Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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In lives of others, a compass for his own

Via Harvard Gazette

HLS students helps East Boston residents fight evictions

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez, J.D. ’17, is entering his second semester as president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Leadership role in legal aid sharpens student’s sense of purpose

It took Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez several years and nearly 10,000 miles, on a journey that included several cities around the world, to find his calling in his hometown.

The son of political refugees from the former Soviet Union and Spain, Spivakovsky-Gonzalez, J.D. ’17, was born in Boston but grew up in Spain and Canada. He studied economics at the University of California at Berkeley, completed a master’s in development studies at the University of Cambridge in England, and went to work as a research economist in Washington, D.C.

It was after his stints in Cambridge and Washington that he experienced “the dissonance” of studying poverty and inequality in wealthy institutions, and the limits to making a direct impact on people’s lives as a researcher.

Yearning for a career that resolved that discord, he applied to Harvard Law School. When he was accepted, it felt like a homecoming of sorts. The first house he lived in was three blocks from the Law School.

But the real epiphany came while working at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, one of the School’s clinical programs and the oldest student-run organization in the United States. The bureau provides free civil legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney. It was there that he found his passion.

“We help people who are often forgotten and live different lives from what we often see either in Washington, D.C., or the Law School,” said Spivakovsky-Gonzalez on a recent morning near Harvard Yard.

Entering his second semester as the bureau’s president, he plans to become a public-interest lawyer. As a student attorney with the bureau, he has represented East Boston residents facing eviction in Boston Housing Court, and helped veterans apply for benefits at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. Both experiences left deep marks on him.

“Before, I felt a little bit removed from a lot of the populations that are most affected by the decisions and policies that are made in Washington,” he said. “Here, I can help people more directly.”

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A Warm Welcome to New Clinicians

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs extends a warm welcome to Toiya Taylor (Clinical Instructor) and Lisa Fitzgerald (Clinical Fellow) of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Rachel Krol (Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law) of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program, and Michelle Kweder (Administrative Director) of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project.

Rachel Krol
Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law

Before joining the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program, Rachel taught negotiation at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and led interactive negotiation and leadership workshops designed specifically for young women through her company, Connect More Consulting.

Rachel has also served as a teaching team member for executive education seminars offered by the Harvard Negotiation Institute and courses at Penn Law School and Vienna University of Economics and Business. In addition, Rachel has worked on negotiation and conflict resolution projects with nonprofit, educational, and governmental institutions including Seeds of Peace, GenHERation, the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at SCH Academy, and the National Institutes of Health. She practiced law with the firms Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP and Ahmad Zaffarese LLC in Philadelphia, in the areas of finance, securities, and civil litigation.

Rachel received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her B.A. from Columbia University. Prior to attending law school, she taught at the International Montessori School of Prague in the Czech Republic. Rachel is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Instructor at HNMCP.

Toiya Taylor
Clinical Instructor

Toiya Taylor began her legal career as a Law Clerk for the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in 2000, and opened her own law practice in 2002.  She practiced extensively in both the Massachusetts Juvenile and Probate and Family Courts as both an attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem.  She represented parents and/or children in care and protection, guardianship, child support, child custody, DYS revocation and delinquency matters. She also served as an ARC attorney in the Norfolk and Suffolk County Probate and Family Courts where she represented children pro bono in high conflict matters to assist with resolution.

Taylor was also a mentor for new panel members of the Children and Family Law Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and a bar advocate with Suffolk Lawyers for Justice, Inc. in both the Dorchester Juvenile and West Roxbury District Courts.

She received her J.D. from Boston College Law School and is the 2014 recipient of the Mary Fitzpatrick Award for Outstanding and Zealous Advocacy to the Poor.

Lisa Fitzgerald
Clinical Fellow

Lisa Fitzgerald joins the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau after graduating from Harvard Law School this year. As a student, she participated in a number of Student Practice Organizations including the Harvard Mediation Program and the Harvard Immigration Project. She is also an alumna of HLAB, having been a student attorney in the clinic for 2 years.

Michelle Kweder
Administrative Director

Michelle joins the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) with recent experience as a Lecturer at Simmons College where she taught undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences and MBA students at the School of Management. She has a diverse background, having served in former Boston Mayor Menino’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, and as the executive director of a domestic violence agency, a consultant to mission-driven organizations, and a volunteer instructor teaching entrepreneurship at NECC-Concord prison. She recently completed her Ph.D. at UMass Boston in Business Administration – Organizations and Social Change. Michelle is replacing Sarah Morton who will return to PLAP next year.

The David Grossman Memorial Lecture: Eviction, Displacement, and the Fight to Keep Communities Together

Via HLS News

David Grossman

Clinical Professor David A. Grossman ’88

The David Grossman Memorial Lecture, entitled “Eviction, Displacement, and the Fight to Keep Communities Together,” was held at HLS on April 5. Grossman ’88,  who died last July, was a lawyer and teacher dedicated to serving the poor, and he was Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau for close to a decade.

In introductory remarks to a packed room in Austin Hall, Dean Martha Minow reflected on Grossman’s work “strengthening tools and spirit, both necessary for helping people in need, for changing laws and enforcing laws, and changing the politics around those laws.”

“With formidable intellect, constant courage, David brought tremendous humility, humor, friendship, outstanding sunglasses to every encounter, and he elevated allies and opponents alike,” Minow said. “He modeled what it is to engage in the world with respect for every person, even if you disagree with them.”

Minow introduced the lecturer, sociologist Matt Desmond, as “a champion for the goals and the values and the humanity exemplified by David Grossman and advanced by him every day.”

Desmond, a MacArthur “Genius” grant winner who published the book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” in March, is John L. Loeb Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project.

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Community Lawyering for Change

Via Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

L-R: Andres (community organizer); Nan McGarry J.D. ’17; Natalia (client); Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez J.D. ’17; and Stanford Fraser, J.D. ’16

In a cramped church basement in East Boston, people gather together for a common purpose: to stay in their homes. East Boston is ground zero for no-fault evictions brought by investors seeking to increase rents and profit off of increased housing demand in the Greater Boston area. At their core, no-fault evictions are evictions where the tenant has done nothing wrong—hence the name “no-fault”. A tenant can have paid rent on time and abided by his or her lease regulations for decades and still be thrown out for no reason other than the whims of an investor landlord. Despite these evictions, a group gathers and organizes to fight back against the displacement.

City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) is a community organization focused on supporting homeowners and tenants who have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis and now the displacement crisis. The model that CLVU and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) attorneys have developed together is called “the Sword and Shield.” The sword is composed of CLVU protests, rallies, eviction blockades, and other activist measures to fight back against evictions and displacement. The shield is composed of community legal services, including HLAB. Along with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) and others, HLAB has worked with CLVU to represent tenants facing evictions in Boston Housing Court. Another Harvard Law student organization, Project No One Leaves, supports the work of HLAB and CLVU by canvassing homes facing foreclosure and buildings investors have purchased where tenants may be at risk of facing no-fault evictions. These canvassing efforts bring in potential members to CLVU, strengthening both the sword and the shield. In the basement of the East Boston church where CLVU meets, a group of tenants came to seek legal help and their case became a rallying point and exemplar of the fight against displacement throughout Boston.

The Bennington Street building is a three story mixed use building, with a nail salon on the first floor and four residential units on the second and third floors. The tenants of the four residential units had been living in their apartments for various lengths of time, from several years to up to twenty years. Several of the tenants have families, including small children.

