Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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Tag: Pro Bono Week

Pro Bono Week 2019 Recap

Every year, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) at Harvard Law School (HLS) participates in the American Bar Association’s National Celebration of Pro Bono. Held from October 21st – 25th, 2019, Pro Bono Week serves as a time where HLS celebrates and reflects on the pro bono work that staff, faculty, and students do throughout the year.

The theme of this year’s Pro Bono Week, Stand Together, Stand for Justice, emphasized the importance of collaborative advocacy and how lawyers working together with clients, partner organizations, and communities can inspire change that positively impacts public interest. In line with Stand Together, Stand for Justice, OCP hosted a series of panels featuring attorneys and experts from a variety of fields to speak about their work.


Yee Htun (left) and Nadia Aziz (right) during their conversation on combating hate speech and hate crimes in communities.


Stopping Hate: A Conversation with Yee Htun and Nadia Aziz

Yee Htun of HLS’ International Human Rights Clinic and Nadia Aziz of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law shared a conversation on topics surrounding hate speech and hate crimes. Aziz, who currently serves as the Interim Co-Director and Policy Counsel of the Stop Hate Project, spoke about the project’s work to create strategies on how to combat hate in local communities. The Stop Hate Project manages a resource and reporting hotline for hate incidents, works collaboratively to enhance the response of law enforcement and community organizations to hate crimes, and engages in the public interest sphere. Additionally, she spoke about her work on the lawsuit against The Daily Stormer representing Taylor Dumpson; as well as how hate speech and hate crimes have evolved over the past decade given the presence of social media.


Tony Marino (left), Dr. Fiona Danaher (middle), and Robert Greenwald (right) after their discussion on reinstating care for critically ill immigrants.


A Critical Win: The Fight to Reinstate Care for Critically Ill Immigrants

HLS Clinical Professor Robert Greenwald hosted a discussion with Tony Marino, the Director of Legal Services at the Irish International Immigrant Center, and Dr. Fiona Danaher, a pediatrician with Massashusetts General Hospital (MGH) and co-chair of the MGH Immigrant Health Coalition. Both were involved in the fight to reinstate the Medical Deferred Action program, which allows immigrants to remain in the U.S. while they or their relatives receive life-saving medical care. Marino and Danaher spoke about how the partnership between lawyers and medical professionals developed around this issue, with Marino also mentioning the role of the press and public outcry. Both Marino and Danaher emphasized the necessity of working together to create a space where advocacy can be effectively accomplished and how important inclusive legal work is.


Kendra Albert (left) and Ria Tabacco Mar (right) as they speak about cases regarding LGBTQ discrimination.


LGBTQ Discrimination before the Supreme Court: Reflections from Employees’ Counsel

In light of the October 8th Supreme Court cases regarding LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, Kendra Albert, Clinical Instructor with the Cyberlaw Clinic, hosted a conversation with Ria Tabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney with the National ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. Tabacco Mar discussed her experiences with litigating on issues of LGBTQ discrimination and spoke about her work on LGBTQ Title VII discrimination cases before the Supreme Court as well as her previous work on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. She also spoke more broadly on challenging pre-existing notions of how concepts such as gender and sexuality are used and interpreted in law. She also touched on the necessity of considering intersectionality when dealing with issues surrounding identity, particularly those relevant to the LGBTQ community.


Stacie Jonas on the Frontlines in the Fight to Protect Immigrant Survivors of Abuse

The Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) encourages law school students and lawyers to incorporate an enduring commitment to public service throughout their careers. The office offers advising sessions for students to discuss career options, plans events to expose students to the wide range of public interest opportunities available, and invites public interest leaders and mentors to HLS through its Wasserstein Public Interest Fellows Program.

As a part of National Pro Bono Week, Wasserstein Fellow Stacie Jonas discussed her commitment to serving those on the margins of society through her work in human trafficking. Human trafficking is a growing global epidemic. While sex trafficking is often what captures the media’s attention, labor trafficking is a prevalent problem. Jonas serves as the managing attorney for the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s (TRLA) human trafficking team, which aims to protect those who have fallen victim to labor and sex trafficking due, in part, to the gaps in our country’s immigration and labor laws. During her lunch time discussion, Jonas dispelled the myths of human trafficking, distinguished it from smuggling, and discussed how structural policy and legal flaws in labor and immigration are “weaponized” by abusive employers and traffickers that make immigrants more vulnerable to abuse and harm instead of protection.

