Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Tag: Pro Bono (page 1 of 2)

Clinical Education at HLS: Four Experiences

Via Harvard Law Today 

Credit: Dana Smith

With 29 clinics in a wide range of fields of law and policy, students develop skills in an experiential program that constantly adapts to their interests, as well as to new approaches and areas of the law.  “Our clinics have a particular power because students aren’t mere interns or simply second-chairing cases—we are grooming them for leadership in the world,” says Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin, vice dean for experiential and clinical education and faculty director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center.

Over 1,000 students enrolled in clinics this past year, either at one of 18 in-house clinics supervised by clinical faculty or through 11 externship clinics, including one that is focused on the role of state attorneys general, which, in an era rife with debate over states’ rights, is in huge demand. Some 700 students engaged in pro bono work through one of the 11 in-house Student Practice Organizations, which assist clients from Cambridge to the Mississippi Delta.

The HLS clinical program is one of the largest providers of free legal services in New England. In Boston and Cambridge alone, 3,556 clients were served in 2016, and hundreds more were represented in other parts of the state and country, and internationally.

“The level of expertise of the faculty and staff, the incredible students, and the phenomenal resources of the law school allow us to be a nimble program that can respond to the needs of clients and, more broadly, to the rule of law in the world,” says Lisa Dealy, assistant dean for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

For a glimpse of the clinics today, here are accounts of four projects connected to pressing legal and social issues: environmental protection, gentrification of low-income neighborhoods, immigrants’ rights, and prisoners’ rights in an age of mass incarceration.

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Stacking the Docket for Boston Workers

Via On Labor

By Catherine Ordoñez

A coalition of legal organizations in Boston, including Greater Boston Legal Services(“GBLS”), Justice at Work, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (“HLAB”), and Volunteer Lawyers Project, in collaboration with community groups in Boston, is bringing justice to victims of wage theft in Boston Municipal Court (“BMC”) Central’s small claims court. The coalition has engineered an approximation of a specialized court for wage theft there by strategically stacking the court’s docket with wage theft cases on second and fourth Fridays of the month. The goal is to quickly vindicate workers’ rights to wages owed, to increase the literacy of small claims court clerk magistrates in Massachusetts wage law, and ultimately to make the court a better-tapped resource for victims of wage theft. Staff attorneys Joey Michalakes of GBLS and Maggie Gribben of Justice at Work shared some insight on the project.

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Natalie Trigo Reyes ’19 wants to help vulnerable communities—starting at home in Puerto Rico

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Mark Ostow
Natalie Trigo Reyes ’19

After Hurricane Maria roared over Puerto Rico in September 2017, crippling the island where Natalie Trigo Reyes ’19 grew up and where much of her family still lived, she felt “completely overwhelmed.” Within days, however, she put together an event that raised about $40,000 for relief efforts, collected enough emergency goods to fill three large trucks, and joined Harvard Law Professor Andrew Manuel Crespo ’08 and Lee Mestre of the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to plan the school’s response to the disaster.

Using her contacts (Trigo Reyes co-founded a non-profit in San Juan in 2012 to support public-private partnerships), she helped to organize a mission to Puerto Rico over the law school’s spring break to provide legal and humanitarian aid. “Natalie was our connection to this world of different NGOs, community leaders and charitable organizations,” says Crespo. “Any time we hit some sort of issue, bump, or question, Natalie said, ‘I’m on this.’”

Months after Maria hit, tens of thousands of Puerto Rican residents are still living without adequate shelter. About a dozen of the 29 Harvard Law students on the trip helped to repair houses damaged by the storm.  The others, including Trigo Reyes, worked with local lawyers in the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Centers located around the island, helping residents file appeals to try to claim disaster relief they had been denied. About 60 percent of the claims filed with FEMA by Puerto Rico’s residents for money to rebuild homes have been rejected for insufficient documentation, according to reports.  Many houses have been passed informally from generation to generation, so much of the work focused on establishing a chain of ownership through affidavits, old land registry forms, or death certificates. This was complicated by the fact that Puerto Rico, which was a Spanish colony until 1898, has a legal code different from the rest of the U.S., based partly on the Spanish civil system. Trigo Reyes and the other students tried to get through as many FEMA appeals as they could—she remembers one morning when she filed 11—yet at the same time they wanted to take time for people who were traumatized by the storm and its aftermath, and needed to tell their stories. “Having the opportunity to go to these remote locations and help people claim [what is] rightfully theirs was really emotional for me,” says Trigo Reyes. “These are U.S. citizens, and they are entitled to these FEMA benefits.”

The work she did in Puerto Rico grew naturally out of her personal values and professional experience. She came to HLS with a degree in economics and six years of work in federal government, including in the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Chambers of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (as special assistant to the justice, she accompanied her on two trips to Puerto Rico). The HLS trip this spring also tied in with Trigo Reyes’ quest to seek out creative ways to use the law on behalf of vulnerable communities.

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HIRC files amicus brief on latest travel ban

Via the Harvard Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program

On March 30th, HIRC filed an amicus brief challenging President Trump’s latest immigration order. The brief argues that the travel ban violates federal immigration statutes and that this latest version, like its predecessors, is not based on any exigent situation involving diplomacy or military affairs. It replaces individualized determinations of risk with blanket prohibitions and thus reinstates a discriminatory system that Congress eliminated in 1965.

Dozens of immigration scholars from across the country signed on to the amicus brief, which was written in collaboration with Fatma Marouf (HLS ’02).

Read the brief here.

Spring Break with Project Citizenship

By Andrew Patterson, J.D. ’20

Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to work with Project Citizenship, a Boston-based organization that exists to help Legal Permanent Residents become United States citizens.  I had an amazing experience that enabled me to jump right into working with clients, including providing direct representation at a USCIS citizenship interview.

