Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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Clinic Stories: Prepping for the U.S. Court of Appeals

via Harvard Law Today

Through Harvard Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic, students have the unique opportunity represent low-income taxpayers in disputes with the IRS, both before the IRS and in federal court. Working individually and in teams, they represent taxpayers involving examinations, administrative appeals collection matters, and cases before the United States Tax Court and federal district courts.

In this video, we follow Adeyemi “Yemi” Adediran ’21, a second year student in the Clinic, as he prepares to argue an appeal on behalf of a military veteran with PTSD in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago. The veteran’s appeal to the Seventh Circuit centered on his eligibility for innocent spouse relief under the Internal Revenue Code. Over a three year period, the veteran’s wife embezzled $500K from the Appleton, Wisconsin Blood Bank—where she worked as a bookkeeper. She was arrested and sentenced to jail, but because the couple filed taxes jointly and embezzled money is taxable, they were both legally responsible for back taxes on the money.

As an important part of his preparation, Adediran participated in a mooting session before a panel of “judges” including Keith Fogg, clinical professor and director of the Federal Tax Clinic, and Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin, vice dean for experiential and clinical education and faculty director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School (LSC), of which the Tax Clinic is a part.

You can read more about the Federal Tax Clinic and other LSC clinics and services at

HLS Legal Services Center: A Veteran’s Story

via Harvard Law School YouTube

The Legal Services Center’s Veterans Legal Clinic provides legal representation to veterans and their family members when they cannot afford an attorney. The Clinic serves the legal needs of veterans in cases involving VA benefits, Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Benefits, discharge upgrades, and estate planning matters. Watch the story of how Paul, a Vietnam veteran who was denied veterans benefits for decades, was finally able to access those vital benefits thanks to the Veterans Legal Clinic.

New online tool tells Mass. veterans if they qualify for financial aid

Via Boston Herald

By Maria Szaniszlo

For years, Massachusetts has had a program that provides financial aid for food, housing, clothing and medical care to veterans and their dependents with limited incomes. There’s only one problem — many veterans have never heard of it.

On Tuesday, the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center unveiled the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator, an online tool the clinic created to help veterans easily determine if they’re eligible for financial assistance through the program known as Chapter 115.

“We’re proud to be able to launch it statewide this Veterans Day,” said Betsy Gwin, associate director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “Spreading the word about this tool and increasing awareness about Chapter 115 benefits is something that is tangible; it’s a concrete thing that we can all do together right now to help support low-income veterans and their families in Massachusetts.”

Under Chapter 115, low-income veterans can be eligible for state financial assistance ranging from a few dollars to more than $1,000 per month if they fall below 200% of the federal poverty level and meet other eligibility requirements. But there has been a persistent gap between the number of veterans eligible for these funds and the number of veterans who actually apply for them.

A 2017 State Auditor’s Office report found that between 2014 and 2016, only 14,390 Massachusetts veterans received Chapter 115 benefits. The Veterans Legal Clinic estimates that thousands more are likely to be eligible. The Chapter 115 program also supports veterans’ dependents and survivors, Gwin said, but many are unaware of the program.

“No veteran or survivor in Massachusetts should be struggling to avoid homelessness, to keep the lights on or to feed their family,” she said, “and this financial assistance can make all the difference.”

Many veterans also are hesitant to ask for help, Gwin said.

“This is not a handout; it’s a hand up,” said Francisco Urena, Massachusetts secretary of veterans affairs. “Most of our veterans are successful upon returning home, but if certain circumstances of economy, circumstances of employment ever lead them to being without, the safety net programs that we have here in Massachusetts make that veteran a better candidate for success.”

Wesley Bigham, 31, of Abington enlisted in the Army in January 2011 and served in Afghanistan from January to October 2013.

“The first time I heard about Chapter 115 benefits was nearly five years after enrolling in VA care,” Bigham said. “… At that time, when I was struggling to find a job and attempting to resettle with my family, I had no idea Chapter 115 even existed. … We’re fortunate that we … were able to stay with our family.”

For more information, veterans should visit

Harvard Law School’s ‘outstanding’ housing rights advocacy work honored by Boston Bar Association

Lisa Owens (City Life/Vida Urbana), Zoe Kronin (Greater Boston Legal Services), Maureen McDonagh (Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School), and Eloise Lawrence (Harvard Legal Aid Bureau) accept the 2019 John G. Brooks Legal Services Award on behalf of their organizations. Photo courtesy of the Boston Bar Association.

By Grace Yuh

In September, two Harvard Law School clinics and their community partner organizations were recognized by the Boston Bar Association (BBA) for their collaborative efforts to fight housing displacement in greater Boston.

WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School (LSC), Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), and City Life/Vida Urbana, received the BBA’s John G. Brooks Legal Services Award for a “creative, combined strategy of community organizing and legal defense to advocate with and for tenants and homeowners across the city.” The award, presented annually by the BBA, recognizes “professional legal services attorneys for their outstanding work on behalf of indigent clients in greater Boston.” This was the first time since its establishment that the award was received by a collective of four groups.

“These four organizations represent the very best in collaboration and commitment to finding solutions for Boston’s housing crisis,” said incoming BBA President Christine Netski, managing partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen. “Their innovative partnership is an excellent model for others looking to bring lawyers and community organizers together to create positive change.”

The cost of housing in greater Boston has increased significantly over the past 10 years. As more and more properties are becoming increasingly expensive, middle- and low- income individuals and families have fewer options to secure housing.

Eloise Lawrence, a community lawyering Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law at HLAB, provided insight into how the evolution of the Boston Housing crisis makes it a persistent legal issue, noting how widespread gentrification and foreclosure in the greater Boston area continues to displace community members.

“The real crisis in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis was when a lot of speculators and investors came into communities that had been devastated. They took advantage of the fact that the prices of the homes had decreased dramatically and they started buying them up, which set off yet another speculative frenzy.” she said.

Maureen McDonagh, LSC Managing Attorney and Lecturer on Law at the Housing Law Clinic, also elaborated on why this issue is more relevant than ever to the legal community.