These families had been paying their rent on time, but one day the owner of the building sold it to an investor landlord who wanted to double it. Five days after purchasing the building, the new landlord sent all the tenants No-Fault Notices to Quit, saying they had to leave the premises or face legal action. The tenants’ landlord offered them an impossible choice: $500 to leave their homes of many years or a doubling of their rent. This is a common extrajudicial tactic amongst investors in East Boston, in part because it is much cheaper to pay off tenants with the threat of a rent increase than to go through the court system. Oftentimes the threat of legal action also makes some tenants decide to leave their homes, because they are unaware of their legal rights and do not realize that the courts could rule in their favor. Instead of accepting this offer, the Bennington tenants came to CLVU looking for help in their fight against losing their home.

HLAB member and President Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez was the first student attorney on the Bennington Street cases, in August of 2015, although the team eventually expanded to include Nan McGarry, Jack Solano, and Stanford Fraser in January in anticipation of four possible jury trials. The case came to HLAB as four separate cases, one for each apartment in the building. HLAB entered into a joint representation agreement with the tenants, meaning that while we still would represent each household in their individual eviction case, we would also represent them as a group. The significance of this was that for months client counseling and negotiations with the landlord’s attorney involved a great deal of communication with the residents of each apartment regarding their individual cases, but also clear communication about the impacts of each decision on the group as a whole.

Although the landlord’s attorney attempted to consolidate the four cases, Pedro successfully opposed the motion in October, thus allowing all of the Bennington tenants their opportunity to be heard in court in front of a jury. Negotiations with the landlord’s attorney continued, and HLAB requested an inspection of the building, which revealed a number of conditions of disrepair. Although the tenants had been paying their rent for years, there were important repairs that still needed to be made for the landlord to be compliant with Massachusetts housing law. Through the course of representation, the landlord started to make some repairs to the building. Months of motions in court to compel discovery, among others, and months of settlement discussions, exchanging offers and counteroffers, led up to the scheduling of jury trials in February.

In fact, four jury trials had been scheduled, forcing Pedro, Nan, Jack, and Stanford to prepare as if all four trials were going to happen. Substantial HLAB resources were dedicated to this trial preparation, as the Bennington cases together involved eleven witnesses, including two expert witnesses. The whole team engaged in rigorous trial preparation, including preparing motions for the inclusion and exclusion of evidence, putting together several evidence binders, and preparing direct and cross examinations of witnesses. Throughout all of this work, the trial team also maintained communication with CLVU and GBLS.

The Bennington cases provide a glimpse at the type of cross-coordination work common in community lawyering. The tenants often attended CLVU meetings, where tenants from many other households gathered to share their own stories, many very similar: landlords purchasing properties, not making any repairs, and then seeking to evict tenants that had been paying their rent. HLAB student attorneys attended these weekly community meetings in East Boston, and also consulted with CLVU organizers and GBLS attorneys about litigation and settlement strategy.

As the Community Lawyering Clinical Instructor and a Lecturer on Law at HLAB, Eloise Lawrence supervised the student attorneys and provided guidance in critical moments of the process. Lawrence leads HLAB’s community lawyering efforts, following in the footsteps of the late David Grossman, who helped to pioneer community lawyering. Lawrence’s experience as a community lawyer in Lynn, where she still takes cases, continues to inform HLAB’s work in this area.

After all of the trial preparation and coordination with CLVU, the day of the first Bennington trial came on February 1. The trial would end up lasting four days and involving multiple witnesses, several of whom needed translators. Before the trial even began, key testimony and reports from the Boston Public Health Commission about the nail salon in the first floor of the building, were excluded from the trial, even though they showed noxious fumes from the nail salon endangering the health of the Bennington tenants. Nevertheless, the first trial team of Pedro and Nan, with the support of Eloise Lawrence fought through this exclusion of evidence and other challenges throughout the trial.

In one particularly memorable moment from the trial, Nan cross-examined the landlord about a back fence that had been padlocked. Under the law, every residential building over a certain number of units needs two ways to enter and exit the building, in part for fire safety reasons. This back fence, being padlocked, made it impossible to leave out the back of the building. In her cross-examination, McGarry asked specifically how the family would escape. The landlord responded, “What do you mean, if there was a fire? They could jump over the fence.”  In her closing argument, McGarry returned to this picture of a family, including a 67-year-old grandmother and a small child, trying to jump over a fence as their home burns. In the words of Eloise Lawrence, “You could feel the jury listen to every word and identify with our clients. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought Nan was a very experienced litigator, not that it was her first trial.”

Pedro and Nan won that first trial, with the jury returning a verdict in favor of the tenants on all counts, including attorney’s fees for HLAB. After winning the first trial, the team was able to successfully negotiate a settlement for all cases—including the other three cases that would have otherwise gone to trial—that included new long-term leases at affordable rents and landlord responsibility for repairs and maintenance to the units. As a result of these settlements, all the residents of this Bennington Street building will be able to stay in a home, with repairs being made by the landlord.

While not all cases have such a happy ending, the Bennington Street cases represent a window into how community lawyering can achieve individual results that are tied into a larger movement.

The tenants now have affordable and habitable apartments, while landlords in Boston understand that tenants will stand up for their rights. They will fight, with the help of organizations like City Life/Vida Urbana and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and they will win.

Clinicians Celebrated at the 3rd International Women’s Day Exhibition

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers its heartfelt congratulations to Mindy Roseman (Human Rights Program) and Patricia Whiting (Harvard Legal Aid Bureau) on being honored for their significant contributions to their respective areas of the law and policy at the 3rd Annual Harvard Law International Women’s Day.

Via Women Inspiring Change

Senior Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Former fellow and Clinical Instructor at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, practicing in the areas of housing law and consumer bankruptcy.

Patricia Whiting is a Lecturer on Law and Senior Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she has been an attorney, teacher, mentor, and advocate for low-income tenants throughout the Boston area since 2006.  As part of her practice at the Legal Aid Bureau, Ms. Whiting supervises eight second- and third-year law students in the Housing Practice, while also coordinating the Bureau’s participation in the Attorney for the Day Program in Boston Housing Court, which provides on-the-spot legal assistance to the hundreds of low-income tenants facing the loss of their homes each week.  In the past year alone, Ms. Whiting has guided her students through oral argument at the Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, as well as through countless hearings, motions arguments, and negotiations, while also advocating to preserve tenants’ legal rights and protections in the Massachusetts State Legislature and working to expand access of low-income clients to appellate fora through the Access to Justice Pro Bono Appeal pilot project.

Her tireless dedication to her students and her clients shines through everything that she does, leaving a lasting mark on the lives of those who have had the immense privilege of learning from and working with her.  Ms. Whiting holds an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.

In the words of some of the HLS community members who nominated her,

“Pattie is an exceptional teacher and clinical instructor but where she excels and inspires most is in her role as a lawyer and an advocate. During my time at the Legal Aid Bureau, I have witnessed Pattie run to the aid of tenants who desperately needed representation but could not get it from a student at the Bureau or other legal services organization. Arguing motions on behalf of a pro se tenant with little or no notice is not part of her job description but her empathy, compassion, and passion compels her to do so and she does so with little praise or fanfare. Students at the Legal Aid Bureau and low-income tenants in the Boston area have benefited immensely from her advocacy. I am a better person and lawyer because I have had the opportunity to work with her, learn from her and watch her.”

“Pattie has been the single most influential person in my law school career. She has been a teacher, advisor, friend, and role model to me in our two years together, and I know that she will continue to shape the way I approach the world even after leaving HLS. Her relentless advocacy for low-income tenants across Boston is legendary to those who know her, but even beyond advocacy, Pattie shines. She is a patient and caring teacher who thinks nothing of taking a student’s panicked midnight call the night before a hearing. She is a mentor who deeply cares about her students’ personal and professional well-being. And she is an amazing example of how female attorneys can be tough, passionate, and compassionate a the same time. I know that, as I begin my legal career, I will be looking to Pattie’s example often, and endeavoring to be more like her.”