The naturalization process is complex and expensive.  The forms can be daunting, filled with confusing language and oddly intrusive questions.  The application process can cost up to $725 in fees, posing a high financial hurdle.  Because of these obstacles, many Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) avoid the naturalization process and forego the benefits of citizenship – among them the right to vote and, increasingly important, security from deportation.

Project Citizenship exists to assist LPR’s overcome these difficulties by helping them determine eligibility, prepare the forms, and obtain fee waivers.  Much of my work with them consisted of screening applicants for citizenship eligibility, often in Spanish, and then setting them up with an appointment to attend one of the Project’s workshops.  During my week there I also got to work with clients at a day-long workshop, assisting them with citizenship applications and fee waivers alongside dozens of pro-bono attorneys.  That day we submitted close to 80 citizenship applications, and with Project Citizenship’s 95% approval rate, the great majority of those applicants will soon be U.S. citizens.

Project Citizenship also does important work advocating for LPR clients who have a disability.  Prospective citizens usually have to show proficiency in English and U.S. civics and take the oath of citizenship, but certain applicants can be exempted from those requirements, namely those whose disability prevents them from learning English and Civics or from understanding the oath.  Applicants seeking a disability waiver must provide a written determination from a medical doctor explaining why they cannot prepare for these tests or understand the oath.  Even with this completed form, applicants for these waivers can be met with stiff resistance from the USCIS officers adjudicating their applications.  Project Citizenship and their pro-bono attorneys have encountered USCIS officers who are hostile to these applicants and who look for any pretext – such as minor mistakes in the paperwork – to reject these waiver requests.  Occasionally they also violate their own regulations by substituting their judgment for a doctor’s and by inquiring into other facets of the applicant’s life that have no bearing on the specific issue of ability to learn English and Civics.  Project Citizenship and its pro bono lawyers play an important role in these situations by challenging illegitimate grounds for rejection and ensuring that USCIS follows its own regulations.

Project Citizenship’s attorney Mitchell Montgomery, who serves through the AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts program, provided training and mentorship that enabled me to represent one of these clients.  I attended a citizenship interview with an applicant who had a cognitive disability, along with one of her family members who would answer questions and take the oath on her behalf.  The interview went smoothly and my client became a citizen that day.  My most valuable assistance ended up being simply describing the process to my client’s daughter and advising her on which parts of the application would elicit questions from the interviewing officer, and then helping her answer questions.  A big part of my role was decoding the process for the client to make it less intimidating.

Overall, the week provided great experience in improving interviewing skills and exposed me to direct representation in an administrative advocacy scenario.  Project Citizenship provided outstanding training and struck the right balance between stretching one beyond the comfort zone and ensuring adequate preparation.  I highly recommend that any HLS student interested in immigration and naturalization issues spend time working with Project Citizenship.

Law students help to mend Puerto Rico

Via Harvard Gazette

29 travel to hurricane-damaged island to provide legal services, rebuild homes

The Law School brigade outside San Juan. Courtesy of Thinlay Chukki

A few weeks after Hurricane Maria swept Puerto Rico last September, Harvard Law School (HLS) student Natalie Trigo Reyes ’19 visited the island where she grew up, and found an unrecognizable landscape.

“Everything was brown, barren, leveled to the ground,” said Trigo Reyes on a recent morning in Wasserstein Hall. “It looked as if the island had been hit by a nuclear bomb.”

Six months later, Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastation, but to Trigo Reyes, who just came back from a weeklong trip as part of a humanitarian and legal brigade, the outlook is hopeful.

“Now, there is vegetation, and you can see the green,” she said, “and even though the government response has been slow and insufficient, there is a sense of hope.”

Trigo Reyes led a group of 29 HLS students who traveled to Puerto Rico over spring break to lend a hand to local residents who are still struggling to obtain disaster relief aid. Puerto Rico is a U.S. self-governing territory and its inhabitants are American citizens, although they can’t vote in presidential elections or elect representatives to Congress.

The HLS trip was spearheaded by Andrew Crespo ’08, assistant professor of law, and coordinated by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, led by Lee Mestre. The students joined forces with local groups such as Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la JusticiaAyuda Legal Huracán MaríaCaras con Causa, and ConnectRelief, all of which are working to protect the rights of Puerto Rico residents to federal assistance, employment, and housing protection.

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Representing Veterans in Discharge Upgrades: A Step-by-Step Pro Bono Training

Dana Montalto, Elizabeth Gwin and Evan Seamone of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School will be conducting a training called Representing Veterans in Discharge Upgrades: A Step-by-Step Pro Bono Training on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 from 3pm to 5:30pm. The training will be held at the Boston Bar Association located at 16 Beacon Street, Boston MA.

Many of the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces are cut off from veterans’ services and benefits because they were given a less-than-honorable discharge. They may have served in combat or have suffered physical or mental wounds, but are nevertheless unable to access much-needed treatment and support from federal and state veterans agencies because of their discharge status. In many cases, the origin of their need for support—for example, service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury—also contributed to the conduct that led to their less-than-honorable discharges.

The training will offer a step-by-step approach to building a persuasive discharge upgrade petition, including a review of best practices for client meetings, gathering letters of support, engaging medical experts, and drafting a brief. They will also discuss how to address common challenges in discharge upgrade practice, such as tracking down government records and maintaining contact with clients who may be in crisis or dealing with other issues. Finally, the training will provide important updates about discharge upgrade law, including recommendations for how best to use the recent Kurta Memorandum to advocate for veterans discharged for mental health-related misconduct. Both attorneys with experience in discharge upgrade practice and those who are interested in getting more involved are encouraged to attend. Law students are welcome but are not eligible to take pro bono referrals from the Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership (VJPBP),

Attorneys who participate in the training will be eligible to join the Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership established in 2015 by the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. Through the VJPBP, the Veterans Legal Clinic screens and refers veterans seeking discharge upgrades to private attorneys and then provides ongoing support and expert resources to those attorneys throughout the case. The generosity and efforts of VJPBP attorneys help to address the enormous gap in the provision of legal services to veterans and will provide much-needed advocacy to those who served the nation in uniform.

