waives her Constitutional right to trial by a jury of her peers. The tenant also must understand what “discovery requests” are and make sure her landlord receives them within that same short week. Overall, the time from service of process to judgment and execution can be as little as 19 days. Two business days later, a constable can remove the tenant from her home. As the Adjartey Court observed, “[t]he swiftness of this process … leaves little room for error.” Id. at 837.

As noted above, beyond the inherent complexity and speed of summary process, the vast majority of tenants are attempting to figure out the process on their own. In the words of the Court, “summary process cases are complex, fast-moving, and generally litigated by landlords who are represented by attorneys and tenants who are not.” Id. at 834. Because “in most cases, … the landlord has an attorney who understands how to navigate the eviction process and the tenant does not,” the system is not just out of reach for tenants, but also out of balance. Id. at 838. This imbalance presented an injustice the Adjartey Court could not ignore.

In an “Appendix” following the Adjartey decision, the Court attempted to gather, in one place, all the procedural laws governing summary process cases. Doing so took 35 slip opinion pages. While the Adjartey Appendix might be a useful primer on summary process for a lawyer or experienced advocate, it looks different from the perspective of a low-income mother with limited English proficiency and severe anxiety facing eviction. For her, and for most unrepresented tenants, the Appendix primarily highlights what the rest of the Adjartey decision implies: the eviction system is too hard to understand and navigate without the assistance of a lawyer. And where landlords generally have this assistance and tenants do not, the Appendix is an indictment of a system that aspires but fails to offer equal justice to all.

In a study of summary process judgments listed on masscourts.org from 2007-2015 in three out of the then-five divisions of the Housing Court (Boston, Central and Western), the Access to Attorneys Committee of the Access to Justice Commission found that landlords won judgment a shocking 98% of the time. See Shannon Barnes et al., Final Report of the Access to Attorneys Committee of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, 9 (May 2017). With Adjartey, the Supreme Judicial Court has shown us why.

Court Reform as a Necessary Step

Reforming the summary process system is an urgent need. To that end, the Trial Court has recently created a committee that has begun to work on simplifying court forms. Developing plain-language, accessible forms that the typical pro se litigant can understand and use is a necessary first step.  But forms alone will not level the playing field in a process that is too complicated and too fast to navigate without counsel.

There are many simple changes that would make summary process more accessible for pro se litigants. At a recent meeting convened by the Trial Court’s summary process reform committee, for example, most tenant lawyers and landlord lawyers agreed that the first court date in an eviction case should not be a trial. Instead, it can be an opportunity for the parties to explore settlement through mediation, and for unrepresented litigants to learn more about the process and seek help from a volunteer lawyer. It also can be a time for tenants to prepare the answers, jury demands, and discovery requests that they may be learning about for the first time when they arrive at court. We are hopeful that the court will soon implement this popular and sensible reform.

A range of other simple reforms are outlined in detail in a December 2017 report that Massachusetts submitted to the Public Welfare Foundation after a yearlong examination of “Justice for All” in the Commonwealth led by a team of judges and practitioners that included Chief Justice Ralph Gants. See The Massachusetts Justice for All Project, Massachusetts Justice for All Strategic Action Plan, 34-56 (Dec. 22, 2017). From rethinking cellphone bans that exclude unsuspecting tenants (and their evidence) from courthouses—a step the Trial Court has recently agreed to take—to promoting flexible scheduling that enables low-wage workers to avoid missing work, the Justice for All report is full of small and big ideas that would make the system fairer. The authors of this article sit on a committee of the Access to Justice Commission tasked with pursuing the report’s recommendations, but a much broader effort is needed for real change to happen.

If Landlords Have Lawyers, Tenants Need Lawyers, Too

In an ideal world, our housing dispute resolution system would be simple enough for people to use on their own, and the systemic power imbalances created by dramatic disparities in representation would be eliminated. But in a system designed for lawyers where only one side has one, access to substantive justice is not and cannot be equal. Tenants need lawyers to make the system work fairly.