“Pattie inspires me every single day. It’s so rare to have the opportunity to meet someone who genuinely cares as much as she does about correcting situations that aren’t right, and who actually does something to make that happen. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to learn from her. She takes on the toughest cases no one else is willing to take on, and she truly leads by example with her commitment, compassion, composure, sense of humor, and firm loyalty to her clients, students, and colleagues. Thank you, Pattie!”

“Pattie is not only one of the most brilliant attorneys I’ve ever seen, she is also dedicated to empowering her students to seek social justice. While some are content to dedicate their lives to public service through the challenging–and often overwhelming–work of poverty law, Pattie is both an unbelievably effective legal aid attorney and a stunningly kind, thoughtful, supportive teacher. I have seen her work firsthand, as she spent two years opening my eyes to the injustice of the housing system in Boston while empowering me to think critically and creatively about how to serve my clients. Time and again, I have watched Pattie simply refuse to let a client or a student down. When a person facing an eviction had run out of every conceivable option; when other legal services organizations had closed their doors and other advocates turned aside, Pattie would be there, bringing her brilliance, strategy, and courage to bear in service of clients others had deemed indefensible. This is the greatest lesson I learned in law school; that to be an advocate extends beyond the courtroom and the classroom–that it is a way of life.”

Director of International Programs and Gruber Program on Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School. Former Academic Director at the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. Former staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York.

In the words of the HLS community members who nominated her,

“For decades, as an advocate, teacher and scholar, Mindy Jane Roseman has been shaping the way we talk and think about women’s health, sexuality, and reproductive rights, in the United States and around the world. She has led trailblazing work with UN agencies and NGOs in these fields, with her expertise on HIV/AIDS, gender, maternal health, and criminal law. Mindy is a clear-eyed visionary, an idea encapsulator, a subtle agenda-setter. And you will never find her alone. Wherever she goes, she draws a community of intelligent and supportive women with and around her. Indeed, she is an inspiration as much for the creativity, passion and brilliance that she pours into her legal and academic work as she is for the patience, generosity and kindness with which she supports others. Generosity of spirit is not to be taken for granted in any workplace, but in the highly competitive and hierarchical legal field, it can be particularly hard to come by. A mentor to generations of women, Mindy is exceptional in her willingness to treat colleagues and students of all levels the same way: as people with tremendous abilities and potential to give.”

A shelter for homeless youth

Via Harvard Gazette

In a heartfelt ceremony at First Parish in Cambridge, the Harvard students and alumni who led the effort to open a student-run overnight shelter for homeless youth in Harvard Square announced that it is set to open next month, as winter weather nears.

Sam Greenberg ’14 and Sarah Rosenkrantz ’14, who work full time as co-directors of the shelter, thanked all those who helped the project, which they began in 2013, become a reality.

“Thank you for making us the people we wanted to be,” said Greenberg as the crowd of 500 who packed the church’s sanctuary on Friday afternoon broke into applause.

Located in the basement of First Parish, a Unitarian Universalist church, the shelter aims to be a safe space for adults between the ages of 18 and 24. It will include 22 beds that are gender-neutral. Officials said it’s the nation’s first student-run overnight shelter.

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Today HLAB Student Attorney argues before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

1

Today, Louis Fisher J.D. ’16, student attorney in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), presented an oral argument in the case of Meikle v. Nurse. The focus of the case is whether a landlord’s violation of the security deposit law provides a defense to a tenant in a summary process action for eviction of the tenant.

“Charlie Reese J.D. ’16 from the Legal Services Center’s Housing Law Clinic filed an amicus brief in the case, which was a tremendous help, on behalf of City Life/Vida Urbana,” Louis said.

Louis is working on the case under the supervision of HLAB’s Senior Clinical Instructor Patricia Whiting. Deena Greenberg J.D. ’15 also worked on the case.

Chayes Fellows journey abroad to serve the public good

Via HLS News

In the summer of 2015, 86 Harvard Law School students worked in 37 countries on a diverse array of projects; 19 of those students traveled to 15 countries through the Chayes International Public Service Fellowships. Chayes Fellows spend eight weeks working within the governments of developing nations, or with the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them. As seen in the slideshow below, their projects take many forms, this year ranging in topic from school transportation and sanitation concerns in South Africa to environmental provisions in international trade agreements at the United Nations, or transitional justice processes in Colombia. The profiles below highlight the experiences of four of the 2015 Chayes Fellows.

Chayes-Slideshow-Aditya-Pai

Credit: Photo courtesy of Aditya Pai

Aditya Pai ’17

Sehgal Foundation

Gurgaon, India
Aditya Pai '17 in Mewat, India

Credit: Photo courtesy of Aditya Pai

Aditya Pai returned to India, the country of his birth, to work with the Sehgal Foundation. As part of an initiative to improve villagers’ access to government benefits, he analyzed the effectiveness of the foundation’s legal literacy camps in the Mewat district of Haryana. His interviews—all of which he conducted in Hindi—of camp attendees, members of government legal aid centers, and foundation field staff members, documented cases of successes and setbacks. The assessment was developed to better understand why some citizens achieved positive results from what they had learned (for example, securing an old age pension that had not been provided previously), while others did not. His final report made recommendations for improving future legal literacy camps. “Meeting and interviewing the villagers in Mewat, who face serious challenges of poverty and political corruption, provided an incredible education in the hard realities of the world —especially after a useful, but largely theoretical, 1L curriculum.”

As a student attorney for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Pai will apply the lessons he learned in India to the Bureau’s efforts to promote legal literacy about eviction and foreclosures among disadvantaged communities in Boston. “Getting plugged in to the legal empowerment community enriched my understanding of both international development and the practice of poverty law in America. These two communities do not often talk to each other, but the work of one has obvious relevance for the other. I’m now better prepared for a career in public service, whether at home or abroad.”

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Interviews with the Bureau Community: Alumnus Jemel Derbali

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

3b4dac68-8eec-4054-9b74-8a040dd42e0bJemel Derbali
Alumnus, Co-founder of WISE Systems
Class of 2013

“At the Bureau, the way I was thrown into new cases and had to respond on the fly helped prepare me for the twists and turns of a young company.”

Where are you working now?
I founded a company, WISE Systems, with friends from MIT. WISE provides software to help organizations that deliver goods and services on-demand reach customers more effectively.  I am in charge of operations, so I work on everything from finances, to business development, strategy, management, HR, and legal.

How did your time at the Bureau influence your work now?
The bureau taught me how to get things done – how to hustle and solve problems. A lot of the work in founding a company is new to our team and it changes constantly. Similarly, at the Bureau, the way I was thrown into new cases and had to respond on the fly helped prepare me for the twists and turns of a young company. The Bureau taught me how to negotiate, talk to people, work with a team, and to always recognize how discrete details affect the greater whole. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to work alongside incredibly talented individuals. The inspiration and motivation I received from the CIs and students and interns continue to fuel me.

When you graduated law school, what did you think your life would look like in 2015?
I had no expectations. I felt as if HLS and HLAB prepared me to open a lot of doors, and I was intentional about opening the one that made the most sense for me rather than the one most traveled. This instinct brought me into family court and later brought me into my startup.

What’s your favorite memory from your time at the Bureau?
My best memory is of a case where I worked to reunite a client with his child who had been kidnapped by in-laws. In this work there are few clear victories, but this was certainly one of them. I also have fond memories of hanging out on the front porch of 23 Everett chatting about cases and life with the Bureau family.

What was your dream job when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a zookeeper. I loved animals. But I grew to dislike cages.

Who would play you in a movie?
Adrien Brody—because he is skinny and lanky and I think he is handsome.

Any tips on work/life balance?
I need tips myself. Being in love makes everything, life and work, better. Doing something you love around people you love is absolutely necessary.