TRLA provides comprehensive legal services to survivors of labor and sex trafficking in Texas and six other southern states. At TRLA, attorneys help survivors report their trafficking to law enforcement, apply for immigration relief and represent survivors in civil lawsuits and administrative agency proceedings. Survivors of labor and sex trafficking are often reluctant to speak out and engage in a process to hold traffickers accountable out of fear of deportation. Recent policies and rhetoric have caused widespread concern among immigrants, and people are reluctant to report their abuse, fearing that the threat of arrest and deportation is just around the corner, Jonas said. She told Politico EU that “[Traffickers] take complete advantage of the increased climate of fear. So many of them use threatened abuse of the legal process, threats of deportation, threats to report people to law enforcement on phony allegations, like threatening to accuse them of theft, or threats to have their kids taken away from them as a big part of their scheme to coerce someone to work.” TRLA helps these individuals prepare to speak with law enforcement about the trauma they have endured and assists in helping them obtain the legal safeguards to protect their welfare.

Unlawful immigration and/or smuggling may be synonymous to human trafficking for some, but Jonas informed the audience that, under federal law, they are actually quite different. Even U.S. citizens and immigrants who enter the country lawfully can become victims of trafficking. Nearly 70 percent of labor trafficking victims enter the U.S. on lawful visas. Jonas differentiated smuggling, which centers on the unlawful transporting of individuals to a foreign country, from trafficking, which involves the exploitation and coercion of an individual for labor or commercial sexual acts. Jonas also noted in a Texas Standard article, that “Victims of human trafficking are eligible for certain legal remedies and protections that are not always available to people who were smuggled.” Labor trafficked individuals can still be paid, and do not necessarily have restriction of movement. She gave an example of a man who was promised wages and free room and board in exchange for trucking-related work. But the work the man was required to perform was different and more labor intensive and dangerous than original described, and he received less pay than promised. He was injured on the job multiple times. The trafficker and his family also belittled the man, provided him sub-standard housing, and even threatened to get him deported or that he could be harmed if he ever left the job. Other truck drivers noticed signs of the man’s abuse, and he was referred to TRLA for services. Jonas and her team were able to get him out of the situation and helped him successfully apply for various legal remedies.

Jonas also currently works part time with Justice in Motion, helping to ensure that migrants fleeing abuse or violence can remain safely in the U.S. and to reunite migrant parents who were separated from their children while in the U.S. Jonas said that organizations like TRLA, Justice in Motion, and other similar organizations continue working to help trafficked individuals subjected to abuse and harm, who are often times trying to escape poverty, improve their lives, and support their families.

Thank you to OPIA and the Labor and Employment Action Project (LEAP) for putting this event together

Students Receive Wisdom on Building a Pro Bono Practice in a Large Law Firm

Pictured from left to right: Sue Finegan, MintzLevin, William (Rob) Roberts ’10, Ropes & Gray, and Tory Hartmann ’17, WilmerHale

Three influential law firm attorneys committed to serving their community spoke to a room full of students about how law firm associates can get involved in pro bono work at a large law firm. Susan (Sue) Finegan is a nationally recognized pro bono leader. She is the Pro Bono Partner at Mintz Levin, and was driven to the law profession to help people. She has served as the lead counsel in a number of high profile litigation matters, such as the Trump administration’s travel ban and seeing through the passage of a Massachusetts restraining order law for sexual assault survivors. She current serves as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. The two other panelists, William (Rob) Roberts ’10 and Victoria (Tory) Hartmann ’17, are HLS alums who built a foundation for their pro bono work throughout their time at HLS. Roberts, who is an associate in the Litigation and Enforcement group at Ropes & Gray, participated in the Predatory Student Lending Clinic as a student. His current practice at Ropes focuses on complex commercial disputes, bankruptcy litigation, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance. He also serves as the family law team leader for the firm’s partnership with Dorchester House. Tory Hartmann is an alum of the Food Law and Policy Clinic. Now at WilmerHale, Hartmann advises public and private companies on an array of corporate matters, including strategic investments, cross-border outsourcing deals, and SEC filings. Each of the panelists spoke to the breadth of issues they have worked on in their pro bono portfolio, ranging from protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), reuniting separated families, working with domestic abuse survivors and homeless women, to helping farmers and other individuals and entities providing food get established. The panelists described how their intentional efforts to get involved in pro bono work and their firm’s support of that work allowed them to frequently engage in public service opportunities.