Immediately after the training, the BBA’s Active Duty Military & Veterans Forum will host a reception for program attendees and other members and supporters of the Boston veterans community. The reception will be an opportunity to build our community and to recognize the important work you have been doing on behalf of veterans, as well as to honor Memorial Day.

If you are interested in attending, you can register for the training and the reception through the BBA website.

Project No One Leaves: “Though our efforts are modest, our team is mighty”

By Lark Turner, J.D. ’18

Group photo of Project No One Leaves

I signed up to canvass with Project No One Leaves a couple of weeks into my first semester at Harvard Law School. I didn’t know much about the organization, and I was nervous about jumping in a car with 2Ls and 3Ls I had never met, to drive into neighborhoods I had never been. But I’m so glad I did. My Saturday mornings spent canvassing taught me some of the biggest lessons of law school.

Though Harvard students are lucky to have many venues to work on housing justice, Project No One Leaves is one of the only organizations on campus that teaches students what it feels like to participate in the community part of lawyering. Working with the veteran organizers at City Life Vida Urbana, an anti-displacement nonprofit and Boston community anchor that fights foreclosures and evictions, we identify specific properties or whole neighborhoods where evictions or foreclosures are occurring or imminent. Then we set off to try and help City Life stop them.

Every Saturday at 10 am, fueled by bagels and coffee and armed with clipboards, we hop into cars and set off to East Boston, Chelsea, Dorchester, or other Boston neighborhoods to knock on doors and talk to residents about their rights as homeowners and tenants. As a former reporter, I was used to bothering people on their doorstep at odd hours. But I had never done so to promote a cause I deeply believed in, nor to connect a person to resources they might urgently need — all while convincing them to rely, even a little bit, on a gaggle of students in matching red T-shirts standing incongruously on their stoop. Even without the added obstacle course of Boston traffic, this was much harder than my old job.

I learned new lessons: How to greet the curious pull of a curtain with a friendly shout of introduction, and how to know when to walk away; how to interrupt folks as they make breakfast for their kids to tell them, maybe for the first time, that their landlord was foreclosed upon and no longer owns their home; and how to listen for the infuriating and ubiquitous music of canvasses — the beep of smoke detectors in homes where landlords can’t be bothered to change a battery. Hardest of all, I learned how to spot when we are too late. Sometimes that means addresses marked in coal-black, modern fonts; enrobed in fresh paint; and outfitted with a glinting security system. More often it means vacancies — homes boarded up or halfway gutted, their families long gone. Even then, I learned to leave a red bag full of legal information hanging on the doorknob — a sign to the developer, and to the neighborhood, that we stopped by.

Though our efforts are modest, our team is mighty. The students I met at my very first canvass have graduated, but we’re still friends. Every canvass introduces me to more fellow students ready to spend their Saturday morning helping keep roofs over families’ heads. Like many things I’ve experienced here, the opportunity to work with these peers and with City Life is a gift I can’t repay, and it’s difficult to leave my time in Project No One Leaves behind. But I’m heartened to know that next year’s team of canvassers have it covered — and the lessons I’ve learned and friends I’ve made canvassing aren’t going anywhere.

My three years at the Tenant Advocacy Project

By Ming-Toy Taylor J.D. ’18

Photo of Ming-Toy Taylor J.D. '18

Ming-Toy Taylor J.D. ’18

I joined the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) as a 1L because the organization’s mission resonated deeply with me. For nearly 40 years, TAP has helped tenants and applicants navigate the bureaucracy of subsidized housing in the Greater Boston area. Having grown up in Throggs Neck Houses in the Bronx, I’ve experienced first-hand many of the challenges that TAP works to address. During high school and college, my experiences drew me to service-work related to homelessness. In college and after, I worked in underserved schools where many students dealt with housing insecurity. TAP would be my introduction to the role of the law in this space, and allow me to make an impact with my budding legal skills.

As a brand new TAP member, I learned about the administration and funding of subsidized housing programs in Massachusetts; the various legal obligations placed on housing agencies by federal and state laws; the agencies’ official and unspoken policies; and the rights and obligations of tenants. I represented a fictional tenant in a mock hearing to practice the skills that I would use on behalf of my future clients: oral and written advocacy, direct and cross-examination, opening and closing statements, and legal research.

My most important learning experience was with my first client. He had become homeless after being evicted from an apartment he shared with an abusive partner.  When he requested that his public housing application be treated as an emergency due to his homelessness, a housing agency denied this request. The reason? They did not consider him homeless; despite his living in shelters or on the streets for over a year, they focused on some nights spent on a friend’s couch to recover from flare-ups of a painful, chronic medical condition. Together, he and I rehearsed how he would present his disability during an administrative hearing and gathered supporting documents. I prepared to argue that he was entitled to a reasonable accommodation based on his disability before a hearing officer, and opposite a housing authority attorney. My client, even before he knew the agency would place him in an apartment in short order, left that meeting feeling heard and empowered. And I was captivated by the experience of collaborating and succeeding with my client.

What I love about TAP—and what made me come back 2L year and devote my 3L year to being one of its presidents—is how personal the experience is. When you help someone with housing you learn about their history, their family, their hopes for the future, their neighborhood, their doctors, their support networks and more. As you do that “getting to know”, you learn about your voice as an attorney-advocate, and as a person. My time at TAP has been characterized by continuous growth. I look forward to the new lessons it will teach me this year.

Harvard Law students honored for their pro bono service hours

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers its heartfelt congratulations to the 27 Harvard Law students who received a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Certificate in recognition of their pro bono work. The ceremony was held at the Adams Courthouse on October 18th and the students are listed on the SJC’s Pro Bono Honor Roll website.

The recognition is presented annually to law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government attorney offices, non-profit organizations, law school faculties, and law students who certify that, in the calendar year of 2016, they have contributed at least 50 hours of legal services without receiving pay or academic credit.