“Over the years we’ve seen cuts to legal services. That means there are even fewer attorneys representing folks in housing courts.” said McDonagh. “For unrepresented people, finding representation is virtually impossible. To find an apartment that is affordable, safe, clean is near impossible. People who are being evicted are finding themselves more and more homeless and this includes families. That’s why I think the BBA has concentrated more on [this issue].”

Lawrence noted that the collaborative nature between the four organizations developed in part through the work of the late David Grossman, Clinical Professor, who worked at LSC before becoming the Faculty Director at HLAB. Grossman brought students from LSC and HLAB into the anti-foreclosure movement that GBLS and City Life/Vida Urbana were already participating in. Since then, the partnership between all four organizations has expanded and grown. A hallmark of the partnership between these four organizations, the Sword and Shield method relies on the concerted and joint effort of local and legal communities; and focuses on empowering and encouraging individuals to stand up for their rights.

“The Shield is legal defense and the Sword is public protest and public pressure.” explained Steve Meacham, Organizing Coordinator at City Life/Vida Urbana. “There are procedures of the law that we can take advantage of and … legal proceedings allow the public pressure to then really work.”

City Life/Vida Urbana, whose primary mission is fighting against forced displacement, represents the “sword” through work such as organizing tenant associations and doing eviction blockades. HLS students and attorneys from LSC and GBLS complete the “shield” of the Sword and Shield method by providing legal services and advice. This can range from partial to full representation in court, with the City Life/Vida Urbana meetings in both Jamaica Plain and East Boston providing a space in which law students and attorneys can meet with individuals or client unions looking for legal aid. Additionally, GBLS, LSC, and HLAB participate in the “Lawyer for the Day” program, in conjunction with the BBA and Volunteer Lawyers Project.

“We go to housing court to help people who are being evicted that day, who don’t have a lawyer. We pick up cases right there.” said McDonagh on the program, which has assisted more than 18,000 individuals since 1999.

Outside of the direct services that the four organizations provide, they also convene for monthly Sword and Shield meetings that provide a space for lawyers and organizers to discuss and reflect on issues regarding partnership and individual work. Lawrence explained how these meetings are a good opportunity for organizers and lawyers to connect beyond shared clients.

“I think there’s huge synergy that happens when organizers and lawyers work together. I view it as part of my job to teach law students, especially those that have never worked with organizers before, to understand where the role of lawyer and organizer overlap and where they are distinct. I think that [to be] a good lawyer or an organizer, you need to be an empathetic human, you need to listen and learn. It sounds simple but it often gets overlooked in legal education.” she said.

Additionally, Meacham emphasized the strengths of community lawyering in a movement like the anti-foreclosure movement, where it is important to empower the collective of those in need of help.

“It’s been a privilege to work with all of them.” Meacham said, “In addition to being on the right side of cases about tenants, they are very skilled community lawyers, which is why they’re here taking short consultations. They understand that they’re representing collectively the movement … in terms of their practice outside of the client-attorney relationship, they’re practicing community lawyering so they’re looking at cases that will help a movement.” he said.

McDonagh also emphasized the nature of the collaboration between the four organizations and their relationship with the greater Boston community. “We are honored to be recognized for our efforts but the people who are the real heroes are the ordinary individuals standing up for their rights.” she said.

GBLS Executive Director Jacquelynne J. Bowman says receiving the Brooks Legal Services Award is a wonderful recognition of what impactful, collaborative advocacy can really look like.

“Greater Boston Legal Services is greatly honored to have been chosen by the Boston Bar Association as a co-recipient of the 2019 John G. Brooks Legal Services Award”, she said.  “This is a testament to the impactful advocacy efforts of our Housing Unit advocates and partners at the Harvard Legal Assistance Bureau, WilmerHale Legal Services Center, and City Life/Vida Urbana to help low-income families avoid or delay their displacement from increasingly unaffordable neighborhoods.”

Lawrence echoed this sentiment, noting the implications for how the legal community might best approach large-scale socio-economic issues in the future.

“It’s a recognition … that effective advocacy happens when people work together, especially when lawyers and non-lawyers work together.” Lawrence said. “When you’re dealing with complex problems like lack of affordable housing and the displacement of people from their homes, lawyers are never going to do this alone. The recognition from the legal community, which the BBA [represents], shows a more complex understanding of how problems are going to be addressed and that’s wonderful.”



The Lawsuits Challenging DeVos’ Anti-Student Higher Education Agenda

Via the Center for American Progress

By: Sara Garcia

Under the leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education has sought to unravel protections for college students. In an attempt to push back against the department’s dubious legal maneuvers, a number of state attorneys general, civil rights organizations, and advocacy groups have engaged the courts. The National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN), the Harvard Legal Services Center, the National Consumer Law Center, and others have sought to prevent the rollback of crucial regulations and bring more transparency to the department’s decision-making.

Earlier this month, a federal judge issued a blockbuster decision in one of these cases, ruling that the department had illegally delayed the Obama administration’s borrower defense regulation, which provides students who have been misled by their institutions the ability to seek relief from their federal student loans. While the judge has yet to decide if the department will need to begin implementing borrower defense, the decision is proof of the importance of challenging the extreme measures that Secretary DeVos and her department have taken to undo protections for students.

This column details some of the most troubling cases currently under review in the areas of consumer protection, accountability, student loan servicing, and civil rights.

Read the full article here.

Kensinger Named Co-winner of 2018 ABA Tax Section Spragens Pro Bono Award

Via Legal Services Center

Legal Services Center volunteer tax attorney Dale Kensinger has been named recipient of the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award from the American Bar Association’s Tax Section. He will receive the award at a luncheon on February 10, when the Tax Section holds its mid-year meeting in San Diego, California.

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

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Project on Predatory Student Lending’s Director of Litigation, Eileen Connor, selected for the 2017 “Rising Star” award from the National Consumer Law Center

Via Legal Services Center

The Project on Predatory Student Lending’s Director of Litigation, Eileen Connor, has been selected for the 2017 “Rising Star” award from the National Consumer Law Center for her significant contributions to consumer law. Eileen’s award comes as a result of her Second Circuit victory in the case Salazar v. King. Her clients were defrauded by the predatory practices of the now-defunct Wilfred Beauty Academy.