Finegan emphasized that the three firms represented on the panel had a long history of commitment to the community and are strategic about hiring lawyers with special skills that can be helpful in serving the community: “I think a lot of these firms, and these three in particular, have decades long commitment to certain initiatives in the community of Boston and in other cities that we operate in. Even before pro bono was a defined thing, the founders of our firms were doing things in the community for free . . . There’s a real obligation as lawyers, [and] as professionals, to use [these special] skills in any way we can.”

Roberts agreed that law firms believe in doing meaningful pro bono work, stating that, “Firms are looking for these types of issues that make an impact.” Roberts recounted a year where he performed an impressive 1,100 hours of pro bono work, exceeding his billable hours. When asked about how the firm viewed this imbalance, he replied, “at the end of the day people see if you’re doing good work and they appreciate the work you’re doing whether it’s pro bono or billable.” The challenge, he said, is in maintaining organization and flexibility to bounce between different issues.

There can be tremendous leadership growth for associates to initiate a pro bono project and take the helms of leading a case. Finegan said that it is a great professional development opportunity for associates to be primarily responsible for someone’s well-being when leading a pro bono project, a chance that occurs less frequently in some of the firm’s bigger cases when the partners largely drive the work. The panelists encouraged students to get the experience and exposure of leading a project and driving a litigation strategy early on in one’s career.

Hartmann encouraged students who were planning to work in law firms, but have a strong inclination for public interest, to ask the firms up front about their pro bono work. She encouraged students to ask summer associates during interviews and meet and greet sessions about the kinds of pro bono projects they had worked on. “Everyone should have an answer,” she declared. She also encouraged students to ask if pro bono hours count the same as billable hours and to make sure the projects include challenging and substantive work. That way, she said, a student can tell how much a firm values their pro bono practice. Finegan highlighted that at Mintz Levin, “Our pro bono matters are just as important as our client matters, and in some ways, in my perspective more important because these are clients who would otherwise not get helped.”

Thank you to the Harvard Women’s Law Association for co-sponsoring the event.

Climate Defense Project Emphasizes Movement Lawyering to Empower and Protect Climate Activists

Pictured left to right: Climate Defense Project Co-Founders Alice Cherry ’16 and Ted Hamilton ‘16

“We like to think of ourselves as climate activists with bar licenses . . .” said Ted Hamilton, one of the co-founders of the Climate Defense Project (CDP). CDP was founded in 2016 by three HLS alumni (Alice Cherry ’16, Ted Hamilton ’16, and Kelsey Skaggs ‘16) to “use the legal system as its own avenue of activism” in climate defense work. Since its founding, the organization has represented a number of climate activists who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to combat climate change, who would otherwise lack access to reliable legal support. CDP addresses this need by providing legal support for activists, connecting attorneys with communities and campaigns, and pursuing climate impact litigation.

Before CDP was born, the founders themselves were active participants in the climate movement. In 2014, seven students, including the three founders, filed a lawsuit against Harvard University over its fossil fuel investments. The plaintiffs claimed that Harvard was violating its charitable mission by contributing to environmentally and socially harmful activities through investing in fossil fuel companies’ business actions. The group knew their chances of success were slim, but still found it important to put political pressure on the university to take immediate action to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The case was dismissed by the Massachusetts Appeal Court nearly two years later, but Cherry and Hamilton said that the experience of litigating, speaking to the press, and making political arguments in the court and the court of public opinion prepared them for their current roles in running a nonprofit. From their experience pursuing litigation, Hamilton said, “We realized there was a real need for this sort of proactive movement lawyering for the climate movement . . . . and to proactively use the legal system and legal ideas to advance the movement’s goals.”