Pro Bono Honor Roll Students:

Katherine Ambrose JD ’18 Jyoti Jasrasaria JD ’18
Heather Artinian JD ’18 Mark Lee JD ’18
Katrina Braun JD ’18 Megan Lee JD ’18
Elizabeth Carter JD ’18 Zachary David Smith Lenox JD ’18
Gianna Ceophas JD ’18 Yaacov (Jake) Meiseles JD ’19
Emily Chan JD ’18 Melissa Mikail JD ’18
Cameron Clark JD ’18 Emil Natanson Nachman JD ’18
Alicia Daniel JD ’18 Madaline O’Neill JD ’19
Andrene Dabaghi JD ’17 Leah Juhyun Park JD ’18
Hayley Evans JD ’19 Charlotte Robbinson JD ’18
Nadia L. Farjood JD ’18 Jacob R. Steiner JD ’18
Aaron Francis JD ’17 Thaya Uthayophas JD ’18
Angie Geng JD ’18 Iris Won JD ’18
Claire Horan JD ’18


Clinical alumna Catherine Howard ’16 is helping undocumented children pro bono

Via Hollywood Reporter

Group photo of O'Melveny attorneys Amy Siegel, Jordyn Ostroff, Matt Kline, David Lash and Catherine Howard pictured from left to right.

Courtesy of O’Melveny & Meyers
From left: O’Melveny attorneys Amy Siegel, Jordyn Ostroff, Matt Kline, David Lash and Catherine Howard.

How a Hollywood Law Firm Is Helping Undocumented Children Survive Trump

When President Trump signed an executive order in January preventing people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S., attorneys across the country sprang into action, racing to their local airports to sort through the legal chaos. O’Melveny & Myers attorneys were among them. “I spent the weekend of the travel ban working with lawyers all over the country to try to coordinate a response,” says David Lash, who oversees the Los Angeles-based law firm’s pro bono program. “By the end of the weekend, we had an email list of 900 lawyers.”

But even before Trump’s executive order, O’Melveny lawyers had been devoting thousands of hours to pro bono immigration efforts, all but making it a specialty of the firm. In fact, the very day Trump enacted the ban, Lash’s team was working with in-house attorneys at Warner Bros. to hold a clinic for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit founded by Angelina Jolie and Microsoft in 2008 that connects undocumented children with pro bono lawyers to make sure they’re represented in immigration court. “We had 100 people on the 18th floor of our L.A. office,” says entertainment litigator Matt Kline. “In one conference room, there was a TV on, and I remember kids walking by and seeing images of what was going on in Washington, D.C. There was a lot of fear.” The attorneys sat down with the kids, often coloring to break the ice, and listened to their stories. “It was completely gut-wrenching,” says Lash. “We had 12-year-olds who saw their parents gunned down in front of them.”

So far, the firm’s SoCal offices have held three KIND clinics and put in more than 3,500 pro bono hours for KIND cases in the past year. Entertainment associates Jordyn Ostroff and Catherine Howard are representing a pair of young sisters from El Salvador in their efforts to stay in the U.S. “We’re going to try to get what’s called Special Immigrant Juveniles Status,” says Howard. “That is for children who come into the U.S. and, either because of neglect or abandonment, don’t have parents and would be threatened if they went back to their home country.”

The firm is working with KIND to set up clinics in San Francisco and New York — but that’s not the only way it’s making an impact on immigration issues. “We were recently on the briefs in the United States v. Texas case, which is an immigration case involving the challenge to the Obama policy regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA],” says partner Brian Berliner. “We’re also involved in drafting legislation. Our work runs the gamut of small clients all the way up to classes of clients.”

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Class of 2017 Performs 356,953 Hours of Free Legal Services!

Congratulations to the Class of 2017 for their great accomplishment of 356,953 pro bono hours in service to the community. Students averaged 586 hours each, working at hundreds of different organizations. 78 percent of the graduating class participated in at least one clinic.

95 students contributed over 1,000 hours. Ten students contributed over 2,000 pro bono hours. They are:

  • William  Ahee
  • Michael Gaerman
  • Michele Hall
  • Erika Johnson
  • Simratpal Kaur
  • Anna Kurtz
  • Emma Katherine Rekart
  • Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez
  • Amanda Sweat
  • Liza Freedman Weisberg

American Lawyer releases National and International Firms Pro Bono Rankings

Illustration by Neil Webb for The American Lawyer.

Illustration by Neil Webb for The American Lawyer

Recently, the American Lawyer released the annual National and International Firms Pro Bono Rankings.

The report ranks the nation’s 200 highest-grossing firms by their pro bono score for work performed by U.S.-based lawyers. Half of the score comes from the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer in 2015, while the other half represents the percentage of lawyers who performed more than 20 hours of pro bono work.

Internationally, the report ranks firms with at least 20 non-U.S. lawyers by their scores for pro bono performed by those lawyers. Half of the score comes from the average number of pro bono hours performed by lawyers outside of the U.S. in 2015. The other half comes from the percentage of lawyers outside the U.S. who did more than 20 hours of pro bono work.

We encourage students to review this report and consider it a resource when evaluating law firms and incorporating pro bono work into their legal careers. Students can find additional pro bono resources on the Student Pro Bono Resources section of our website.

Pursuing Pro Bono work with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Akin Gump Pro Bono Scholars Information Session

Akin Gump Pro Bono Scholars Information Session

On January 19th, Akin Gump’s pro bono partner, Steven Schulman, and Harvard Law School alumni Josh Sekoski  ’12 and Melissa Chastang ’14 spoke to a room full of students interested in making pro bono work part of their careers.