Interviews with the Bureau Community: Clinical Instructor Stephanie Goldenhersh

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

69a0c254-cc13-48fa-8e2d-39257636d66dStephanie Goldenhersh
Clinical Instructor, Family Practice
Started in 2007
“When I came to the Bureau, I was surprised that it felt like a legal services office, not like a student workgroup.”

What were you doing before coming the Bureau?
I worked in the family and children’s units at the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts in Worcester (now called Community Legal Aid).

What was your childhood dream job?
I was in second grade when Ronald Reagan was shot. Until then, it had been had my intention to be president, but I decided it wasn’t worth it. My father is a judge and my mother was a teacher. Both of those were always career goals, and in some ways I ended up doing both.

What surprised you most when you came to HLAB?
How similar it was to LACCM. It feels like a legal services office, not like a student workgroup.

Tips on work-life balance?
Figure out the thing that rejuvenates you. Taking time to do that thing helps you work when you’re back at it.

Who would play you in a movie?
When I was a kid, my parents told me that Amy Irving would play me in a movie. I’m not sure I have ever thought I’d be interesting enough for a movie…

Interviews with the Bureau Community: Student Attorney Courtney Lynch

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

ce99c6ec-3b82-4d8a-81bd-7ac976d54b6bCourtney Lynch,
Student Attorney, Vice President of Membership
Class of 2016

“I want to do what I can to encourage people in society to realize that marginalized people are people first.”

What were you doing before law school?
I worked at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, helping families apply for public benefits, especially focused on children getting on Medicaid. I also volunteered at at a local food pantry in my hometown of Covington, Kentucky.

What has surprised you most as membership director?
I’ve had to be very reflective in talking with 1Ls about how my law school experience has changed, and how much the work we do means to me. I didn’t think about how much HLAB had changed me until started talking with the 1Ls.

What has surprised you about the Bureau?
How accepting the Bureau is. It’s true that Bureau members are always there for each other, no matter how big or small. I knew I would be working with people who are very passionate about the work we do. But I didn’t realize I would be working with people who are very accepting, non-judgmental, open and willing to help you. Bureau members are the type of people that—if you open to them—know exactly how to respond in the way you need them to.

What do you think you’ll do after the Bureau?
I’m torn between public defense (what I came into law school wanting to do) and legal aid work. Working within the Bureau showed me a different side of poverty lawyering where you’re still rooting for the individual, but on a more personal level than the criminal justice system allows. As a public defender, I’m looking for legal loopholes. In family practice, trying to make the judge see the humanity in my client. Either way, I want to do what I can to encourage people in society to realize that marginalized people are people first.

What was your childhood dream job?
Teaching. I had a lot of teachers who set high expectations. My teachers were the first non-family members who took an interest in me, and that meant a lot. Now I still go back to my high school to talk with students about college.

What’s your favorite memory at the Bureau?
At retreat, we did a fishbowl activity in which one group sat in the middle of another and openly answered questions about their professional and personal experiences and failures. Everyone responded with such respect, and there was no judgment.

Any tips on work-life balance?
Know what you enjoy and don’t feel ashamed for doing those things. When you feel like you need to take a step away, take a step away. Instead of trying to plan breaks for yourself, take them when you need them. Don’t worry that you won’t get the work done.

Favorite book as a child?
I loved The Magic Treehouse series. Siblings went on time travel adventures between dinner and bedtime. I was really into knights, kings, and queens at that time.

What’s something we don’t know about you?
I can’t swim at all. I can swim from side to side but I can’t float or wade water.

Self-Care at the Bureau

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

6806070e-4dbd-4a02-adc4-46820db6070bAt 5pm on a Thursday, singing emerges from the seminar room. Students and clinical instructors sit around the table. Staff from other centers linger as they exit the building. No, HLAB hasn’t started a choir. Lisa Fitzgerald ’16 is treating the Bureau to a private concert, as part of the new self-care initiative.

Donna Harati ’15 began the self-care initiative in the fall of 2014 to help other Bureau members ensure they take care of their mental health, so that they can provide quality legal services to their clients—in the short and long term.

Since its inception, students have organized weekly activities to take a break from clinical and coursework. Activities include knitting, meditating, touch football, making pasta and decorating gratitude jars.

Jordan Raymond ’16 has always recognized that she needs to carve out time for self-care. “Self-care is paramount to me. Sometimes, when I feel drained, I drive to the beach because that’s my happy place and that’s where I can find peace. It’s nice that we are trying to create those peaceful spaces here at the Bureau.”

The Bureau’s self-care initiative subscribes to many models of and philosophies of self-care. Students, clinical instructors and staff alternate in facilitating activities that help them feel grounded.

“There’s no one correct way to take care of yourself, and I’ve learned a lot from what other people have shared. Personally, I like cooking to de-stress, so I led a session in pasta making,” said Nick Pastan ’15.

Continue reading the full story here.

A Tale of Two Student-Run Organizations

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

c7c44c7f-bdd8-41aa-a2cb-4dce920621dbIt seemed like a natural collaboration: Harvard College; Harvard Law School; a student-run homeless shelter; a student-run legal aid firm. Those parallels ignited the partnership between the Youth to Youth (Y2Y) and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, which will go into full effect this fall.

The Y2Y shelter, founded by two recent Harvard College alumni, will house homeless youth and provide social services, job training and community programming. The shelter focuses on youth because Boston has a relatively high homeless youth population, but only 8-12 beds total designated for them, according to student attorney Awbrey Yost ’16.

“It can be dangerous for homeless youth to be with adult residents….The Y2Y founders realized, after being involved with the Harvard University Homeless Shelter for adults, that that the needs of homeless youth in Boston were not a focus for any organization,” Yost said.

Continue reading the full story here.

In Memoriam: David Grossman ’88, Clinical Professor and Lawyer for the Poor

Via HLS News

Grossman_David_OP14_Unknown-683x1024David Abraham Grossman ’88, a lawyer and teacher who devoted his career to addressing the legal needs of the poor and served as Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, died on July 12.

Grossman had been director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) since 2006, when he was appointed to the position by Elena Kagan, then-dean of Harvard Law School. HLAB provides free legal counsel to indigent clients while simultaneously providing hands-on training to HLS students.

“David devoted his life to pursuing justice with creativity, integrity, and craft–and to inspiring and enabling students to do so as well,” said Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School. “As Clinical Professor, he played pivotal roles both at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center and then as managing attorney and faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where among other great efforts he guided the nationally recognized Project No One Leaves (PNOL), a nonprofit tenants’ rights organization. In this effort, he made sure that lawyers and law students worked hand-in-hand with clients, community members, and community organizations in bringing legal education to low-income people facing foreclosure and eviction, advancing protections for individuals, families, and communities, changing and enforcing laws, and strengthening the tools and spirit necessary for helping people in serious need. With a formidable intellect and constant courage, David also brought his tremendous humility, humor, and friendship to every encounter, elevating allies and opponents alike. We were truly honored to have his work and leadership and will do our best to continue his vital efforts.”

Continue reading here.

Former President of Harvard Legal Aid Bureau wins Echoing Green Fellowship

Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), headed by former Harvard Legal Aid Bureau President Lam Ho, HLS J.D. ’08, was awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded to emerging leaders working to bring about positive social change. Of 3,629 applicants, 52 were selected to receive Fellowships.

CALA is a non-profit organization that unites lawyers, communities and activists to bring legal services directly to the most disadvantaged in the Chicago area. Ellen Craig, President of CALA’s Board of Directors, remarked, “CALA’s staff, community partners and Board of Directors are very pleased that Echoing Green, an internationally-recognized nonprofit that is building a global community of emerging leaders in social change, has awarded one of its coveted Global Fellowships to Lam Ho, CALA’s founder and Executive Director. We appreciate Echoing Green’s generous support which will enable CALA to continue to provide our underserved communities access to justice and to pursue social change in collaboration with our community partners.”

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.