Existing fee-shifting statutes should entice private attorneys to represent tenants in many eviction cases, and a few lawyers around the state have built financially successful practices representing tenants, but for reasons the Access to Justice Commission is still studying, fee-shifting statutes are underutilized. “Lawyer for a day” programs are meaningful and certainly help. But the problems Adjartey describes cannot be solved by last-minute limited assistance representation, even with experts doing the work. Too much has transpired by the time the lawyer-for-a-day steps in, when answers and jury trials and discovery have been waived by the unsuspecting tenant and the opportunity to investigate or gather admissible evidence has passed. As a 2012 Boston Bar Association study showed, only vigorous full representation enables tenants to fairly litigate their claims. See Boston Bar Association Task Force on the Civil Right to Counsel, The Importance of Representation in Eviction Cases and Homelessness Prevention (Mar. 2012) (summarizing research by Harvard Professor James Greiner and Harvard College Fellow Cassandra Pattanayak showing dramatic differences in outcomes for tenants receiving full representation by experienced litigators as opposed to advice through lawyer-for-a-day program).

New York City, San Francisco, Newark and Cleveland have all recently implemented a right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases. Massachusetts is poised to follow suit with several bills under consideration on Beacon Hill. The active support of the bar for these bills is crucial to bring balance, and legitimacy, to our summary process system. Adjartey is our call to action.

 

Esme Caramello is a Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the Faculty Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.  She is a Trustee of the Boston Bar Foundation and a member of its Grants Committee, as well as a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and co-chair of its Housing Working Group.

Joel Feldman is a shareholder in the law firm of Heisler, Feldman & McCormick, P.C..  He serves on the Executive Committee of the Access to Justice Commission,and co-chairs the Commission’s Housing Working Group.

Geraldine Gruvis-Pizarro has been representing tenants in eviction cases for the past four years and is currently a staff attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) in the housing and family law units. She is also the VLP Chairperson at the statewide Language Access Coaliton. Attorney Gruvis represents VLP at the BBA Real Estate Public Service Committee working alongside private attorneys, the court and the Boston Bar Association to maintain high quality services to the public at the Eastern Division of the Housing Court in Boston.

Harvard Law School clinicians testify on legislation supporting tenants in eviction cases

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Alexis Farmer

Credit: Lorin Granger
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks in front of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Four Harvard Law School clinicians—Esme Caramello, Patricia Whiting and Nicole Summers from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) and Shelley Barron from the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP)—presented testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary on a series of housing bills aimed at tenants facing eviction.

On July 16, the clinicians provided remarks in support of bills requiring tenants facing eviction to have a right to counsel and sealing eviction records. HLAB testified against four rent escrow bills. Nearly 100 people, including community organizers, legal aid lawyers, legislators, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh attended the hearing.

Right to Counsel

In 2018, more than 92% of tenants who faced eviction were unrepresented according to the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition. Unable to afford an attorney, most tenants represent themselves, even though they are often unfamiliar with the legalese and processes of the court. Legal services organizations like HLAB, TAP and the Housing Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) fill in the gap by providing pro bono representation to tenants, but they say their limited capacity constrains them from taking on the number of clients that request their services.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron testifies in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to her right is Annette Duke, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Rep. David M. Rogers (D-Middlesex), Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Suffolk),and Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) are sponsoring bills that would ensure the right to counsel in eviction proceedings. If a tenant cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them, similar to defendants in criminal cases. Studies in Massachusetts and other stateshave shown that tenants with representation have a better chance of reaching agreements with landlords to stay in their homes and avoid having an eviction on their record.

Also in favor of the resolution was TAP Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron. She told the committee, “low-income tenants should have a fair and meaningful chance at preserving their affordable housing. The right to a legal advocate will go a long way to ensuring access to justice for low-income tenants in the Commonwealth.” She also stated lawyers can help tenants before problems escalate to the point of court intervention.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Nicole Summers (right) testifying in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to the left is Andrea Nickerson, a tenant in Boston public housing.

Challengers questioned whether the state should be funding legal representation for one side of the case. Supporters argued that the bill includes provisions for low-income landlords to have a right to counsel. Barron says, “A right to counsel is not the only policy option to help keep families housed, but studies have indicated it is a concrete way to reduce homelessness. It’s also a matter of dignity, of ensuring that vulnerable tenants have a voice in an overwhelming and imbalanced system.”