Wilfred, a for-profit chain of cosmetology and business trade schools, came under government investigation in the 1980s for the misuse of student aid funds and the falsification of loan applications. The result of the investigation was an overwhelming amount of evidence proving Wilfred’s fraud in certifying students’ eligibility for loans. In 1996, the Department of Education found that Wilfred’s fraudulent practices were widespread and recommended that all Wilfred students who were improperly enrolled receive a loan discharge, reimbursement for money they had paid, and a restoration of their credit. Despite its own recommendation, the Department continued to collect on these loans, including through involuntary collection methods such as seizing tax refunds and garnishing wages.

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LSC Alumna Leading the Way for People with Disabilities

Via Legal Services Center

Haben Girma, a Harvard Law School alum and alum of LSC’s Disability Litigation Unit (now the Safety Net Project), is featured on the cover of the September issue of the American Bar Association Journal for her consulting and public speaking work encouraging companies to hire people with disabilities and to develop fully accessible products and services. Girma has worked with organizations ranging from Apple and Google to Pearson Education and the American Alliance of Museums.

Before going into consulting, this former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom fellow practiced litigation for more than two years with the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Advocates.

Girma is a first-generation immigrant who has both limited hearing and vision and refers to herself as “Deafblind.” She was named one of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels.

LSC Reaches Out to Homeless and At-Risk Vets at Stand Down 2017

Via Legal Services Center

Group photo of the Legal Services Center staff

Members of the Veterans Clinic at LSC with volunteers from Veterans Legal Services as well as the MA Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Francisco Urena

A team of lawyers from LSC’s Veterans Clinic joined staff and volunteer lawyers from Veterans Legal Services  to offer legal advice at  the 2017 Greater Boston Stand Down on September 8 at City Hall Plaza. More than 100 Veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness came to the legal services tent as part of the day’s events.

Stand Downs take place across the country and bring together community providers and Veterans in one place to make it easier for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to access services such as employment assistance, housing assistance, medical care, wellness programs, legal support, and prevention services.

The event in Boston was organized by the New England Center and Home for Veterans.

LSC has participated in the Greater Boston Stand Down for several years, and a number of veterans who attend the event each year ultimately become LSC clients to receive in-depth legal representation on issues such as VA and disability benefits, SNAP and other public benefits, tax controversies, or issues concerning housing law, family law, estate planning, and consumer law.

Beyond a Judicial Philosophy: My Time in the Harvard Mediation Program

By Lauren Godles J.D. ’17

Lauren Godles J.D. '17

Lauren Godles J.D. ’17

In law school, we spend three years studying cases, with the expectation that by the end, we will develop a personal judicial philosophy. This judicial philosophy will consist of a set of legal principles and preferred modes of interpretation that will guide our analysis of legal issues for years to come. While I would say that my legal philosophy has certainly evolved during my time at HLS, perhaps even more important is the “human philosophy” I have developed through my experiences at the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP).

I trained as a mediator during my very first semester at HLS, and I immediately clicked with the members and their way of thinking. The people I met in HMP were kind and thoughtful. They had arrived at law school wanting to spend time learning how to listen. On the first day of training, we learned about the core principles of the program: self-determination, informed consent, and neutrality. It was the self-determination piece that made the most lasting impression on me. Because of HMP’s commitment to self-determination, as mediators, we don’t suggest solutions to parties in court. Rather, we provide a safe, open forum where litigants feel heard and brainstorm solutions that will work best for them.

At HMP, we teach mediators about the power of self-determination through the parable of a parent with two children fighting over an orange. The parent, desperate to stop the fighting, suggests cutting the orange in half and giving a half to each child. However, when the children continue to protest, the parent instead asks why each child wants the orange. Then, the children reveal that one wants to eat the fruit and the other wants to use the rind to make a cake. Only by inquiring about the children’s interests does the parent help them reach a solution that is better than the one initially proposed. Sometimes, during mediation, I have felt like the parent. The parties may be close to reaching an agreement and I have to refrain from suggesting they split the difference. I realize that is what I must do because so often there is an underlying interest that is causing the continued disagreement, and I know that the problem won’t be resolved until the parties are ready to ready to address that interest directly.

I have internalized the lessons I have learned about self-determination and incorporated them into other areas of my life, including my work at the Family Law and Domestic Violence Clinic housed at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. For example, after hearing about the abuse my clients endured at the hand of a spouse, my gut reaction is to try to prevent that spouse from spending time with the clients’ children. However, sometimes my clients want their partners to spend time with the children, because the partner is good with the kids or my client thinks a continued relationship with two parents will be beneficial. Even though this is sometimes hard for me to accept, I value my client’s self-determination and trust they are making the right decision.

Finally, I have carried the lessons of HMP into my personal relationships. In fact, my partner likes to refer to it as “mediation black magic” when I ask him open-ended questions about why he wants to buy a boat, rather than telling him he can’t. All jokes aside, I know that making a daily commitment to self-determination has made my relationships stronger. Since my mediation training, I have tried my best to put faith in people’s abilities to understand their situations and come up with solutions that best address their needs. As I think about graduation and what lies ahead, I know my judicial philosophy will serve me well as an attorney. But even more importantly, I know that the human philosophy I formed through HMP will make me a better person and member of the legal community.

Judge Russell Reflects on the Founding and Future of Veterans Treatment Courts

Via Legal Services Center


Judge Russell delivered the 2016 DAV Distinguished Lecture on Veterans Treatment Courts

“It is not often that one gets to sit in and listen to a pioneer. Today we are going to have that opportunity,” said senior Disabled American Veterans (DAV) leader, David Gorman, of the Honorable Robert Russell, the 2016 DAV Distinguished Speaker. Pioneer is an accurate description of Judge Russell, who founded the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo, NY in 2008.   He started and continues to lead the movement to create adjunct court systems designed specifically to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans.