Clinicians Celebrated at International Women’s Day Exhibition

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Harvard Law and International Development Society and the Harvard Women’s Law Association are hosting the 2nd Annual Portrait Exhibit, entitled Women Inspiring ChangeThe 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. The portraits will line the first and second floors of Wasserstein Hall from March 1st-14th.

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, two of our clinicians – Andrea Park, Staff Attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Sabrineh Ardalan ’02, Assistant Director and Lecturer on Law at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program  – were featured for their excellent work and mentorship.

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

Andrea Park, Staff Attorney, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Andrea Park, Staff Attorney, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Andrea Park is a staff attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. She supervises all second-year and third-year law students in the Foreclosure Task Force. She works with several students in the Bureau, and juggles an intensive workload of over 50 cases — a fact that is in and of itself a testimony to her dedication, skill and passion for public interest law. Through her role as a supervisor at the Bureau, and being a skillful litigator and community lawyer, she has come to serve as a valued teacher, mentor and role model for many students.

In the words of the HLS community member who nominated Ms. Park, She teaches students what it means to take a step back and listen to the members and organizers of a tenant and homeowners’ rights organizations as well as how to marry litigation with organizing to obtain extralegal victories when those in the courts seem impossible.” Additionally, “On a more personal note, at a time when the conversation of whether professional women can have it all is ongoing, Andrea has been frank and the most helpful of any attorney, staff member, or professor in all of HLS in discussing the benefits and pitfalls of public interest careers and having a family.”

Park earned her B.A. at Tufts University, M.A. at the University of Chicago, and J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Director and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Director and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Sabrineh Ardalan is the current Assistant Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. She teaches the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, Immigration and Refugee Advocacy, and Trauma, Refugees and Asylum Law. Prior to her positions at Harvard Law School, she was an Equal Justice American Fellow at The Opportunity Agenda, an organization dedicated to social justice movements that advance solutions for expanding opportunity nationally. Ms. Ardalan also worked as a litigation associate at Dewey Ballantine LLP.

In the words of the HLS community member who nominated her, She is a brilliant lawyer and a shining example of the kind of person I want to be. I am inspired by her commitment to helping her clients and her passion for training the next generation of lawyers to do the same.” 

Ms. Ardalan earned her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002 and her B.A. in History and International Studies in Yale College. After obtaining her J.D., she clerked for the Honorable Michael A. Charages of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the Honorable Raymond J. Dearie, Chief District Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Building the Wage and Hour Practice

Clinical Instructor Lee Goldstein (left) and Kellie MacDonald '15 (right)

Clinical Instructor Lee Goldstein (left) and Kellie MacDonald ’15 (right)

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau 

This past summer, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau won a settlement for an undocumented woman whose employer had illegally withheld her overtime pay for the past ten years. Claudia * had consistently worked long weeks of 50 to 72 hours over the past decade, serving customers at a dry cleaning business. But her employer never paid her for more than 40 hours, racking up a debt of over $50,000 in unpaid overtime wages.
 
“This kind of story is all too common, especially for undocumented workers” said Clinical Instructor Lee Goldstein. “There are many workers in the Boston area who are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.”
 
Claudia found her way to Kellie MacDonald ’15 when Greater Boston Legal Services referred her to the Bureau’s Wage and Hour practice. Since the Bureau does not receive funds through the Legal Services Corporation, the Bureau is not subject to federal funding restrictions. “We have the flexibility to serve undocumented clients, unlike many other legal aid organizations in the Boston area,” said Kellie. 
 
The Wage and Hour practice was created in 2005 in order to help workers seeking to recover unpaid wages from their employers. The practice expanded rapidly following the New Bedford textile factory raid in 2007, which brought public attention to salaries and working conditions at the plant. “The Bureau has had a significant role to play in developing important legal theories for workers – for example, agent-principal theories which can establish liability against big national franchisors and equitable estoppel to counter statute of limitation restrictions,” said Lee.
 
In recent years, Kellie and other Bureau members have organized trainings at community organization City Life / Vida Urbana and restaurant union Unite Here in order to educate workers on employment law.
 
The Wage & Hour practice is growing in response to increased interest among Bureau members. “We have a group of 2Ls and 3Ls excited about the opportunity to represent workers who are being denied the fair wages for their labor,” said Kellie. “These clients often have limited English skills, no immigration status and are the most vulnerable to exploitation.”
 
Claudia spoke only Spanish and had no immigration status, after fleeing civil war in her native Guatemala in the 1980s. Thanks to Kellie’s extensive prior work with Spanish-speaking clients, Kellie was able to represent Claudia without the help of an interpreter. Kellie and Lee talked Claudia through the potential risks of her employer retaliating against her by contacting immigration authorities as well as how to avoid those risks.
 
“Kellie did a wonderful job of devising an aggressive and informed legal strategy while maintaining an awareness of the possible impacts on other areas of Claudia’s life,” said Lee. “She was empathetic and understanding of Claudia’s needs.” 
 
The statute of limitations for overtime claims was not on Claudia’s side. Massachusetts law sets a two-year limit and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act set a three-year limit on the unpaid wages which could be claimed through the court system. Nevertheless, Kellie sent a letter to the owners of the dry cleaning shop, demanding all ten years of unpaid overtime pay under an equitable estoppel theory. Kellie argued that Claudia was owed the entire amount because her employer had failed to advise her of her rights to overtime pay.
 
The employer responded with an initial settlement offer of $9,000 in January, and Kellie continued to negotiate over the course of several months. By May, Kellie had succeeded in getting a larger offer of $25,000. After this point, Bureau Summer Counsel Jason McGraw (Northeastern ’15) and Lisa Castillo (Iowa ’15) took over negotiations and succeeded in receiving a settlement offer of $30,000, which Claudia decided to accept. This settlement represented approximately six years of unpaid overtime wages, well beyond what was prescribed by the statute of limitations.
 
“Advising a client on whether to accept a settlement is difficult, particularly when you know that she has been cheated out of her fair wages and deserves so much more,” said Jason “But with Claudia, we had to weigh how much more we could win in a negotiation against her need for financial relief.”
 
“I was so happy to finally get paid for all my hard work,” said Claudia. “I hope that the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau can continue to help other workers in trouble.”
 
The Wage & Hour practice has eight active cases in its docket, and Kellie hopes it continues to grow over the coming years. “The fact that students can be entrepreneurial and steer the direction of the organization, including building out smaller practice areas, is one of the most exciting things about being at the Bureau,” said Kellie. “We recognize the importance of this work and want it to be an integral part of the Bureau for years to come.”
 
* name changed to protect confidentiality.  

Making a Commitment to Innovation

HLSVia the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau 

The student-run Board of Directors at HLAB recently approved the addition of a new Knowledge, Innovation, and Technology (KIT) Director to the Board, beginning in 2015. The creation of the new position was the result of a semester-long deliberation among students and clinical instructors on how to better manage information at the Bureau. The existing clinical technology – Remote Clinics and Time Matters – had proven inadequate as a means of organizing and sharing internal knowledge across generations of Bureau students. Board members Rina Thomas ’15 (Communications Director) and Nick Pastan ’15 (Training Director) collaborated on a plan to fill this gap at the Bureau.

“Before today, at the Bureau, knowledge management consisted of going into the computer lab and asking whether someone in there had drafted a particular kind of motion,” said Nick. “The answer you received depended entirely on which students and CIs were in the building at the moment.”

“I had spent my last few summers in a variety of work settings: a public defenders’ office, a corporate law firm, and a management consulting firm. They all had systems for tracking what individuals learned over time so that the entire organization could benefit,” said Rina. “I thought the Bureau, which loses and gains a new class of students each year, would really benefit if we created our own internal system.”