Mayor Walsh urged the committee to look seriously into the legislation, stating that, “this is not about stacking the deck in favor of a tenant, it’s about ensuring equal justice under the law.” HLAB Clinical Instructor Nicole Summers suggested a plan of implementation to ensure courts and legal service providers have time to adjust.

Other bills that ensure a right to counsel include H. 1537 and S. 913.

The HOMES Act—An Act Promoting Housing Opportunity and Mobility Through Eviction Sealing

The HOMES Act (H.3566/S.824) sponsored by Rep. Michael J. Moran (D-Suffolk) and Sen. Joseph Boncore, (D-Suffolk and Middlesex) would seal eviction proceedings. In a study by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) at least 1 million eviction cases have been filed in Massachusetts since 1988. The records of those eviction cases remain online forever, regardless of the outcome.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Faculty Director and Clinical Professor of Law Esme Caramello testifies in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Andrea Park, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

The “Scarlet E,” as it’s known, is said to create barriers to housing, allowing prospective landlords to reject potential tenants. Records of an eviction can also impact tenants’ credit scores, their ability to secure loans, and employment opportunities. The HOMES Act would seal eviction cases once they are filed and would only be unsealed when a judge makes a ruling and finds fault, such as if a tenant has failed to pay rent or violated a condition of their lease. Eviction case records would be publicly available for three years then sealed. Sealed records could be released for governmental, journalistic, or research purposes. The bill would also make it illegal to name minors or others not responsible for rent as a defendant in an eviction case.

Mayor Walsh, Boston City Council Representative Lydia Edwards, the ACLU of Massachusetts, community organizations like the Chelsea Collaborative and even a few landlords supported the bill. Tenants and lawyers shared experiences about the damaging consequences an eviction record can have on finding new housing for veterans, domestic violence survivors, individuals with disabilities, college-bound students, and low-income women of color. Esme Caramello, Clinical Professor and Faculty Director of HLAB, pushed the urgency of the issue, calling it an “an invisible crisis.”

Opponents say that eviction records hold important information for landlords about the past behavior of potential tenants. Landlords in favor of the bill listed alternative ways of getting the same information to check the credibility of potential clients, such as a credit checks. Caramello says the act would protect tenants from being unfairly branded with an eviction record for the rest of their lives. “The idea is that even if we made a mistake or fall on hard times, we can move on with our lives at some point,” she told the committee.

Rent Escrow

Clinical Instructor Pattie Whiting spoke out against four rent escrow bills being considered by the committee, including one sponsored by Nicolas Boldyga (R-Hampden). Massachusetts law allows tenants to withhold rent when the landlord fails to make necessary repairs or address sanitary code violations. The statute that the mandatory rent escrow bills seek to amend, is a crucial tool for ensuring that residential rental properties are kept in habitable condition, Whiting said. As currently written, the statute provides both a mechanism for tenants to enforce the State Sanitary Code and a disincentive for landlords to let properties fall into disrepair.

Whiting argued that the proposed legislation imposes additional and unnecessary procedural prerequisites on tenants seeking to withhold rent and/or raise their poor living conditions as a defense to an eviction action. For example, requiring a board of health inspection report prior to withholding, requiring a second written notice to the landlord after the board of health inspection, and escrowing all of the rent claimed to be due by the landlord. “The vast majority of tenants would not be able to comply with these procedural requirements,” Whiting said, “particularly those who are disabled, illiterate or who do not speak English.” If a tenant failed to comply with the law as proposed, they would be denied the right to present their case in court, which advocates say undermines the statutory intent of ensuring that residential dwellings are maintained in habitable condition.

A Large Base of Support

Barron left the hearing hopeful. “Often for housing legislation, we’re playing defensively…but today we were pushing for exciting innovations and trying to improve access to justice for low-income tenants,” she said. Barron and Caramello were both encouraged by the large turnout of tenants, community groups, and government officials. Caramello noted, “The packed hearing highlighted the urgency of the work of building fairness into our lopsided eviction system.”

The committee will decide which bills will be reported out of the committee and advance to the floor for a vote. The last day for the formal session of the legislature is November 20.