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, Judge Russell delivered the 2016 DAV Distinguished Speaker Lecture at Harvard Law School. Reflecting on his January 2008 founding of the Erie County Veterans Treatment Court, Judge Russell explained that the idea came to him after noticing an increased number of veterans appearing before him in two existing problem-solving courts: the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court. He recognized that many veterans have a difficult time readjusting to life after service, a struggle which makes this community more vulnerable to mental health issues and addiction. The unique circumstances surrounding veterans inspired Judge Russell to ask the question, “What can we do to afford the best opportunities for our veterans?” His answer was to propose a court program designed specifically to address the underlying needs of veterans in the criminal justice system and connect them with the benefits and treatment that they earned in service.

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LSC Hosts the DAV Distinguished Speaker Series on Veterans Treatment Courts

Via Legal Services Center

Judge Robert RussellOn November 9th, the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School will host the third annual Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Distinguished Speakers Series featuring Judge Robert Russell, founder of the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court. Judge Russell’s lecture begins at 12pm in Ames Courtroom, in which he will reflect on his founding of the Court in Buffalo, NY, and the future of the Veterans Treatment Court movement across the nation. The event will commence with opening remarks by our honored guest, retired Executive Director of DAV National Services and Legislation, David Gorman and with brief introductions by Daniel Nagin, the Faculty Director of LSC and the Veterans Legal Clinic and Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education. A boxed lunch will be served at this time, for those who register here.

Following the lecture, Judge Russell will join a discussion panel alongside our three other distinguished guests:  Judge Eleanor Sinnott (Boston Municipal Court), Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan (Dedham District Court), and Major Evan Seamone (USAR, Professor at Mississippi College School of Law) to discuss the challenges and opportunities of veterans treatment  courts going forward.  The panel discussion will be moderated by Betsy Gwin, Clinical Instructor and DAV Charitable Service Trust Fellow, of LSC’s Veterans Legal Clinic.

For more information and to register, please visit

LSC assists veterans at Greater Boston Stand Down

Via Legal Services Center

LSC Volunteers at Stand Down 2016

LSC volunteers (L-R): Toby Merrill, Lisa Bernt, Audrey Patten, Victoria Roytenberg, Dana Montalto, Betsy Gwin, Ginger Jackson-Gleich, Dan Nagin, Caleb Smith, Julia Taylor, Michael Adame

On Friday, Sept. 30th, attorneys, staff, students and volunteers from LSC attended the 2016 Greater Boston Stand Down.  Held annually, Stand Down is a one-day event during which homeless and at-risk veterans can connect with a wide range of local service providers.  The event was held in Dorchester in the parking lot of the IBEW Local 103, with service providers meeting with veterans in tents set up by the National Guard.

LSC met with over 40 veterans during the event.  We provided advice on more than 60 different legal issues, ranging from tax to veterans benefits to student loans to housing.  In addition to providing advice, LSC also provided further referrals and, in a few cases, offered ongoing representation.

LSC is proud to continue to be a part of Stand Down and looks forward to volunteering again next year.

Lawsuit Filed Against U.S. Departments of Education & Treasury

Via Legal Services Center

A former student of Everest Institute filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court to challenge the government’s continued collection of defaulted federal student loans from low-income people who borrowed in order to attend a school operated by the disgraced and defunct Corinthian Colleges chain. The Project on Predatory Student Lending, part of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, represents the plaintiff in this lawsuit, Darnell Williams.

Mr. Williams, a resident of Dorchester, Massachusetts, attended a massage therapy program at Everest Institute, formerly located in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The lawsuit alleges that the government has been illegally seizing funds from borrowers who have defaulted on their loans from Corinthian schools. Although the government has broad powers to collect on defaulted federal student loans, it may not seize funds from borrowers when it knows that the defaulted student loan debts are not legally enforceable due to a school’s fraud.

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Clinic students present legal workshops for veterans

Via Legal Services Center

LSC clinic student, Carys Johnson, presents to veterans about estate planning

LSC clinic student, Carys Johnson, presents to veterans about estate planning

On Monday, November 9, 2015, the Legal Services Center opened its doors to veterans from our community to serve dinner and provide a series of legal workshops on a range of topics relevant to veterans.  Twelve Harvard Law students from the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic presented legal information and tips to attendees about estate planning, Ch. 115 state veterans benefits, VA benefits, and Social Security benefits.  Approximately 30 local veterans and family members attended the event.

Rebecca Rattner, a second-year student in the clinic, worked with her fellow students to present about benefits available to veterans at the state level.

“I thought it was a really useful activity to engage the community and provide them with information about their rights and practical suggestions for how to advocate for themselves,”

Ms. Rattner said.

Staff from Boston and Bedford VA healthcare facilities helped to coordinate the event.

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Drawing on community and social justice: Art exhibition at Legal Services

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Via HLS News 

This month, the Harvard Law School Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain held an art opening: the theme was community and social justice.  The artists and guests of honor at the March 5 event were more than 50 sixth-graders from the Helen Y. David Leadership Academy in Dorchester, along with their teachers and the school’s executive director.

Drawings, masks and collages were among the art on display in the LSC library. One student artist, commenting on his piece, a multicolored mask, explained the symbolism behind the colors: “Green is for the community growing after the Michael Brown killing; blue is for sadness that came over us when our culture and race were being killed; gold is for the achievement and success that African-Americans have had.”

Another artist said, “I wrote the words “life” on my drawing, because I believe everybody should have a good life. Not just a life.”

“Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin kicked off the event, introducing the keynote speaker, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Describing Minow as “principal of Harvard Law School,” Nagin told students: “She’s here because you matter, your artwork matters, and your dreams and your visions matter.”

Minow commended the students for recognizing the importance of community and fairness in their artwork. She said the Legal Services Center plays an important role in advancing fairness and justice by helping poor people in the community get the legal help they need to stay in their homes, protecting them from domestic violence, and helping them get money that they have been cheated out of.

“Justice needs advocates,” said Minow. “Justice needs people knowing their rights and saying, ‘I’ve been wronged’.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Call for HLS Staff Interested in Volunteer Opportunity – LSC People’s Law School

On behalf of the Legal Services Center

The Legal Services Center is looking forward to hosting the third “People’s Law School: Community Education Workshops & Open House” on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

LSC is asking for volunteers (10-15 people in total) to help with set-up, greet and guide attendees to the appropriate workshops, and then assist with clean up. Below is information to provide you with an idea of the scope of the workshops offered – they are being presented by LSC instructors and students and some of the on-campus clinics with a presence at LSC.  LSC is asking volunteers to commit 3 hours – from 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, or from 2:30 pm – 5:30 pm.  Anyone interested may contact Julie McCormack at  jmccorma at for further details.