CDP primarily provides criminal defense for climate activists. Increasingly, climate activists are using civil disobedience tactics as a call to action, urging politicians and other powerful decision makers to immediately address the problems contributing the climate’s deterioration. “The planet is dying and our clients are getting arrested for trying to do something about that,” Cherry remarked. In their cases, CDP often uses the climate necessity defense, a common technique used by climate activists, which states that a person’s actions were justified by the climate emergency, or the need for drastic action to reduce the need for fossil fuels. In one such case, protestors were arrested for demonstrating against a liquid natural gas plant in Tacoma, Washington that was built on indigenous land. CDP spoke to a local indigenous elder, who served as an expert witness in the case. She gave a history of the land and the violations of treaties over the land throughout the years. Her testimony, in addition to fact that the indigenous group granted permission for the protestors to take action, helped the protestors to be cleared of the trespass and obstruction charges against them. CDP was also involved in a case in Minnesota, where the activists from Oregon and Washington, known as the “Valve Turners” manually shut off the emergency valves on the tar-sands pipelines that transports tar-sands oil from Canada to the U.S. The activists justified their actions as necessary because of the imminent threat that fossil fuels pose. Three of the five protestors were tried and convicted of felony charges, but in a win for the activists, a state judge dismissed all charges earlier this month.

These court cases, victorious or not, often helps to spread a message and adds legitimacy to the climate action movement, Cherry said. The two also discussed that political trials provide a forum and process for fact finding, adds procedural safeguards and opportunities to vet information, and can facilitate democratic deliberation on important social issues. Cherry stated, “Through jury verdicts, people get to be the voice of the community. They get to participate in a form of direct democracy at a time people are kind of shut out of other democratic institutions.”

Cherry also discussed the intersection of climate change with other issues. “You really can’t understand climate injustice without understanding racial and gender injustice, and of course, capitalism. We exploit people as well as resources.” She said that intersectionality is going to be key for the climate movement going forward to make climate change feel “immediate, tangible, and morally compelling for people.”

Both Hamilton and Cherry spoke highly of the decision to start their own organization, and encouraged students to do so also if there was a need they felt was currently unaddressed. They shared the challenges of building a nonprofit, but also how having connections both within and outside of Harvard gave them the support and resources to be successful.

Thank you to the Harvard Environmental Law Society for co-sponsoring this event.

Protecting Civil Liberties and Rights with Oren Nimni of Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston

Pictured left to right: Harvard Law School Professor Nikolas Bowie ’14 and Oren Nimni, Lawyers for Civil Rights

Harvard Law Professor Nikolas Bowie ’14 and Oren Nimni of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) Boston sat down to have a conversation about the LCR’s recent litigation efforts to advance civil rights and economic justice. Nimni spoke about his commitment to advancing justice for people of color and immigrants and described his grassroots approach to developing legal strategies.

Nimni is currently litigating a case against the Trump administration to protect immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In the mid-summer of 2018, the Trump administration announced it was terminating TPS status for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan. In light of the announcement, immigration and civil rights advocacy groups like the LCR initiated litigation to prevent the terminations. They claimed that the cancellation of the program had a discriminatory motive that violated the law. In early October, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ordered the administration to halt its plan, ruling that the administration violated the Equal Protection Clause by basing its decision “on animus against non-white, non-European immigrants.” Nimni emphasized the importance of the decision nationwide, but especially in Boston which has a high immigrant population. He highlighted that speaking with community members and prioritizing their needs was central to developing the legal theories they pursued.

Nimni has also been involved in other efforts to combat racial discrimination, including LCR Boston’s suits against the Boston Police Department (BPD) for racial profiling and internal discrimination within employment. He has also helped with reunifying families who were separated at the border due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. LCR filed a lawsuit on behalf of children seeking damages from federal officials for forcibly separating families. Nimni was quoted in WBUR 90.9 saying that the lawsuit seeks to “hold the government accountable” and petition for “. . . the government [to] attempt to repair some of the harm that they’ve done to these kids.”

Nimni distinguished LCR as an organization that embodies the community-lawyering approach, letting communities drive the litigation. It is a model that appealed to him and one that he uses as he develops new legal strategies. He also said the organization had a strict focus on protecting the rights and interests of marginalized communities. “We’re in a really particular moment right now in the law where things are really bad and that provides a pretty sober reminder of the way that law works,” he told the audience. But, Nimni said, there are a number of organizations nationally and in Boston that are engaging in exciting and creative litigation strategies around immigration, mass incarceration, and education, among others. Nimni concluded by encouraging students to participate in direct services work through clinics or other opportunities. He also advocated that students stay in Boston, arguing that there are underserved communities in cities that are not well-established civil rights hubs that need creative, and talented lawyers to help defend their interests.