JET-Powered Learning: New 1L January Experiential Term courses focus on skills-building, collaboration and self-reflection

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Elaine McArdle

Imagine that you’ve come to law school knowing that you want to be a great public interest lawyer or an inventive entrepreneur or a savvy trial lawyer. Or you want to focus consciously on what it takes to be an effective public- or private-sector leader. Or perhaps you don’t yet know exactly what you want to do but you’re curious about the options the world holds for you. Through a sweeping array of new, innovative, hands-on courses, Harvard Law School’s new January Experiential Term gives 1L students a chance, early in their time on campus, to learn by doing, to work in teams, and to explore—or discover—what inspires their passion in the law.

For Armani J. Madison ’21, the new JET offerings did just that. Madison arrived at Harvard Law School with the goal of working for the public interest, possibly with a civil rights law firm that represents lower-income clients. For his J-term course, Madison chose “Lawyering for Justice in the United States,” one of eight courses developed for the new JET curriculum designed to give students time to develop practical lawyering skills, to reflect on their studies and careers, and to connect with each other.

Lawyering for Social Justice explores how lawyers can contribute to broader movements for social change through such means as impact litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, transactional work, and community lawyering. Team-taught by four clinical professors—Esme Caramello ’99, faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau; Tyler Giannini, co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic; Michael Gregory ’04, clinical professor, Education Law Clinic; and Dehlia Umunna, faculty deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute—Lawyering for Justice focused on a different social justice problem each day. Covering areas as diverse as criminal justice, education, human rights, immigration, predatory lending, and more, this unique course enabled students to practice core competencies required for effective systemic advocacy including diagnosing problems, identifying stakeholders, and designing remedies. Working in teams, students also engaged in exercises such as participating in a mock bail argument on behalf of a client they’d just met, and counseling clients on whether to take a settlement. The course culminated with a day-long “hackathon,” in which student teams developed a plan of action to address a specific social justice lawyering challenge.

Madison, who calls the course “amazing,” says he valued the opportunity to see what actual lawyering is like; the mock bail hearings, for example, had a significant impact on his understanding of the criminal justice system. “We not only had the opportunity to argue our points and rebut the other side, but we were in front of someone playing a judge with all the characteristics [a real judge] might have,” he says.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Dehlia Umunna (left) team-taught “Lawyering for Justice in the United States” with Esme Caramello ’99, Tyler Giannini, and Michael Gregory ’04.

Credit: Lorin Granger
“The Lawyering for Justice” course culminated with a day-long “hackathon,” in which student teams developed a plan of action to address a specific social justice lawyering problem.

. . .

The new courses are part of a series of initiatives that stem from an effort to rigorously examine and question assumptions about the Law School’s curriculum—all with an eye toward better preparing students for legal practice in the 21st century. One of the first steps Dean John F. Manning ’85 took after beginning his deanship in July 2017 was to constitute a curricular innovations committee, chaired by deputy deans John Goldberg and Kristen Stilt. The committee’s work during its first year included outreach to students, alumni, and other members of the practicing bar through surveys, focus groups, and multiple individual conversations. The aim was to get a firm understanding of what students and practitioners valued and hoped for in the 1L curriculum and how individual courses influenced career paths and professional success. In addition, Manning and the curriculum committee, which includes the deputy deans and Catherine Claypoole, associate dean and dean for academic and faculty affairs, began to hold “curriculum committee open office hours” to create an another venue in which students could share their thoughts about the School’s curriculum, including what was working, what wasn’t, and what courses students would like to see added. Feedback throughout was overwhelmingly in support of rethinking the academic experience for 1Ls students during the January term.

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Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission Announces New Members, Including HLAB Clinical Professor and Faculty Director Esme Caramello

Via Mass.gov 

The Supreme Judicial Court [appointed] eight new members to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Commission seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law. Among other activities, the Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals to better understand and navigate civil legal proceedings.

Co-chaired by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Susan M. Finegan, Esq., of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, P.C., the Commission includes representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.

“The Commission welcomes our new members and appreciates their commitment to serve on the Commission in addition to the important positions they already hold, and their dedication to making our justice system work effectively for all of the Commonwealth’s residents,” Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants said.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with these new members, whose wide-ranging experience and knowledge will further strengthen our efforts to carry out the Commission’s mission,” said Attorney Finegan.