Project on Predatory Student Lending Student Saves Client Over $40,000

Via the Legal Services Center 

The Project on Predatory Student Lending recently helped save a client over $44,000.  A problem in his federal student loan consolidation left him with several defaulted loans.  He came to the clinic because he was struggling to repay his loans, and because he did not understand why he still had defaulted loans after his consolidation.

His student attorney, Alison Sher, reviewed the client’s loan records and discovered errors in his loan consolidation process. The client had consolidated his loans in an effort to get them out of default and begin repaying them.  When his loans were supposedly consolidated, several of his loans were improperly excluded from the consolidation.  Two problems arose with the loans that were “left out” of the consolidation.  First, these loans remained in default, leaving the client at risk of the extraordinary collection powers of the federal government. For example, the federal government may seize borrowers’ earned income tax credits and garnish their wages without seeking a judgment in court.  The second problem was that the outstanding balance for these unconsolidated loans was included twice in the client’s outstanding loan totals.

Alison researched, wrote, and submitted a statement explaining these problems to the federal student loan ombudsman, who helps borrowers fix problems that their servicers cannot or will not correct.  As a result, the ombudsman removed over $24,000 in interest from the account, and also removed the erroneous defaulted loans and the interest that had accrued on those loans, amounting to more than $20,000 of additional relief.

Alison also addressed the client’s concerns by ensuring that he understood what steps we took on his behalf and his reduced outstanding balance. She also made sure that the client enrolled in an income–driven repayment plan, so that his payments would be affordable and his loans would not go into default in the future.

Know Your Rights video series

Via The Bay State Banner

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School has released a Know Your Rights video series consisting of 97 videos informing Massachusetts residents of their legal rights when faced with foreclosure or eviction. The videos are a product of the Mattapan Initiative — a free legal services anti-foreclosure and eviction defense program created in 2013 in response to the foreclosure crisis that ravaged the Mattapan section of Boston, as well as other low-income neighborhoods throughout Massachusetts. The Mattapan Initiative and the Know Your Rights video series were funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The aim of the video series is to educate Massachusetts residents regarding their legal rights when faced with foreclosure of their homes, or the threat of displacement due to foreclosure or eviction. The series includes videos on legal issues pertaining to: Basic Tenant Rights, Loan Modifications, Bankruptcy as it Relates to Foreclosure, Eviction Summary Process for Former Homeowners, Eviction Summary Process for Tenants as well as FAQ videos for homeowners and tenants facing foreclosure or eviction.

Attorney Roger Bertling, Director of the Mattapan Initiative and Director of the Consumer Protection/Predatory Lending Clinic at the Legal Services Center, says “we created these videos in hope that they’ll be used as a resource for distressed homeowners. The mission of the Legal Services Center is to protect the legal rights of the communities we serve, and as an extension of that mission, these videos are available to help people make informed decisions regarding their foreclosure or eviction.”

The Know Your Rights videos can be viewed on the Legal Services Center’s website and will be distributed using social media. To view each series in its entirety, visit the YouTube links below:

Clinic awarded $1M for veterans’ advocacy

Credit: Tony Rinaldo (From left) Christopher J. Clay, general counsel, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust; Elizabeth Gwin, attorney and DAV Charitable Service Trust Fellow in the Veterans Legal Clinic, Legal Services Center; HLS Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin; Richard E. Marbes, chairman of the board of directors, DAV Charitable Service Trust; HLS Dean Martha Minow; Juan Arguello, ’15; Zoe Bedell ’16; Lisa Dealy, assistant dean, Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs at HLS.

Credit: Tony Rinaldo
(From left) Christopher J. Clay, general counsel, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust; Elizabeth Gwin, attorney and DAV Charitable Service Trust Fellow in the Veterans Legal Clinic, Legal Services Center; HLS Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin; Richard E. Marbes, chairman of the board of directors, DAV Charitable Service Trust; HLS Dean Martha Minow; Juan Arguello, ’15; Zoe Bedell ’16; Lisa Dealy, assistant dean, Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs at HLS.

Via HLS News

In August, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Charitable Service Trust significantly increased an existing grant to expand its support of the Veterans Legal Clinic and other veterans’ advocacy program at Harvard Law School’s WilmerHale Legal Services Center. The grant, which now totals $1 million to cover four years of veterans’ advocacy, supports the clinic’s work in a number of practice areas including federal court appeals of veterans’ benefit denials, discharge upgrades, estate planning, combatting predatory student lending, and IRS tax controversies. Among other things, the grant enabled the clinic to hire attorney Elizabeth R. Gwin as the DAV Charitable Service Trust Fellow, where she works across several of these practice areas.

A portion of the grant is devoted to launching the DAV Distinguished Speaker Series at HLS in collaboration with the HLS Armed Forces Association (AFA). The first lecture will be delivered by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, who will be introduced by Senator Jack Reed ’82, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. McDonald, also a West Point graduate and former CEO of the Proctor & Gamble Company, will speak at the law school on November 24.

HLS Dean Martha Minow said: “This exceptionally supportive grant from the DAV Charitable Service Trust is real cause for celebration because it supports expansion of critically important legal services for our veterans and great opportunities for our talented and dedicated students.  Even in the short span of time since the launch of our Veterans Clinic, our students’ advocacy has produced landmark victories on behalf of veterans, and I am so grateful that with this terrific grant so many more can obtain help in securing benefits and fair treatment for those who have so selflessly served our nation.”

Continue reading the full story here.

Legal Services Center Staffs Legal Assistance Tent at Stand Down Event for Homeless Veterans

LSC staff and volunteers at Massachusetts Stand Down 2014.  Back row (L-R): Max Weinstein, Christopher Melendez, Daniel Nagin, Robert Proctor, Lisa Bernt, Nate Hennagin.  Front (L-R): Julie McCormack, Toby Merrill, Charlie Carriere, Steve Shay, Dehlia Umunna, Stephanie Davidson, Anuj Khetarpal, and Ashley Lewis.