Through extensive discussion, the Bureau identified two near-term priorities: 1) assembling exemplary motions, agreements, and other documents and 2) creating consolidated outlines for the substantive areas of law practiced at the Bureau. A dedicated group of Bureau students will spend this upcoming J-term creating this content and uploading it to a new internal Bureau wiki, hosted on the Harvard Confluence platform.

Recognizing that online content can quickly grow stale, the Board approved the creation of a KIT Director who will manage the Bureau’s process of updating and developing the wiki over time. The KIT Director will also serve as the point person to advocate for the Bureau’s technology needs and to handle special projects related to innovation in the delivery of legal services.

“With the creation of this new position, we have made a commitment as an organization to preserve and build upon what we’ve learned and to stay on top of technological changes which can help us to better serve our clients,” said Nick.

“Building a wiki is just a first step,” said Rina, “I’m excited to see what shape the Bureau’s knowledge and innovation efforts take in the future.”

Fall Retreat 2014: A Dynasty Is Born?

HLABVia the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

This fall, HLAB headed out to the woods around Camp Burgess for a day of bonding and reflection. Members engaged in thoughtful discussions of what it means to be a student-run organization and the goals for the upcoming year. The group then tackled a high-ropes challenge course.

Members took a pause from their deliberations around midday to engage in the time-honored Bureau tradition of “Huggy Bear.” President Cassie Chambers served as announcer, yelling out numbers with great gusto. A shout of “three” was a signal to grab two nearby members and envelop them in a bear hug in order to form an unbreakable group of three. With every shout, members raced to configure themselves into groups of the appropriate size. Any member who found himself or herself outside of a group was immediately disqualified. The competition for the title of Huggy Bear champ grew fierce.

Steve Hassink ’15 was playing to win. “I wanted that sweet taste of victory,” said Steve. “After dominating last year, I knew I could do it again.”

However, Cassie, in her role as announcer, quickly disqualified Steve for his “overly vigorous” play. “Huggy Bear is an opportunity for Bureau members to demonstrate their love and caring for each other,” said Cassie. “Not to break ankles.”

Andrea Mathews '15 is cruelly pushed out of the Huggy Bear group by Dami Animashaun '16 and Steve Hassink '15.

Andrea Mathews ’15 is cruelly pushed out of the Huggy Bear group by Dami Animashaun ’16 and Steve Hassink ’15.

Upon disqualification, Steve turned his full energies towards coaching his 2L mentee Dami Animashaun ’16. “Even if I couldn’t play, I wanted to make sure that my HLAB mentee had all the knowledge he needed to succeed at his disposal,” said Steve.

“Adrenaline was high,” said Dami. “I definitely didn’t want to let my 3L mentor down.”

After throwing Andrea Mathews ’15 out of the center of the field, Dami was crowned the champion. “It was a tough loss,” said Andrea. “But well played, Dami, well played.”

Dami hopes to continue the mentor-mentee Huggy Bear dynasty. “Whomever I mentor in the 2L class next year is destined for greatness,” said Dami. 

New Policy Goes Only Partway in Helping Struggling Homeowners

Via the New York Times

Well, that was fast. At a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Nov. 19, Melvin Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was in the hot seat, explaining to Senator Elizabeth Warren why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had done so little to help families who were facing foreclosure save their homes….

Housing advocates like Eloise Lawrence, a staff lawyer with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, have an answer. Although expressing disappointment about the limited nature of the directive, Ms. Lawrence described it as “a positive move in the right direction.” She also noted that the bureau has four families who would directly benefit.

Those clients include Ramon and Rosanna Suero. As described in a DealBook column in June, the Sueros purchased a condominium in Dorchester, Mass., in 2005 for $283,000, using a combination of two high-risk mortgages. They lost the condo in a foreclosure sale in 2010. The nonprofit group Boston Community Capital has offered to purchase the condo from Freddie Mac for the fair market value of $115,000. The group hopes to sell it back to the Sueros, financed with a more affordable fixed-rate mortgage.

Freddie refused Boston Community Capital’s offer, saying that only the full balance on the loan was acceptable because the home would be returned to its owners. Under Freddie’s policy, anyone other than the Sueros could buy at the lower market value.

So in 2013, the Sueros, who are jointly represent by Andrea Park of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Nicole Summers of the Northeast Justice Center, sued Freddie Mac. The court has ordered that pending the outcome of the case, the family cannot be evicted and the condo cannot be sold. Their condo is one of the properties in Freddie’s inventory that is subject to the new directive.

We wonder, then, will the Sueros have their home back for the holidays? It’s too soon to tell. Stefanie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, responded via email that the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.” She added that “individuals can apply” under the new policy and that “this will be addressed” by Freddie Mac and Boston Community Capital.

Continue reading the full story here.

Free legal advice worth a fortune to small business

J.N

Jared Nicholson, HLS ’14

Via Itemlive.com

LYNN — Summa cum laude, Princeton University. Business consultant with McKinsey and Company in New York City and Mexico City. Cum laude, Harvard University Law School. Jared Nicholson’s resume suggests he could go pretty much anywhere and do anything.

He chose an undecorated, windowless office on Union Street and the opportunity to provide free legal advice for low-income entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Lynn.

“I thought about a lot of the business clients I worked with before law school and how much they depended on good legal advice in this economy,” Nicholson said Tuesday. “Those opportunities aren’t always in cities like Lynn, and I really care about Lynn.”

Nicholson is one of 28 nationwide recipients of a Skadden Foundation Fellowship. The foundation pays salary and benefits for law-school graduates to pursue two years of public-interest work and provide legal services to poor and working poor, elderly, homeless and disabled clients, as well as those clients deprived of their civil or human rights.

Continue reading the story here.

Fighting a “Strategy of Evictions”

Sam Heppell '14 with Lynn United protestors

Sam Heppell ’14 with Lynn United protestors

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

It sounds absurd – tenants fighting for years for the right to pay rent and a landlord who refuses to take their money. Too many families living in foreclosed homes across Massachusetts find themselves in this situation. For two Lynn families, a sweeping victory came after three and a half years of struggle, as Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s Foreclosure Task Force (FTF) helped them win a ruling that Fannie Mae broke the law by refusing to let them stay and pay rent.

On July 14, 2014, Judge David Kerman of the Northeast Housing Court dismissed eviction cases against two separate families in a building owned by the Federal National Mortgage Association (known as Fannie Mae). Judge Kerman ruled that Fannie Mae had “engaged in a strategy for eviction, frustrating the tenants’ efforts to remain in their homes,” violating “both the letter and the spirit” of state law. The order came after student and FTF member Sam Heppell ’14 argued the families’ cases at a hearing in May – and after more than two years of representation, by FTF staff attorney Eloise Lawrence.

The two families first learned that Fannie Mae had foreclosed on the building in November of 2010, when a realtor offered them cash to leave. The families asked to stay and continue paying rent, but their attempts to settle the issue with Fannie Mae’s realtors and attorneys were ignored. Despite years of trying to pay rent to Fannie Mae, the families received eviction notices for failure to pay rent.
In 2010, the Massachusetts legislature gave tenants in foreclosed buildings the right to stay and pay rent to the new owners, allowing evictions only if there was “just cause” such as violating a lease or failing to pay the agreed-upon rent.

“On paper, these were meaningful protections, but in practice too many families were still being forced out,” said Sam. “Some families would leave because they didn’t know their rights, whereas others – like these two families – faced banks who took unbelievable steps to get around the law and avoid signing leases with them.”

After receiving the eviction notices, the families joined Lynn United for Change, an organization that brings together both tenants and foreclosed homeowners and uses “the sword and the shield” model to keep them in their homes – the “sword” of direct action and political pressure to change laws and policies and the “shield” of legal defense to fight evictions.

“I met one of the families when they showed up at our office late one night with a 48 hour notice of eviction,” said Isaac Simon Hodes, lead community organizer with Lynn United, “They had their children with them; their youngest was an infant at that time. We stayed late into the night going through documents and working out a plan.”