The eight newly appointed commissioners are:

  • Esme Caramello, Clinical Professor and Faculty Director at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Harvard Law School;
  • Hon. Fairlie Dalton, First Justice of the Northeast Housing Court;
  • Sandra Gant, Trial Attorney, Norfolk Superior Court Trial Unit, Committee for Public Counsel Services;
  • Richard Johnston, Chief Legal Counsel, Office of the Attorney General, and former WilmerHale partner;
  • Jennifer Grace Miller, Counsel to the Massachusetts Senate, and former chief of the Government Bureau at the Office of the Attorney General;
  • Susan Nagl, Executive Director of South Coastal Counties Legal Services;
  • Anthony Owens, Clerk-Magistrate of the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court; and
  • Mary Ryan, Partner, Nutter McClennen & Fish, and former president of the Boston Bar Association, former chair of the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, and former chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

Over the past 13 years, the Commission has undertaken a broad number of initiatives to support and expand assistance for people in need of civil legal aid in the areas of consumer protection and debt, housing, employment, family law, immigration and asylum cases, among many others. Recent initiatives include the following:

  • The Access to Justice Fellows program enlists senior attorneys and retired judges to volunteer their time for pro bono projects that support non-profit organizations or work with legal services to help people with civil cases such as indigent asylum-seekers or individuals facing eviction proceedings or bankruptcy. To date, more than 100 retired lawyers and judges have provided over 80,000 hours of pro bono service to 60 nonprofit entities through this program, which is managed by the Lawyers Clearinghouse.
  • The Civil Appeals Clinic provides a weekly clinic for eligible litigants who are representing themselves at the Appeals Court in civil appellate court matters on a number of issues, ranging from housing to family law (and full representation for selected qualifying persons), in collaboration with the Volunteer Lawyers Project, participating law firms and legal services organizations, and the Clerk’s Offices of the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court.
  • In 2016, the Justice for All project awarded the Commission a $100,000 grant to develop a strategic action plan for improving access to justice throughout the Commonwealth. In December of 2017 the Commission published a comprehensive Strategic Action Plan in collaboration with a wide range of representatives from the access to justice community. The grant was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and administered by the National Center for State Courts.
  • The Commission partnered with legal services organizations and Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the state, to win a second Justice for All grant to fund two new pilot projects to test innovative strategies for improving access to justice in the areas of consumer debt and housing.
  • The Commission worked with the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance, along with the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and other stakeholders, to allocate $8.3 million in funding to support civil legal aid for victims of crime under the Federal Victims of Crime Act.

More information about these projects and the Commission’s other activities is available in its Annual Report for 2017-2018 and on the Access to Justice Commission’s website.

Clinical Professor Esme Caramello Honored as one the 2018 Top Women of Law

Clinical Professor Esme Caramello ’99 is among the 2018 Top Women of Law honored by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. The award ceremony, held on October 18, honors “legal educators, trailblazers, and role models who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in social justice advocacy and business.”

Professor Caramello joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) in 2009 as deputy director and clinical instructor after having worked in the Housing Unit at HLS’s WilmerHale Legal Services Center and at Suffolk University Law School’s Housing Clinic. As a clinical instructor at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, she worked with students to help protect the rights of low-income tenants and homeowners. She was appointed to clinical professor of law in 2014 by Dean Martha Minow and shortly thereafter became the faculty director at HLAB.

“Esme’s experience in tenants’ rights is second to none,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. “Under her guidance, students connect practice and theory to solve important legal and policy issues affecting low-income individuals. Passionate and compassionate, her strategic approach ensures that the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau will continue to lead in vital work.”

Professor Caramello currently serves on several boards, including the Boston Bar Foundation, and the Cambridge City Manager’s Advisory Committee, and the Access to Justice Commission, where she serves on the Access to Attorneys Committee and co-chairs the Justice for All Housing Working Group. Professor Caramello also helped found the Developing Justice project at HLS, an initiative that uses technology to close the justice gap.