LSC staff and volunteers at Massachusetts Stand Down 2014. Back row (L-R): Max Weinstein, Christopher Melendez, Daniel Nagin, Robert Proctor, Lisa Bernt, Nate Hennagin. Front (L-R): Julie McCormack, Toby Merrill, Charlie Carriere, Steve Shay, Dehlia Umunna, Stephanie Davidson, Anuj Khetarpal, and Ashley Lewis.

Via the Legal Services Center 

On August 22, 2014, the Legal Services Center participated in Massachusetts Stand Down 2014—the Commonwealth’s largest one-day event for homeless and at-risk veterans to connect with service providers. The event was held in the parking lot of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 in Dorchester and attracted over 700 veterans in need of assistance. A vast array of service providers set up in barracks-style tents—erected by the Massachusetts National Guard—to meet with veterans during this one-day event. Available services included health screenings, clothing, employment counseling, housing assistance, and information about benefits available to veterans. Veterans also received hot meals during the event.

LSC staffed the legal assistance tent for half of the day and provided pro bono legal consultations to over 50 homeless or at-risk veterans. Several of the legal consultations have since led to full representation cases. A total of eight LSC attorneys and three student volunteers from across LSC’s clinics and practice areas participated in the event, advising veterans in the areas of VA and disability benefits, financial and healthcare planning, housing law, family law, and consumer law. Additionally, LSC also recruited volunteer attorneys from the Fair Employment Project, the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, and Harvard’s Criminal Justice Institute to provide advice on employment law and criminal law matters.

Attorney Daniel Nagin meets with a veteran at Stand Down 2014.

Attorney Daniel Nagin meets with a veteran at Stand Down 2014.

According to Daniel Nagin, Faculty Director of the Legal Services Center, “Stand Down is a powerful model for ensuring homeless and at-risk veterans receive needed resources. Legal assistance is just one area of need—but it is an important area as we work with others to remove barriers that prevent low-income veterans from achieving independence, stability, and dignity.”

Bill Aims to Help Sellers of Foreclosure Homes

Via the Legal Services Center 

Max Weinstein, Clinical Instructor in the Predatory Lending Practice, is quoted in the July 30, 2014 Boston Globe article “Bill aims to help sellers of foreclosure home.”

From the article:

“A controversial bill aimed at helping homeowners who purchased foreclosed homes in recent years is winding through the state Legislature, and supporters hope it will pass before the session ends Thursday. It would reduce the amount of time people would have to challenge the legitimacy of a foreclosure and sue for the title from 20 years to about three.

‘Three years strikes me as a very short period of time,’ said Max Weinstein, who works at the Jamaica Plain-based Legal Services Center, a Harvard Law School group that helps low-income clients. Weinstein said he fears that lenders will just keep troubled homeowners in limbo for three years — easily done, given the amount of time it takes to work through the foreclosure process — until the time to sue for the title expires.

At that point, lenders can move to sell the property. ‘It’s a mess, it continues to be a mess,’ said Weinstein.”

Read the article.

More than Student Lawyers

Students in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic manage all aspects of their cases. Under the supervision of Associate Director and Senior Clinical Instructor Nnena Odim, they conduct intake, provide advice, and represent clients in both Family and District Court in Massachusetts. They also draft pleadings, analyze discovery, negotiate with opposing counsel, and work with complex financial issues. These students are more than lawyers. They support clients through difficult and stressful experiences, and make a real impact on their lives.

This past academic year, four students – Alyssa Greenberg, J.D. ’15, Kathryn Mullen, J.D. ’15, Kate Aizpuru, J.D. ’14, and Lana Birbrair, J.D. ’15 – did just that.

Alyssa signed up for the clinic to get substantive litigation experience. “I was not disappointed,” she said. “I drafted complaints for divorce, motions for temporary orders, and discovery requests; I prepared to take depositions, led a negotiation, and represented my client at a hearing in Probate and Family court; I spoke to my clients regularly, counseling them and working with them to determine what course their case should take.” Alyssa’s work has helped women who were married to abusive husbands get the closure and financial support they needed.

For Kathryn, representing clients “has been deeply rewarding”. Kathryn represented a husband seeking a divorce. “This case was not only an excellent learning opportunity, but a good reminder that anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse,” she said. Kathryn’s client experienced great psychological distress, suffered serious health problems and was also in dire financial straits. Yet, despite the difficult circumstances, he did not want anything except a divorce on grounds of cruel and abusive treatment. This “meant he would have to testify about his wife’s behavior,” said Kathryn. “It was important to him to tell his story on the record.” The experience contributed to and shaped her desire to become a public interest lawyer.

Kate Aizpuru signed up for the clinic to translate her interests in gender issues into practical experience. “I wanted to spend some time learning the types of skills I wouldn’t be able to get in a classroom: working with clients, drafting legal documents, and appearing in court,” she said. She represented a client who had suffered domestic violence. “At first, I felt nervous—I had only appeared in court on motions, never for a full trial,” said Kate. But the more she thought about the skills she had acquired throughout her two semesters at the clinic, the more confident she felt, and took charge of the entire case. “It was an incredible experience,” she said. Kate delivered the opening statement at trial, answered questions about the case’s procedural history, objected to inadmissible evidence, and cross-examined her client’s husband. Several weeks later, she received a favorable judgment for her client.

Lana took on a divorce case involving domestic violence and custody. “By the end of the semester there was a  6 inch case file with 8 pounds of paper representing 10 weeks of investigation and research,” she said. By her second week at the clinic, Lana was in court seeking a custody order. She met with her client regularly, culled through medical records, tax filings, negotiated with opposing counsel, and subpoenaed records from various banks. She even examined deeds to real estate, written in French. “After a semester, I appreciate the days when we can get a “good” or “great” result for a client we can genuinely help,” she said.