Mr. Schulman leads Akin Gump’s Pro Bono Scholars Program, started eight years ago. This two-summer commitment program is currently offered in five offices: Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. During their 1L summer, Pro Bono Scholars spend seven weeks at a public interest organization of their choosing. In past years, Akin Gump has placed several Pro Bono Scholars directly with organizations with which the firm works, while other scholars have obtained a public interest position independently. According to Akin Gump’s website, scholars have worked at organizations that handle matters such as human rights, women’s rights, asylum cases, family services, economic advocacy, education and health care in organizations such as the following:

ACLU of MassachusettsBet Tzedek Legal ServicesBronx DefendersChildren’s Law CenterHuman Rights FirstHuman Rights InitiativeHer JusticeKIPP Charter School Network, Office of the General CounselNational Center for Medical-Legal PartnershipNational Veterans Legal Services ProgramNew Schools for New OrleansNew Orleans Public DefendersPro Bono Asylum & Representation Project (PROBar)The Public Defender Service for the District of ColumbiaTahirih Justice CenterTeach For America, Legal Affairs TeamWhitman-Walker

“We encourage students to follow their passion, and help them find legal services organizations that fit their own interests,” said Mr. Schulman. “Our pro bono scholars have worked for a range of organizations from Los Angeles to South Africa.”

In addition, students also spend four weeks at the Akin Gump law firm, where they engage with substantive assignments in a variety of subject areas and interact with other attorneys in a mentoring environment. During their second summer at the firm, students have the opportunity to work on substantial pro bono matters. It is expected that they will go on to make pro bono work an integral part of their practice careers.

Harvard’s ties to the Mississippi Delta region continue to thrive and grow stronger and deeper with each passing year

Via Mississippi Delta Project 
By Colin Ross, Harvard Mississippi Delta Project Co-Chair, HLS ‘16

Celebration copyOn the evening of November 18th, the students and faculty of the Harvard University community came together for the 7th annual Delta Celebration—a chance to share appreciation for the beauty and culture of the region, and to exchange insights about ways to help confront its challenges. Students and faculty of the Harvard Law School and School of Public Health were joined by special guest speaker Professor John Green, the Director of the Center on Population Studies at the University of Mississippi. HLS Dean Martha Minow also took the time to attend and give remarks.

The Delta region continues to face a range of economic, social, and health challenges, from poverty to obesity to unemployment. Since its inception, the Food Law and Policy Clinic has been committed to helping address these challenges, including supervising the student practice organization, the Harvard Mississippi Delta Project. At the event, the leaders of the Delta Project presented about their team’s efforts to study and address these challenges for clients in Mississippi. These include:

  • The Food Policy Initiative is working to get healthier, local food into Mississippi’s schools. The team members are working with the state’s burgeoning farm-to-school network to study what policies could further support the growth of farm to school programs in Mississippi;
  • The Health Initiative is doing advocacy work to support a bill in the Mississippi legislature to encourage breast-feeding, and spread the health and economic benefits the practice brings;
  • The Economic Development Initiative is studying the ways grant funding works in the region and how it might be streamlined; and
  • The Child & Youth Initiative is tackling a delicate but critical issue: the obstacles to contraceptive access in Mississippi and how reducing them could end the state’s high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Dean Minow praised these efforts and the overall commitment to the Delta as a concrete example of students carrying out the HLS mission to advance justice in society.

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HLS Students recognized for their Pro Bono Service Hours

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers its heartfelt congratulations to the 37 Harvard Law students that were recognized by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services for their commitment to pro bono work. The ceremony was held at the Adams Courthouse on October 28th and the students are listed on the SJC’s Pro Bono Honor Roll website.

The recognition is presented annually to law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government attorney offices, non-profit organizations, law school faculties, and law students who certify that, in the calendar year of 2014, they have contributed at least 50 hours of legal services without receiving pay or academic credit.

A Partner at WilmerHale, John (“Jack”)  J. Regan, was also honored with a Pro Bono Publico Award for his work on behalf of veterans and others with unmet legal needs. Among his many pro bono endeavors, Mr. Regan collaborates closely with HLS’s Veterans Legal Clinic on a range of matters, including efforts to increase access to representation for disabled veterans who received a less-than-honorable discharge. “Jack’s commitment to the veterans community and his unlimited enthusiasm for pro bono work are simply unmatched and are an inspiration to all,” said Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, and Faculty Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “We congratulate Jack on this incredibly well-deserved award.”

Pro Bono Honor Roll Students:

Tobyn Aaron J.D. ’16 Mark Giles Hamlin J.D. ’16
Mustafa Abdul-Jabbar J.D. ’16 Kirby Hsu J.D. ’16
Keaton Allen-Gessesse J.D. ’16 Brian Klosterboer J.D. ’16
Akeeb Dami Animashaun J.D. ’16 Jason Kramer J.D. ’16
Lauren Blodgett J.D. ’16 Sean Lo J.D. ’17
Aaron Bray J.D. ’16 Yixuan Long J.D. ’16
Torrance Castellano J.D. ’16 Sean Lyness J.D. ’15
Samuel H. Chang J.D. ’16 Lindsay E. Mullett J.D. ’16
Dongeun Ana Choi J.D. ’16 Catherine Taylor Poor J.D. ’16
Kenyon Colli J.D. ’16 Francesca Procaccini J.D. ’15
Samuel Bay Dinning J.D. ’16 Colin Taylor Ross J.D. ’16
Elisa Dun J.D. ’16 Emma Scott J.D. ’16
Sophie Rubinett Elsner J.D. ’16 Samantha Sheehan J.D. ’16
Rachel E. Endick J.D. ’16 Alexander W. Simmonds J.D. ’16
Samuel Feldman J.D. ’16 Ariel A. Simms J.D. ’16
Katrina Fleury J.D. ’16 Mark Thomson J.D. ’16
Marissa Florio J.D. ’16 Kellen Wittkop J.D. ’16
Zack Greenamyre J.D. ’16 Jung Hoon Yang J.D. ’16
Phoebe Yu J.D. ’16


Fighting Injustice in the Tennessee Court System

Last Spring, a group of HLS students traveled to Tennessee to work with Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization started by alumni Alec Karakatsanis ’08 and Phil Telfeyan ’08 with the help of a Public Service Venture Fund seed grant to challenge inequalities in the criminal justice system. The pair met during their first year of law school and both participated in Harvard Defenders, a clinical student practice organization, and the Criminal Justice Institute, HLS’s public defense clinic.