Professor Caramello is an inspiration to many students, faculty, and staff. In 2014, she was honored by HLS, the Women’s Law Association, and the Law and International Development Society in their photo exhibition for International Women’s Day, entitled Inspiring Change, Inspiring Us. HLAB alum Annie Lee who nominated Esme at the time wrote:

I’m inspired by Esme Caramello who works tirelessly to help low-income tenants facing eviction…When she’s not in court, Esme’s in the Bureau teaching and mentoring HLAB student attorneys. She’s generous with her time and dedicated to making us astute, ethical, and compassionate lawyers. I feel so lucky to have gotten to work with Esme on an eviction case last year. She let me take the reins in the case and strategize how to keep an elderly African-American woman in her home. She’s an excellent clinical instructor and has mentored me, as well as multiple classes of HLS men and women.

Caramello is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

The Justice Gap

America’s unfulfilled promise of “equal justice under law”

Via Harvard Magazine

Almost a century ago, a young Boston lawyer named Reginald Heber Smith published a landmark book called Justice and the Poor. It was about how people struggling economically were faring in the American legal system and why American lawyers needed to provide them with free legal aid. He wrote, “Nothing rankles more in the human heart than the feeling of injustice.” At the time, there were only 41 legal-aid organizations in the country, with a total of about 60 lawyers. The Boston Legal Aid Society, founded in 1900, was one of them. As a student at Harvard Law School, Smith had spent his summers as a volunteer there. When he graduated in 1913, he became the leader of that four-lawyer office and instituted a “daily time sheet”—on which lawyers recorded the hours they spent on cases—as a tool for increasing efficiency in addressing the 2,000 or so cases the society had on behalf of clients.

Smith’s book recounted how American lawyers had devised a system of substantive law and legal procedure so convoluted that it denied access to justice to anyone who didn’t have a lawyer to navigate it. That system, he contended, had to be fixed by greatly multiplying the number of legal-aid societies. Smith wrote, “It must be possible for the humble to invoke the protection of the law, through proper proceedings in the courts, for any invasion of his rights by whomsoever attempted, or freedom and equality vanish into nothingness.” His goal was to give “reality to equality by making it a living thing.” He warned that “denial of justice is the short cut to anarchy.”

Portrait photo of Daniel Nagin

Daniel Nagin
Photograph by Jim Harrison

If the bar provided lawyers for free, the poor would have access to justice and society would benefit. Smith’s vision was of lawyers for the poor providing the full range of legal services that lawyers for the rich were expected to deliver. His book’s introduction summarized his view: “Class hostilities would diminish, the turbulent marketplace would return to stability, and the poor’s disposition toward righteous conflict would be diverted. Society would be cleansed of its anarchistic elements, and the confidence of poor people in lawyers and the legal system would be re-established.”

Smith’s vision has never been realized in the United States, but it haunts the debate about how best to serve the legal needs of poor and low-income Americans—and about whether we even know what works best to solve the problems of this group. Poverty’s effects on human health are well documented: lives tend to be sadder, harder, and shorter. But the effects on poor and low-income people’s lives of needing a lawyer and not having one are not well documented at all.

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Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers: helping faculty and students connect with clients

Since 2007, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) has sponsored a Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers (SPIL) non-credit course to help students learn Spanish language skills. Later, in response to demand, OCP introduced a separate SPIL class for clinicians, in addition to the class for students. The curriculum emphasizes commonly used language in civil and criminal legal services and aims to strengthen attorney-client relations. Over the years, various LL.M. students have taught the course. For the past year, it has been taught by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau alumnae Nicole Summers J.D. ’14.

“Nicole is an outstanding teacher, and she really has a great understanding of what kinds of exercises and vocabulary will be most useful and have a direct application to our different practice areas,” said Clinical Professor of Law, Susan Farbstein who teaches in the International Human Rights Clinic.

Anna Andreeva J.D. ’17, a student in the class, said that she has already gained the confidence to hold an interview with a client in Spanish.

Another student, a native Spanish speaker, Mario Nguyên J.D. ’17 is also taking the course. “My mother is from Mexico, and I worked and went to school in Mexico,” he said. “However, in law school we are introduced to words we didn’t know existed in English –much less Spanish. While taking this course I feel clients already trust me more because I have the words to explain their legal disposition in a language that is familiar to them.”