Diversity Includes Disability

Diversity and Disability How Disability Fits in to the Campus wide Dialogue About Diversity with Susan Lang of Lime Connect Prof Michael Stei Julie Mc (2)

L-R: Susan Lang, President and CEO of Lime Connect; Michael Stein, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability; Julie McCormack, Director and Senior Clinical Instructor at Disability Litigation and Benefits Advocacy Clinic; Tiffany Yu, Founder of Georgetown University’s DiversAbility Group; Elisa Dun, J.D. ’15

Via the Harvard Law Record

Students at Harvard Law and elsewhere possess disabilities, visible and invisible, yet these disabilities are more often than not a source of strength and lawyers should be more cognizant of just how varied, valuable, and diverse persons with disabilities (PwDs) are.

That was just one message of many discussed at a “Diversity and Disability” panel [on April 11th, 2014]. The event featured four speakers united by a desire to de-stigmatize disabilities. It was co-sponsored by HL Central, the Student Mental Health Association (SMHA), and the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), and organized by 1L Elisa Dun, who put the panel together through funds she received after winning this year’s TJ Duane Grant competition.

Some attendees were surprised to learn from Lime Connect President and CEO Susan Lang that at least one in ten college-aged students have disabilities. According to panelist Tiffany Yu, one reason for this is the effect of stigma: While more traditional components of diversity—race, gender, and socioeconomic status—are often celebrated at universities, discussion around disabilities is hushed.

Continue reading the full story here.

People’s Law School: HLS student helps community members

2By Jewel Hand, J.D. ’15

Recently, I was able to contribute to the Legal Services Center’s second annual People’s Law School. It is a unique day-long community outreach program designed to teach people their basic rights as borrowers, tenants, disabled citizens, and veterans, among many other things. Workshops throughout the day informed and empowered approximately 100 local citizens, while one-on-one counseling allowed the staff and students to give more individualized legal advice. The day ended with intake interviews for individuals with legal issues that make them candidates for the Center’s services. As a current student advocate at the Center, I was able to take part in the program at all levels: from planning and setup, to teaching a workshop, to individual counseling and conducting an intake interview. I feel fortunate to have contributed to a program that clearly helped so many individuals while also practicing valuable skills as a counselor and advocate. I hope the People’s Law School continues to grow and that I can contribute again next year!

Maureen McDonagh Named to Mayor’s Task Force

Maureen E. McDonagh, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor in the Post Foreclosure Eviction Defense Housing Clinic

Maureen E. McDonagh, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor in the Post Foreclosure Eviction Defense Housing Clinic

Via the Legal Services Center

Maureen E. McDonagh, Director of the Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense/Housing Law Clinic has been named to a new task force convened by Mayor Martin J. Walsh set to take on a challenge that has stymied Boston’s leaders for years: how to create more housing for low- and middle-income residents in a city beset by soaring rents and home prices.

Walsh announced the formation of the group composed of academics, developers, planners, tenants, and landlords in April, 2014.

“All of Boston’s residents deserve access to good quality housing,” Walsh said. “We will get there. We will make sure the city is a place that everyone in the community can call home.”

Walsh has charged the task force with producing a plan by early summer that sets concrete goals to meet the city’s housing needs along with strategies for reaching them. Among many challenges, he said, the group will need to find a way to control development costs while encouraging private developers to build homes and apartments for low-income families and the elderly.

Student in Housing Law Clinic Helps Elderly Couple Fight Eviction

K-Sue, J.D. ’15

By K-Sue Park, J.D. ‘15

Less than 7 percent of tenants facing evictions have representation in Boston Housing Court, in which around 5000 summary process cases are brought annually. My experience representing one elderly couple, who were the victims of a foreclosure rescue scam, showed me plainly that legal representation makes all the difference for families and individuals facing eviction, and that the foreclosure crisis has also been a crisis in access to legal services.

My clients were an elderly immigrant couple from the British Isles, who at the time of foreclosure, had lived in their house for more than forty years. They had fallen into financial difficulties with a bank loan at the very beginning of the national foreclosure crisis, in 2007. They were desperate for help, and fell prey to a foreclosure rescue scam artist who, unknown to them, had previously been convicted for defrauding single mothers of their welfare checks in the same neighborhood. Through him, third parties took out a new mortgage on their house. Then, he disappeared with the money and the bank foreclosed on the house. Finally, Fannie Mae purchased the house at auction while the elderly couple faced eviction. Subsequently, the Legal Services Center sued the scam artist and his team, and took on the couple’s defense in the summary process case.

In late February, on their behalf, I argued that Fannie Mae’s Notice to Quit had been improperly served since our clients were better understood as tenants than homeowners at the time of the foreclosure. Massachusetts law moves in favor of the non-traditional tenant: it considers occupants of a property owned by another, who agrees to their occupation and benefits as a result in a way that he would not otherwise have benefited, to be tenants. Fannie Mae therefore mistakenly evicted them as homeowners, and failed to observe the procedural rights to which they were entitled as tenants. The judge agreed with me, and as a result, the summary process case against them was dismissed.

From the beginning of my work on this case, I felt strongly about advocating for the elderly couple. However, I did not understand just how defenseless they were until the day of the hearing. First, we picked them up to bring them to the courthouse since they likely would not have made it there on their own. They are in their seventies and eighties, not very mobile, and one of them had a major stroke since the action was brought against them. Secondly, once at the courthouse, one of them became visibly anxious and afraid. When I tried to review the questions that we had already prepared for direct examination, she could barely speak, her eyes watered, and she held her stomach because she was nervous. Seeing this, the judge did not force them to the stand. I was glad, but also felt keenly aware that not all judges are so kind, and also, of how easily others in their situation might miss their court appearances altogether, resulting in a default judgment for the other side. Under these circumstances, it felt natural and necessary to speak up for them, and to put the training I have received in law school to exactly the use for which it was meant.

Congratulations to HLS Student Shaina Wamsley on her Ethics Award!