On October 1st, Equal Justice Under Law filed a Complaint against Rutherford County and the private company it contracts to collect court debts. The lawsuit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the United States Constitution, and Tennessee law, alleges “an extortion scheme” aimed at extracting as much money from people who could not afford to pay their court fines. An important aspect of the problem, the complaint states, is a private company, acting as a “probation officer” to collect not only court debt but also fees and surcharges “through repeated and continuous threats to arrest, revoke, and imprison” those who can not pay.

Harvard Law students together with Equal Justice Under Law helped uncover the debt collecting practices while working on behalf of indigent defendants and their families in Tennessee over Spring Break 2015.

Karakatsanis said that HLS students observed some unusual things going on and began interviewing people outside the private probation company and reviewing documents. They ended up “discovering the shocking and illegal things alleged in the Complaint.”

For more details on this issue please read How to Fight Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons? Sue the Courts. article published by The Marshall Project.

Sheryl Dickey Joins OCP as Attorney Advisor for LL.M. Pro Bono Program

Sheryl Dickey, Attorney Advisor for LL.M. Pro Bono Program

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs is happy to welcome Sheryl Dickey, our new Attorney Advisor who will be working with LL.M. students interested in in-house clinics, externships, or other pro bono opportunities. Sheryl’s vision and experience will be a great asset to the students. She graduated from American University, Washington College of Law where she served as a student clinician with the International Human Rights Law Clinic. In 2002, she joined White & Case LLP as a Litigation Associate. At White & Case LLP, Sheryl represented several pro bono clients on matters related to family law and social security disability benefits. In 2008, she joined the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School as a Fellow. In this position, she supervised law students at the ENRLC while also working towards her LL.M. in Environmental Law. After her fellowship, she continued working with the ENRLC in various roles including Assistant Professor, Acting Director, and Consulting Attorney.

Harvard law students visit the Delta

Via Delta Business Journal:

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University introduced six Harvard law students and their supervisor, Nate Rosenberg, to the Delta’s cultural heritage. The students are based in Clarksdale, and all have an interest in the legal issues that govern food.

Lee Aylward, of the Delta Center, provided the heritage tour, following an introductory lecture by Dr. Luther Brown.

Events: Nov 9 through Nov 15

We hope you will join us for some or all of these events this weekend and next week:

What: Coordination of Sandy Efforts for Students
When: Fri, Nov 9, 12–1pm
Where: WCC Milstein East C
Details: HLS Events Calendar

What: Project No One Leaves: Community Responses to the Foreclosure Crisis Conference
When: Fri, Nov 9 – Sun, Nov 11
Where: Harvard Law School (various locations)
Details: Project No One Leaves website

What: Advocacy for Boston-Area Veterans: Unmet Needs and Pro Bono Opportunities
When: Mon, Nov 12, 12–1pm
Where: WCC Milstein West B
Details: HLS Events Calendar

What: Knowing Your Legal Rights: A Seminar for Military Veterans and Families
When: Wed, Nov 14, 5–7pm
Where: WCC 1010
Details: HLS Events Calendar

What: Negotiation in the News: Negotiating a Ceasefire in Syria
When: Thu, Nov 15, 12–1pm
Where: WCC 3012
Details: HLS Events Calendar

Resources: SPO Panel Handout

Learn more about opportunities to get involved with a wide range of student organizations and topic areas. To help you better navigate the maze of open houses, applications, training dates, and potential projects, we’ve created this handy chart.

We also encourage students to contact our office to discuss additional pro bono opportunities such as spring break trips, short-term pro bono work, and clinical placements.

Reader Recommendation: New York to Require Pro Bono Work as Requirement for the Bar

From The New York Times:

“Starting next year, New York will become the first state to require lawyers to perform unpaid work before being licensed to practice, the state’s chief judge announced on Tuesday, describing the rule as a way to help the growing number of people who cannot afford legal services.”

Roundup: Clinical Programs in HLS News

HLS students traveled all over the world during spring break

HLS News presents a nice roundup of student travel over spring break, including mention of pro bono trips to New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, and Alabama and International Human Rights Clinic trips to Brazil and the Thai/Burmese border. Check it out!

Student Voices: Eating Well in the Mississippi Delta

Delta Fellow Nate Rosenberg and Rob Barnett (JD ’14) tour Leann Hines’s Levee Run Farm, which raises poultry in Greenwood, Mississippi

Today’s dispatch comes from Rob Barnett (JD ’14), who traveled to Mississippi during spring break as part of a pro bono trip organized by Harvard Law School. Rob is a member of Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) a trained mediator with Harvard Mediation Program, and is interested in American Indian law

Over spring break, I was lucky to travel to the Mississippi Delta on a pro bono trip with eight other law students from Harvard and Ole Miss. As Kimberly’s post describes, we spent an unforgettable week researching property law, making friends, and immersing ourselves in the culture and climate of the Delta. We experienced a lot – everything from a one-man blues concert at Red’s to an all-day study session at Ole Miss Law School – and learned even more in the process. But one element of our trip really stood out: the food.

Of course, we consumed a ton of it. Starting with a visit to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in downtown Memphis; continuing through visits to acclaimed Clarksdale restaurants like Abe’s (the best BBQ in all of Mississippi), Oxbow (a lunch spot that actually serves vegetarian options), and the Ground Zero Blues Club (where everything comes fried and with music); and finishing with elegant feasts at Snackbar in Oxford and Rendezvous in Memphis, we ate our way through the Delta… and washed it down with many glasses of Southern Pecan and sweet tea. It was a wonderful week of savory Southern cuisine.