Thank you to the National Lawyers Guild – HLS Chapter for co-sponsoring this event.

Lee Gelernt: A Fierce Advocate Reuniting Separated Families

Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

In the spring of 2018, the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy on immigrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by separating families and children.  A new report from Amnesty International cites that over 6,000 people, half of whom are children, were separated from their families at the border since the policy was implemented. The ACLU promptly sprung into action, initiating a national class action lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop the practice. The case sought to reunite a mother and daughter who had been forced apart and detained separately 2,000 miles away from each other. The pair was seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who spearheaded the lawsuit, spoke to HLS staff and students about the litigation’s claims and the ongoing efforts to reunify families.

The lawsuit claimed that Trump’s separation policy violated the Constitution’s due process clause, the asylum statute, which protects asylum seekers, and the government’s own directive to keep families intact. On June 26, federal Judge Dana Sabraw issued an injunction declaring Trump’s separation policy unconstitutional and required the administration to reunite the families. The administration suggested that the ACLU should use its networks to find the parents, but the judge retorted that it was “100%” the government’s responsibility to find the migrant parents it had separated and deported. The ACLU did organize efforts to help, and first prioritized reuniting children 5 and under with their parents. The task was quite daunting. In September, NPR reported that 304 parents had been deported and remained outside of the U.S. – many of whom were in Guatemala. Gelernt said the government kept poor records of the individuals they deported, and that they were “sitting on information, including phone numbers, [that they had] that could help find these parents.” Gelernt himself traveled to Guatemala to search for some of these parents. “I never expected to be in Guatemala looking for parents.” For those parents that he and other volunteers found, they explained to them their rights and presented them with a distressing choice: to be reunited with their children or to let them remain in the U.S. to pursue asylum independently. Gelernt said that two-thirds of the parents who were deported let their children remain in the U.S., reasoning that having their children return to their home country was too dangerous.

In his 25 plus years of civil rights work, Gelernt said the family separation policy is worst thing he’s ever seen. “It’s as The Washington Post described it: “gratuitous cruelty.” Being detained is a traumatizing experience in and of itself, especially for a child, Gelernt said, compounded with the fact that these children were being forcibly torn from their parents. In some cases, young children had been separated from their parents for so long, their children no longer recognized them. Judge Sabraw asserted the severe consequences of policy and leaving families broken, warning that, “For every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child.”

As heart wrenching as the issue was, Gelernt says it rallied political unity among conservatives and liberals. Immigration policy is a polarizing issue in Washington, but the public outcry denouncing Trump’s “crack down” on immigration mobilized politicians from both sides of the aisle to speak out. A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll found that eighty-eight percent of voters opposed the policy, and said that the families should remain together while their cases move through immigration court. While the bipartisan calls against inhumane policies helped stop the administration, lasting immigration reform won’t come from this administration any time soon, Gelernt said. Any real, substantive change will have to be through the courts and through large public outcry, as many civil rights victories in the past have occurred. Gelernt noted that the ongoing challenge will be to maintain public scrutiny on the administration’s immigration policies and decisions, and not letting the public lose focus on the issue. He encouraged students to organize, volunteer, and to continue to keep the issue in the public light.

Thank you to our co-sponsors, HLS ACLU, Child and Youth Advocates (CYA), HLS Immigration Project, and the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC).

Celebrating National Pro Bono Week @ HLS

2016 Pro Bono WeekHarvard Law School is celebrating National Pro Bono Week from October 24 to October 28. This celebration honors the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their time to help people in their communities and increase justice for all. The week will be marked by ceremonies and panel discussions focused on the value of pro bono work.

The American Bar Association launched this initiative to increase awareness of the growing need for pro bono services and to highlight the positive impact that lawyers make in their communities across the United States and in the lives of the clients they serve.

Join Us!

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs invites faculty, students, and staff to join us at the events marking Pro Bono Week. Please visit our website to learn details about each event, about pro bono service at HLS, and the need for pro bono service nationwide.

We look forward to celebrating with you!