Through Lynn United, the families were connected with Eloise and Sam. As the eviction cases began moving towards a trial, Sam filed motions arguing that no trials were needed because the facts were indisputably clear – that Fannie Mae was breaking the law by refusing to rent and forcing the families out. These motions resulted in the favorable judgment by Judge Kerman. Now, other Lynn United members can rely on this decision in their legal struggles.

“Victories like this are made possible by really close collaboration between public interest lawyers and law students like the folks at HLAB and grassroots social justice groups like Lynn United for Change,” said Isaac.

“It was a privilege to work with these two families and to help them win some certainty after nearly four years of struggle,” said Sam, “This judgment is an important victory, not only for them but for families across Massachusetts.”

Meet Two of HLAB’s Newest Members

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau 

Amanda Morejon, J.D. '16

Amanda Morejon, J.D. ’16

Amanda Morejon is a 2L at HLS. Her family is from Cuba. She grew up outside of New York and is loving the quieter feel of Boston.

Q. Why HLAB?
A.
I was really excited to be part of such a thoughtful and passionate community. I think I was missing that my first year. I knew there were people doing really important work, and I wanted to be near them.

Q. What surprised you about HLAB?
A. Two things. First – I was surprised by how much I liked it. I thought it would take me a bit longer to ease into it and get to know everybody and feel comfortable. In a week, I was already in love with being here. Second – I was surprised by how unproductive I was in the computer room because I love talking to people here.

Q. What don’t we know about you?
A.
I am really big sleep-talker. Like full on, my dog leaves the room because I’m disturbing her so much.

Q. Thoughts on work-life balance?
A. My advice would be to trust your gut. If what you’re doing can wait and your gut is telling you to put on sweatpants and eat a pint of ice cream, then do it.

Jason McGraw, 3L at Northeastern University School of Law

Jason McGraw, 3L at Northeastern University School of Law

Jason McGraw is a 3L at Northeastern and a 2014 HLAB Summer Counsel. From Baltimore originally, he now calls Jamaica Plain his home.

Q. Why HLAB?
A.
I worked with an HLAB alum Jemel Derbali who told me that HLAB was his single most transformative experience in law school. Coming from Jemel, that carried a lot of weight with me.

Q. What surprised you about HLAB?
A. I don’t think it hit home that I was the only point of contact for my clients at the Bureau until I was actually at the Bureau and Patricio and Lee were asking me about whether I called the clients and what was happening with their cases. It’s amazing how much its 100% a student-run organization.

Q. What don’t we know about you?
A.
I told my mom I wanted to be a pilot when I was 13. She wanted to scare me out of it so she told me to take a lesson. I started flying planes when I was 13 and finally got my pilot’s license when I was 24.

Q. Thoughts on work-life balance?
A. It’s important for your clients that you do step away from the work so that you’re able to see the bigger picture.

Learning about Holistic Representation

Mo Devine, Clinical Instructor at Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and Donna Harati '15

Mo Devine, Clinical Instructor at Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and Donna Harati ’15

Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Donna Harati ‘15 had the unique opportunity to represent a client in both her divorce and Social Security disability benefits cases. The two cases were closely interrelated – the domestic violence that Jane* had suffered throughout her marriage led to mental illness and a suicide attempt which left Jane physically disabled.

When Jane first became a client of the Bureau, she was ashamed of her suicide attempt. She was reluctant to discuss her depression and PTSD and often minimized her symptoms to her medical providers. Donna worked closely with Jane to prepare her for the difficult, but necessary, discussion of her physical and mental disabilities at the Social Security hearing. Through the encouragement of Donna and clinical instructor Maureen (“Mo”) Devine, Jane began regular visits to a therapist and a psychiatrist. Jane learned to share openly with these professionals, recognizing the importance for both her case and her health.

Jane said, “When I first went to HLAB, I was depressed. I met Donna, and she made me feel like we were friends or family, so I started changing and feeling more comfortable.”

In December 2013, Donna not only won monthly disability benefits for her client going forward but also benefits dating back to the onset of Jane’s disability in 2012. Jane finalized her divorce and was awarded full legal and physical custody of her two children.

“Representing Jane with respect to both her divorce and her SSDI benefits deepened Donna’s understanding of Jane’s life,” said Mo, “That understanding enhanced the representation experience for both student and client.  Donna also had the satisfaction of knowing her work made a difference in Jane’s life now and into the future.”

Jane believes that this year represents a fresh start for her and is now excited to share her story. She visited the Advanced Clinical Practice class to take part in a discussion of client experiences through the Bureau. Annie Lee ’14 was inspired by the class discussion with Jane.

“When Jane told us that she is about to graduate from college and get her degree, we were all thrilled and applauded her accomplishment” said Annie. “It was wonderful to hear from Jane about how life improved after her HLAB representation.  I found it humbling that what my colleagues and I do can alter a person’s life trajectory.”

“Working with Jane was a privilege. I am constantly in awe of our clients and all that they overcome,” said Donna.

*name changed to protect confidentiality

Interview with Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award Winner Mira Edmonds

In celebration of the National Pro Bono Week, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs interviewed past winners of the HLS Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award who were chosen for their excellence and extraordinary contributions to the public good. Mira Edmonds, HLS ’07, is a Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School. At HLS, she completed 2,114 hours of pro bono work with the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). Please read the interview with Mira below. 

Mira Edmonds, Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School

Mira Edmonds, HLS ’07, Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School

OCP: Why did you choose to study law and what sparked your interest in pro bono work?
Edmonds: I decided to study law because it seemed like many of the people I admired as social change agents were lawyers and the practice of law seemed like one of the best ways to fight for justice. I can’t exactly say what sparked my interest in pro bono work since that is redundant with my interest in law. It never occurred to me that I would work for a client who could afford to pay me. I was only ever interested in representing people who would not be able to pay me because they would be the ones who would most need my services.

OCP: What were your biggest learning experiences at HLS?
Edmonds: I was fortunate to have extraordinary mentors and teachers both during my summer internships and during my two years as a student-attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. I probably learned the most from my mistakes — things I did which still make me blush, but which my clinical supervisors helped me to reflect upon and learn from. Above all, my clinical experience, which is where I did most of my pro bono hours, taught me how to be self-reflective about my practice, so that no experience went wasted.  In any situation, whether I performed well or performed poorly, I was asked to reflect on how I could have done better.

OCP: What do you find most challenging and satisfying about pro bono work?
Edmonds: Working with clients! Working with clients is so often the most challenging part of pro bono work, particularly in the work I have chosen to do, because so many of them have had really rotten luck in life and consequently assume that the system is going to give them yet another raw deal, and unfortunately, I am often seen as part of that system. But the opportunity to improve a client’s life by some modest modicum, or even to help them to turn it around in some cases, is so satisfying.

OCP: Did your involvement with pro bono work influence or change you long terms goals?
Edmonds: I wouldn’t say my pro bono work changed my long term goals, so much as fortifying them. I came into law school wanting to do public interest work with every ounce of my being, and yet the pressure to go to a firm is so strong that even I participated in on-campus interviewing. The availability of summer funding from HLS enabled me to turn down the firm offers I received and spend my second summer at a public defender office instead, which is the field I entered upon graduation. I certainly could not have imagined that career, or been prepared for it, without that summer experience. And my experience at HLAB was so influential that I am now doing a clinical teaching fellowship through which I hope to teach and mentor and inspire a new generation of law students the way my clinical instructors at the Bureau did for me.