Food is an amazing part of Delta culture. However, residents of the Delta don’t always have access to the kinds of fresh food we had at Mississippi’s best restaurants. Although the Delta has some of the country’s richest soil, the vast majority of it is used by to grow the big industrial crops – corn, cotton, and soy – much of which is exported outside the Delta. There are small growers throughout the Delta who are trying to grow local, sustainable, and healthy food, but these farmers often have trouble getting established in the face of confusing property issues and stiff competition from cheaper, less healthy alternatives.

Our work over spring break was designed to address these property issues. In order for small, local farms to be prosperous into the future, their owners should understand how estate plans, clear titles, and various easements can secure their land as farmland for generations to come. Our presentations to Delta farmers on our last day – and the accompanying legal manual we created – were designed with that goal in mind. We also made some policy suggestions for our partners (such as Delta Directions) who continue to work on these important issues in Mississippi.

We finally had to leave the Delta to return to Cambridge, and I know I can speak for my team in saying that we’ve all been craving some delicious Delta food ever since. (I, for one, am hoping to go back.) But in the meantime, it’s critical that the people who actually live in the Delta have access, every day, to the kind of local, sustainable food which we had during our week. I hope and believe that our work in the Delta over spring break will help them get there.

Erin Schwartz (JD ’14) examines vegetables grown in C.W. ‘Doc’ Davis’s greenhouse

HLS group members enjoy a final Southern meal of ribs and sweet tea at Rendezvous in Memphis

Student Voices: Learning About Land Rights in Mississippi

Jamal Khan (HLS ’13), Jack West (Ole Miss ’13), and Rob Barnett (HLS ’14) at the Mississippi River after a day of research

Today’s “Student Voices” post comes from Kimberly Newberry (JD ’14), who traveled to Mississippi during an HLS pro bono spring break trip. Kimberly is a member of PLAP and Harvard Defenders, and plans to go into capital appeals.

The Mississippi Delta is populated by more juke joints than Starbucks (and rightly so as the birthplace of the blues). Nightly strolls are accompanied by the faint strums of guitar in the distance and you can imagine how Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil right in the middle of it all. The blues are part of a shared cultural identity among the Delta’s inhabitants, and there is still plenty of heartache to keep the musical tradition alive.

Six of us headed down from HLS to Clarksdale, Mississippi for spring break, where we were joined by Ole Miss students. We were surprised to find that a lot of the regional heartache stemmed from concepts we had covered in our 1L Property classes – easements, color of title, types of estates, and even adverse possession (when a person who is not the legal owner of land can become its owner after having occupied it for a specified period of time). The seemingly difficult task of adversely taking someone’s land is frequently accomplished in parts of Mississippi, and with serious impact on the lives of farmers. From disputes between siblings about what to do with inherited land to questions about how to preserve farmland well into the future, we saw our textbooks come to life.

We also learned about the challenges faced by small, family-owned farms. A few days into our trip, we met with Dustin and Ali, two young farmers whose business growth is constrained by regulations designed for industrial farms but that also apply to them. As a result of Dustin and Ali’s commitment to sustainable farming, they run their farm under different standards than those adhered to by commercial sellers and, as a consequence, cannot sell their goods to larger, more popular grocery stores. These mandatory standards are both prohibitively expensive and largely inapplicable to small-scale sustainable farming, to the detriment of the availability of locally and sustainably grown food. As Dustin put it, “We vote for our president once every four years, but we vote for what to put in our bodies three times a day. And what we vote for today will affect our children tomorrow.” Prior to running their own farm, Dustin and Ali interned at Polyface Farms, which is featured in Michael Pollen’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

After seeing how the issues of inheritance, ownership, and land use impacted the lives of residents, we had the opportunity to conduct additional research and then present a tutorial to the farmers. When the workshop was over, the farmers compared notes and shared their experiences with each other. Much was left unanswered but we appreciated the opportunity to learn more about property rights in Mississippi, contribute our knowledge, make a few friends, and soak in the culture and music of the Delta.

Recent Coverage of HLS Pro Bono Trips
Event HLS Students Discuss Spring Break Trip to Alabama
Student Voices: Collaboration and Community in Alabama
Student Voices: Anti-Immigration Law in Alabama (Video)

Julian Smoller (HLS ’12) gives a presentation to Mississippi growers about conservation easements

HLS students collaborated with Ole Miss Law students to host a workshop for local farmers

Event: HLS Students Discuss Spring Break Trip to Alabama

We hope you’ll join us on Tue, Apr 3 from 12-1pm in WCC 3012 for lunch with the HLS students who traveled to Alabama during spring break. (Read the blog post and watch the video to get an introduction to their work.) The students will discuss what they learned about the state’s new anti-immigration law HB 56, the impact of the law on Alabamans, and the growing movement in the state to seek repeal. Lunch provided.

HLS students studied Alabama's immigration law HB 56 over spring break (image courtesy of Paige Austin)

The Alabama River (image courtesy of David Baake)

Alabama Appleseed, one of the organizations that HLS students worked with on their trip (image courtesy of David Baake)

Know your rights materials from HICA!, another partner on the trip (image courtesy of David Baake)

HLS students met with Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders (image courtesy of David Baake)

The statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama (image courtesy of David Baake)

Student Voices: Collaboration and Community in Alabama

HLS students met with founders and members of Somos Tuskaloosa in Alabama (image courtesy of David Baake)

This dispatch comes from Carol Wang (JD ’13), co-director of Harvard Immigration Project‘s Bond Hearing Project:

This Spring Break, six Harvard Law students traveled to Alabama to study the state’s immigration law. (Watch the video from our trip here.) The Hammond-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, or HB 56 for short, makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to enter into a “business transaction” with a state or “political subdivision of a state”; invalidates all past, current, and future contracts with undocumented immigrants; authorizes police to stop, ticket, and arrest any person they “reasonably suspect” to be an undocumented immigrant; makes it a crime to “conceal, harbor, or shield” any undocumented immigrant; and creates a civil enforcement action by private citizens to report undocumented immigrants.