“Halfway through the summer a judge gave me just a few minutes to advise a Honduran couple on an important choice he needed them to make. We had a Spanish-speaking community organizer available to translate, but using my Spanish from class I was able to monitor and correct the translation and even skip it in many instances to make sure we fit the consultation into the short time allowed by the judge,” said Esme Caramello ’99, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “I don’t think I could have enabled the clients to make a fully informed decision had I not understood legal Spanish.”

Sabi Ardalan ’02, Lecturer on Law and Associate Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic works with Spanish-speaking clients all the time. “My ability to communicate with them has improved tremendously as a result of the course,” she said. “It has given me the vocabulary necessary for all facets of representation, from rapport building to conducting client interviews to explaining the adjudication process. This course is truly unique, and Nicole is a phenomenal teacher! The course has also provided me with a fantastic opportunity to meet and learn from other clinicians and hear about their amazing work. Their tireless and creative advocacy is inspiring.”

Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers will be offered next in Spring semester of 2016.

Chad Baker ’15 wins Kaufman Pro Bono Award

Chad Baker, J.D. '15

Credit: Lorin Granger

Chad Baker ’15 received the Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award for exemplifying the pro bono public spirit and demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services to disadvantaged communities. The award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Program at Harvard Law School.

During his time at HLS, Chad has been an inspiring leader. He has contributed thousands of pro bono hours by working with the Tenant Advocacy Project, Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB).

Chad was an excellent Executive Director of HLAB, “not only because he ran the office with strength and compassion, but because he continued taking hard cases while doing it,” said Clinical Professor of Law Esme Caramello who supervised him. “He also played a crucial role in setting the tone in the community, keeping us all focused on HLAB’s anti-poverty mission and ensuring that everyone here was constantly looking critically at their work and asking whether they were serving the right goals in the right way. Chad was much more than a functionary; he was a leader whose dedication and vision inspired everyone here to do more work, better and more thoughtfully.”

Chad’s client work has also been extraordinary. His Clinical Instructor, Patricia Whiting said “Chad demonstrated research and writing skills that I can honestly categorize as exemplary. During his two years at the Bureau, Chad researched and drafted a wide variety of documents: from pleadings and correspondence to an opposition to the landlord’s motion for summary judgment on behalf of a disabled client being evicted from public housing.” Chad’s work made a significant impact in his client’s life and is only one example of his commitment to helping people.

“[He] has been the heart and soul of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau,” said Whiting. “He has done extraordinary work as a student attorney in all of our practice areas, and has quietly made the Bureau a better legal services organization as well as a richer community.”

As an example, Chad helped revitalize HLAB’s Social Security disability practice by recruiting students to take disability cases, creating and running a streamlined investigation and intake system, and developing an enormous and resource-rich internal wiki containing all of the materials a Bureau student could need to handle a first disability law case.

“I’m so honored to receive the Kaufman award,” said Chad. “I’ve been tremendously grateful for the ample student practice opportunities at HLS. Student practice organizations and HLAB gave me the chance to learn real lawyering skills from talented colleagues and supervisors while serving marginalized communities.”

Next year Chad is going to Chicago to work with Bureau alum and 2008 winner of Kaufman Pro Bono Award Lam Ho, in his new community lawyering startup, Community Activism Law Alliance.

Congratulations to Chris Bavitz and Esme Caramello on their Clinical Professor of Law Appointments!

Via HLS News
Until now, Esme Caramello ’99 has been a lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the law school as well as deputy director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

“Esme’s experience in tenants’ rights is second to none,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. “Under her guidance, students connect practice and theory to solve important legal and policy issues affecting low-income individuals. Passionate and compassionate, her strategic approach ensures that the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau will continue to lead in vital work. And it is wonderful to welcome an HLS alumna onto the clinical faculty!” Read the full story on HLS News.

Until now, Christopher T. Bavitz has been a Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law at HLS and is Managing Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

“Chris brings imagination and deep experience in the digital and intellectual property worlds; his wide-ranging knowledge of media and IP law and his talent for creative problem-solving enable our students and colleagues to engage in exciting and meaningful advocacy and policy work,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. “His role in Harvard’s Digital Problem-Solving Initiative and in building ties with the University’s i-Lab are models for cross-disciplinary thinking and innovation.” Read the full story on HLS News.