Shaina Wamsley ’14

Congratulations to Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center student Shaina Wamsley J.D. ’14, who will receive the 2014 Law Student Ethics Award from the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel! Daniel Nagin and Roger Bertling of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, and John Fitzpatrick and Sarah Morton of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project jointly nominated Shania for the award. Together they write:

“Shaina … has demonstrated the extraordinary ability required for the honor of this nomination. Shaina has chosen to spend hundreds of hours over the past 3 years providing direct legal assistance to the poorest, most marginalized and least able of the client populations served through the HLS clinical programs. … Clinical experience is not only about winning: it is about a thirst for learning and honing skills; it is about developing the capacity for self-reflection; it is about challenging perceived notions of how law should and does operate; and, ultimately, it is about taking on the personal challenge of growing into an effective, thoughtful and ethical member of the profession. … Her contributions compel this nomination; her firm adherence to the quiet, less heroic, everyday practice of ethical lawyering across dozens of intakes and cases, her attention to conflicts of interest, her careful explanation to clients of their and our rights and responsibilities, her consistent care with highly confidential medical, personal and legal information, her comprehensive assessments of the broad range of legal issues presented in each case, her thoughtful examination of the social and political contexts implicated, her deeply generous mentoring of several rounds of new clinical students and interns, her insightful and constructive critique of systems and practices, and the intelligent compassion she has shown to each and every individual she has encountered.”

According to The Chapter, the award was created “to recognize and encourage the ethical practice of law at the earliest stages of a young lawyer’s professional career, and at the same time to shine a spotlight on ethics more generally, demonstrating that the legal community values lawyers who are guided by ethical principles. The award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship, is given to twelve students, one from each of the participating local law schools, who have demonstrated an early commitment to ethics through work in clinical programs representing their first real clients.”

“It is truly an honor to have been nominated for this award. My clinical experience at HLS has been the most rewarding part of my time here” said Shaina.

The Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Ninth Annual Law Student Ethics Awards dinner will be held on April 15, 2014 at the Union Club in Boston. The keynote speech will be delivered by Wayne A. Budd, Senior Counsel at Goodwin Procter LL.P. and Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

Lawyers Weekly names Julia Devanthéry an “Up and Coming” Honoree

Julia Devanthéry, Staff Attorney for the Mattapan Initiative, Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center

The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly has announced that Julia Devanthéry, Staff Attorney at the Wilmer Hale Legal Services Center has been selected as an “Up and Coming Lawyer”. She will be honored for her contributions to the legal community on  May 1st, at the Annual Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Excellence in the Law event.

Julia joined the Legal Services Center as Staff Attorney for the Mattapan Initiative in 2013 and has been an invaluable member ever since. Her colleagues describe her as a person with great strength, conviction, and initiative.

Prior to joining the Legal Services Center, Julia served as the Manager of Legal Advocacy at HomeStart, Inc. where she represented low-income tenants facing homelessness. She has also worked as a Clinical Law Fellow at Northeastern University School of Law’s Domestic Violence Institute. Julia received her juris doctor from Northeastern School of Law in 2009.

Oh the Difference Representation Can Make

By Garrett Bych (Student Legal Advocate, Administrative/Disability Clinic, WilmerHale Legal Services Center)

Garrett Bych, Summer Legal Advocate 2013

Let’s assume that you have a serious physical disability that prevents you from working. You have two daughters dependent upon your care and you want to go back to work so that you can support them, but you simply can’t. Physical labor is too intensive, and you can’t stay seated long enough to complete sedentary work.  So what do you do? You end up heading down to your local Social Security office one afternoon and you apply for disability benefits. You work a few odd jobs in the meantime just to put food on the table, but after 3-4 months, your disability claim is denied. You quickly file for reconsideration, but when that doesn’t pan out; you wonder if you have any options left.

Social Security tells you that you can file for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, but that it usually takes more than 6 months just to be scheduled. You follow their advice, and you decide to contact a public service organization to help you with your disability claim.

It is important to establish at this point just what such a public service organization can do. When claimants are first accepted as clients by the Legal Services Center, they often have very strong cases but simply no one to represent them. They are some of the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet, and they are in desperate need of financial help due to unfortunate circumstances and in many cases, a lack of opportunity.   They are not familiar with how Social Security Disability Claims work, and thus their applications may sit unprocessed in the system for weeks, months or even years. As previously stated, these individuals cannot afford to wait weeks, months or years for decisions. They are out of work and in dire need of monetary support. Some clients go back to work part-time even though it makes their respective conditions worse because by doing so, they can at least put some food on the table and pay a little bit of rent.

Unfortunately, their troubles are not magically whisked away by being put on retainer with a public service organization. However, the Legal Services Center can be extremely helpful when it comes to understanding how the Social Security Administration works, and when they may need a good shove in the right direction. The Administrative/Disability Clinic at the Legal Services Center specializes in helping clients at the hearing stage of their claim, which means that we at the Center use medical evidence to build the case of our client and then argue that case at a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.

Let’s return now to the previously described case. Our client came to us after being denied reconsideration, and we built his case and prepared for his hearing. Unfortunately, he received an unfavorable decision from the judge. We quickly appealed the decision. A couple of years later (no that is not a typo) our client was finally approved for disability benefits- with a catch. When an individual is approved for benefits, these benefits often come in two forms: a monthly check for benefits and a gross retroactive check, or back-payment, that covers the entire period since the individual claimed he or she was disabled. For instance, if you applied for benefits and said you had been disabled since 2006, if you get approved in 2011, you will get one check covering all of the monthly benefits you have missed since 2006 when you became disabled. For our specific case, Social Security decided that they would withhold $500 every month from our client’s monthly check in order to pay out child support. This would have made perfect sense, if the back payment our client received hadn’t already covered the child support. After two more years of fighting with Social Security, our client received a letter this past week approving his family for just under $100,000 in retroactive benefits from his disability claim. These benefits can not only solve the child support case, but actually help put his kids through college down the line. For families that may be struggling to put food on the table on a week by week basis, it can not be overstated how important these benefits are.

Without representation, over 70% of applicants for disability benefits will be denied. Even with representation, getting approved by the Social Security Administration is no easy task, as highlighted by the case above which is still open 5 years after our client’s initial application. Even though this case initially began in 2008 and was not fully resolved until 2013, on weeks like this one, you must celebrate any victory, and this is no small victory for a worthy individual and his representatives. Social Security got this one right, and all it took was a good shove in the right direction.

Supervisor’s note:  Some of the HLS students who contributed significantly to the success of this case are Haben Girma ’13, Alex Smith ’13, Jhoshua Friedman ’12, Stephanie Neely ’12 and Rajan Sonik ‘12


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