It was Friday, our fifth day in Alabama. It was a downcast day with the threat of rain and the weather mirrored my mood. Over the course of the previous four days, Jacqueline Pierluisi (JD ’12), David Baake (JD ’14), and I had met with a wide range of people with expertise in HB 56, including a judge, a district attorney, community organizers, lawyers, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official, and undocumented immigrants.

What we saw and heard was a side of America that was hostile and unfamiliar. Both undocumented and documented immigrants have been targeted by the law. Police officials stop, ticket, and detain drivers they “reasonably” suspect to be an undocumented immigrants, effectively conducting the same kind of racial profiling that is prohibited in other states.

In the weeks immediately following the passage of the act, many families were afraid to leave the house, even to go to the grocery store, because they had heard that purchasing basic food items were “business transactions” that were now crimes. One community organizer told us that 911 operators do not respond to telephone calls made in broken English, with an operator once explaining that HB 56 forbade them from providing emergency care for undocumented immigrants.

On that fifth day, we stepped into a small home in Tuscaloosa, expecting to hear similar stories. We were meeting with the founders and members of Somos Tuskaloosa, an organization formed in the aftermath of HB 56 to inform, mobilize, and serve undocumented immigrants. When we asked Somos Tuskaloosa about HB 56, at first they shared the same sentiment, the feeling of fear – fear of driving, fear they could be stopped at any time, fear of getting sick because not only would they lose their job but they would also be unable to receive medical care. These Tuscaloosa residents had extra reason to feel unsettled. A tornado last April had torn apart their city, and traces of the devastation were still evident almost a year later.

But when we asked them what they were doing about all of this, their voices were animated and their faces were bright. They told us about all the different people with whom they were working. In the tornado’s aftermath, some of them trained and served as part of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to build shelters for all those Tuscaloosa citizens who had lost their homes. In HB 56’s wake, Somos Tuskaloosa’s founder Gwen Ferreti also described building relationships with “uncommon allies” such as police and law enforcement officials. Some officials had told them they would not enforce a law they found unjust.

Somos Tuskaloosa and Gwen’s words of collaboration and coordination reinforced what other community organizers had told us. HICA community organizer Victor Spinezzi told us that HB 56 galvanized previously disparate Hispanic interest groups to finally form the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ). Alabama Appleseed attorney Zayne Smith told us how ACIJ was working with multiple audiences to accomplish a repeal of the law: creating a media “blitz” to educate the broader public, organizing faith-based events such as vigils for those directly hurt by the law, launching know-your-rights campaigns to educate and empower community members, as well as bringing a lawsuit challenging the law as unconstitutional in the courts. And we found another powerful example of collaboration in the previous weekend’s civil rights march in Montgomery, where African American groups, worker organizations, and Latino American coalitions all joined together to condemn HB 56 “for invoking inhumanity reminiscent of Jim Crow laws“.

That day in Tuscaloosa showed us that despite HB 56’s aim to divide the residents of Alabama, meaningful collaborations were taking root. These stories helped lift the week’s grey skies and stories, reminding us that even the worst situations can bring out our country’s best qualities – working together and helping our neighbors.

One Family One Alabama (image courtesy of David Baake)

Student Voices: Anti-Immigration Law in Alabama (Video)

Six months after the harshest anti-immigrant law (HB 56) in the U.S. took effect in Alabama, six Harvard Law School students traveled there for spring break to work with two groups – Alabama Appleseed and HICA – that are advocating for its repeal. Paige Austin (JD ’13) created this video about their work:

Snapshot: PLAP Forages for Food Through the Decades

PLAP students have been honing the art of finding free food for decades. (Good Timez, 1984)

Today’s “Snapshot” comes from Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP). PLAP is a student practice organization (SPO) at Harvard Law School dedicated to providing legal services to indigent Massachusetts Prisoners. 130 students are participating in PLAP this year, and PLAP students clocked over 3700 pro bono hours during the 2010-2011 school year.

As the part-time Project Archivist for PLAP, Molly Frazier has reviewed and organized 40 years of PLAP office materials. During the process, PLAP treasures – like humorous writings, artwork, photographs, student correspondence, and other colorful snapshots of history – have seen the light of day for the first time in years. It’s clear that when PLAP students weren’t busy answering phones, preparing for cases, visiting prisons and representing prisoners, they were having a little fun as well!

A lot can change in nearly 30 years. Clothing styles. Music tastes. Tuition costs. But it’s good to know that for PLAP students, some things never change. If these excerpts from the 1984 student-produced PLAP newsletter, Good Timez, are any indication, “free food for the mooching” has long been a PLAP priority. And today’s dedicated PLAPers have carried on the tradition with pride. Much needed nourishment can always be found by trolling the hallowed halls of HLS in between classes and activities, the hunt made all the more rewarding in the new Wasserstein Caspersen Student Center. One thing does appear to have changed since 1984 – the quality of foraged food. Students these days are enjoying much more than just the pilfered donut (a recurring theme in Good Timez).

As PLAP’s Internal Relations Coordinator and HLS Free-Food Aficionado Roozbeh Alavi (JD ’13) explains, the art of finding free food is a strategic combination of planning ahead, doing the research, and being in the right place at the right time. Using the Calendar @ Law and past experiences as a guide, Roozbeh can easily determine which HLS events are likely to offer the best food, with minimal commitment. His best advice to students seeking sustenance during study breaks: “Skip the talk; get the food.” What’s not to like about a free lunch?

More musings on free food from the PLAP archives. Plus an invite to pester Daria in her new home. (Good Timez, 1984)

Reader Recommendation: Above the Law Post on Community Involvement

Thanks to the reader who shared this Above the Law post on the importance of getting involved with the community. It’s an interesting read for students thinking about the value (both business and personal) of pro bono work.

If you’ve read something you’d like to share with the HLS clinical community, please email

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