Inspiring Clinicians Celebrated at International Women’s Day Exhibition

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Harvard Law School is hosting an inaugural Photo Exhibition entitled Inspiring Change, Inspiring Us, sponsored by HLS, the International Development Society, and the Women’s Law Association. The exhibit features women in the field of law and policy and recognizes the work they have done to inspire and pave the way for others.

Students, faculty and staff nominated each woman for being an inspiration to his or her career. Among the portraits of judges, activists, public servants, corporate lawyers and businesswomen from across the globe, four of our clinicians – Esme Caramello ’99, Emily Board Leib ’08, Stephanie Goldenhersh, and Maureen Devine – were featured for their excellent work and mentorship.

Here is a bit more about these inspiring clinicians via the Women Inspiring Change website.

Esme Caramello is the Deputy Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and she is a “passionate advocate for her clients and an incredibly thoughtful supervisor.” She has spent her career working tirelessly on behalf of low-income people and training the next generation of legal professionals to do the same. HLAB student attorney Annie Lee who nominated Esme wrote: “I’m inspired by Esme Caramello who works tirelessly to help low-income tenants facing eviction…When she’s not in court, Esme’s in the Bureau teaching and mentoring HLAB student attorneys. She’s generous with her time and dedicated to making us astute, ethical, and compassionate lawyers. I feel so lucky to have gotten to work with Esme on an eviction case last year. She let me take the reins in the case and strategize how to keep an elderly African-American woman in her home. She’s an excellent clinical instructor and has mentored me, as well as multiple classes of HLS men and women.” Esme earned her Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Emily Broad Leib is a Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School, as well as Associate Director of the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. She co-founded and directs the Center’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, the first law school clinic in the nation devoted to studying and providing legal and policy solutions for the health, economic, and environmental challenges facing our food system. Leib’s work focuses primarily on food law and policy projects aimed at increasing access to healthy foods, preventing diet-related diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and assisting small and sustainable farmers and producers in participating in local food markets. She is an inspiring leader of her staff and of the multitude of students she supervises in the Clinic and the Mississippi Delta Project. Ms. Leib is “an entrepreneur, a fierce advocate, and a down-to-earth manager who takes the time to work with each student she meets to ensure they have the most positive and most productive learning experience possible.” She earned her B.A. from Columbia University and J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Stephanie Goldenhersh is a clinical instructor at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Before joining Harvard, she practiced for six years at the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts and handled domestic relations litigation and abuse prevention orders. Caitlin Pratt who nominated Stephanie wrote: “I’m inspired by Stephanie’s commitment to domestic violence victims and ending domestic violence, for everyone, forever. This is no small goal and Stephanie knows it, but she pushes ahead and is always looking for new and dynamic solutions to the problem. Stephanie truly cares for her clients and she knows they deserve better, so she fights for them. And she somehow manages to maintain her passion and energy day in and day out. Stephanie has taught me to be a better lawyer– or almost lawyer– and a better advocate for victims. I hope I can continue to grow and find something I love as much as she loves what she does.” Stephanie received a B.A. from Brandeis University and J.D. from University of Michigan Law School. She was an editor of the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law.

Maureen Devine joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau in July 2009 after practicing law for more than 25 years in the Boston area. Previously, Devine worked as Counsel in the Family Law Department of Foley & Lardner LLP and was a member of the legal departments of the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Revenue/Child Support Enforcement. Nila Devanath who nominated Maureen wrote: “Mo has been one of the best mentors I could have ever asked for at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. She is a shining example of what I want to be like as a lawyer when I graduate. She is on top of every detail and the facts of the case, knows the law like the back her hand, can see exactly what the next step is, and most of all, she follows up and follows through. She has taught me how to better manage my time and discern what is legally important and what is not in each one of my cases. I am learning so much from her. If I could be even half the advocate she is for my clients, I would consider myself a success. Mo, thank you for all that you do at the Bureau and the countless lives you have touched with your dedication to teaching.” Maureen earned her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School.