State Attorney General Cites HLAB’s Suero v. Freddie Mac Case to Protect Homeowners

Nicole Summers, J.D. '14

Nicole Summers, J.D. ’14

On December 10, 2013 HLAB student Nicole Summers, J.D. ’14 argued a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court to prevent the eviction of Mr. and Mrs. Suero and their three children and halt the sale of their home. Citing a 2012 Massachusetts law – which made it illegal for any lender to place limitations on selling homes back to foreclosed homeowners – Nicole successfully prevented the eviction of the Sueros and sale of their family home. The law was intended to help homeowners repurchase their homes after foreclosure.

Nicole wrote about her case in an earlier blog post. “I am encouraged and hopeful that the judge’s decision will lead to meaningful enforcement of this important law. It was exciting and challenging to argue in federal court, and it was a wonderful experience to do so on behalf of the Sueros, who have fought so hard to remain in their home and rebound from the foreclosure crisis,” she said.

The battle, however, continues as Freddie Mac has refused to sell the home to a non-profit, which would sell the home back to the Suero family. Earlier this month, the Boston Globe ran a story ‘Can Freddie Mac skirt Mass. consumer law?’ It explains this contradiction in the law and how it has affected the Suero family.

In a press release issued a day later, State Attorney  General, Martha Coakley – citing Nicole’s case – urged the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to use the  buyback programs to help homeowners. In a letter to FHFA, she states that the prohibition on selling the homes back to the homeowners is in direct conflict with the 2012 Massachusetts law.

“To date, [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] have not complied with this provision, which has unfortunately  impeded the ability of buyback programs to maximize the number of borrowers they can assist, which in turn has hindered the broader goals of neighborhood stabilization and revitalization,” AG Coakley said. “Our office is considering all available legal avenues, including litigation, to ensure compliance with Massachusetts law, should FHFA fail to promptly amend its policies to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to participate in credible buyback programs.”

Nicole’s case is the first case in Massachusetts to obtain an injunction against Freddie Mac on the basis of their refusal to comply with the 2012 Massachusetts law.

Mr. and Mrs. Suero are active members of a local anti foreclosure and anti-displacement
organization, City Life Vida Urbana, as well as Local 26 Unite HERE. Both groups have been instrumental  in mobilizing residents to protest Freddie Mac’s refusal to sell homes back to former owners after foreclosure.  Nicole and others at HLAB have worked closely with the movement throughout the case and will continue to do so in the coming months with the goal of effecting policy change at Freddie Mac.

 

Graduating Student Reflects on her Experience with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Lerae Kroon, J.D. '14

Lerae Kroon, J.D. ’14

By Lerae Kroon,
J.D. ’14

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau’s dual mission of service and learning was exactly what I was looking for when I came to law school. I hope to provide civil legal services to low-income populations as a career, and after sitting in my 1L classes for a year I was ready to jump into the work. Because the Bureau is student run, I knew that I would not only get unparalleled litigation experience and mentorship from my clinical instructors, but also be able to take ownership over HLAB’s mission of community lawyering in the Greater Boston Community.

In my two years at HLAB I have represented clients as the lead attorney in housing, family, wage & hour, and benefits cases. During my first week I helped my client obtain a restraining order against her physically abusive husband. Since then I have prepared for trials, negotiated settlements, obtained a $90,000 judgment for a worker who had not been paid, and been in housing court more times than I can count. Throughout, I had complete control of all elements of my cases from intake to case closing, but was always able to turn to my clinical instructor for feedback, advice and support. The Bureau also offered me the experience of finding alternative ways to address the current shortage of legal services. I co-led a class that teaches pro-se litigants how to file for divorce, and I regularly assisted tenants through the Attorney for the Day program at Boston Housing Court.

The opportunity to do the work I care about, surrounded by both my clinical instructors and my fellow Bureau members was an incredible way to start my legal career. I gained skills in client counseling, negotiation, legal writing, and oral advocacy; perhaps more importantly I gained the confidence to be a zealous advocate for the population I plan to serve. As a member of HLAB’s board of directors I was able to better understand how to run a legal services organization and think critically about how to most effectively deliver legal services and to expand access to justice to the many low-income people in our community. HLAB celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and I plan to do my best to carry on its rich history of innovation and service with me as I begin my career.

HLAB Inspires Truman Scholarship Student to Pursue Career in Public Service

Photo by Colin Manning Tianhao He ’15 of Mather House was named a Truman Scholar for 2014. The award recognizes college juniors from around the country who are potential leaders in public service.

Photo by Colin Manning
Tianhao He ’15 of Mather House was named a Truman Scholar for 2014. The award recognizes college juniors from around the country who are potential leaders in public service.

Via The Harvard Gazette

Coming to the United States as a young boy, Tianhao He ’15 quickly learned about the many opportunities this country can provide, while also becoming aware of its many inequities. …

“I don’t see the problems with government as a reason to turn away, but rather as an opportunity to turn towards, get involved, and reimagine how we can solve these problems,” He said. “Through my involvement with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I have seen firsthand Harvard Law School’s genuine commitment to clinical legal education, which has inspired me to want to go to law school myself because I have seen how law can be a powerful tool with which to solve the social problems I have studied as an undergraduate sociology concentrator.”

Read the full story here.

HLAB Students Win a Quarter of a Million Dollars

L-R: Stephanie Goldenhersh, HLAB Clinical Instructor, Carolina Kupferman (2L)

By: Carolina Kupferman (2L)

My legs were shaking under me as I stood up in front of the judge to give my opening statement. My speech in front of me, an assortment of possible objections jotted down on post-it notes, and a 3-inch binder of documents I scoured for days were my only available weapons.

After just a few weeks at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau I had my first trial. I had only three weeks of Evidence class under my belt, plus one motion hearing I argued in front of a judge. Yet, here I stood, the “first chair” in a  divorce case that included issues ranging from financial assets to child custody, visitation, and support. My case involved a woman whose husband had physically and psychologically abused her for the past two decades. He had threatened to kill her, repeatedly slammed her head into a car, stalked her, frequently punched her, and more. They had moved together into his mother’s large Newton home that was going to one day be theirs, and his name had gone on the home along with his mother’s. The day after she moved out of the home to escape the abuse, he moved thousands of dollars from their joint bank account; weeks later he transferred the home into a trust in solely his mother’s name. My client barely had an income, and had to take care of two children, one with disabilities.

In the weeks prior to trial, I worked closely with my client, hearing the story as she told it, as she had lived it. Listening to her carefully describe each and every attack against her, each slandering term he screamed at her, I saw her strength. I saw how she had given up everything to make a better life for her children, and how her husband was trying to take it all from her. We practiced questioning her and tried to prepare her for how cross-examination would feel.

After she went home, my trial team—which included my 3L co-counsel and my clinical instructor—stayed at the office until the early hours of the morning for days in a row looking through documents, searching for inconsistencies, conceptualizing the financial fraud, and picturing every instance of abuse.

On the day of trial, we argued that the house and bank account were marital assets and our client deserved 50% of the equity in the house and the 401K, and the money removed from their bank account. I remember the trial as a whirlwind, and found it particularly amusing to sit in class afterwards on lectures of black-letter evidence law that I had learned through my baptism by fire.

Months later, we received the judgment. As I read through each paragraph, I could not believe the words on the page. My client obtained 60% of her ex-husband’s 401K from the time of their marriage, 50% of the money taken from the joint bank account, a favorable custody/visitation/support arrangement and 50% of the significant equity in the house. I cannot describe how wonderful it felt to read the judgment and then show the result to my client.

It is often very difficult to be a student-attorney. When everyone else has finished class and can relax, you are still thinking about your cases and your clients. The burden rests on your shoulders, and if you mess up, it is someone’s actual life at risk. Now, the husband’s attorney has filed a Notice of Appeal. HLAB has been retained to defend the judgment through the appellate process.

Sometimes you wish you did not have that responsibility, but when you see the positive results you can bring about, the change you can bring to someone’s life, it makes it all worthwhile. All the work. All the stress. All the crazy hours. All the practice and preparation. It was all worth it.

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