Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Tag: Tenant Advocacy Project

Student Practice Organizations Panel 2019

Students attend 2019 SPO Panel

Student Practice Organizations often provide 1Ls with their first opportunity to gain practical legal experience at HLS. Each SPO is typically led by a student board consisting of 2L and 3L students and is supervised by a licensed attorney. Across the 11 SPOs currently active at HLS, a variety of focus areas including housing, immigration, and prison law are represented. Students participating in SPOs do not receive academic credit, however, their hours can count towards the 50-hour pro bono graduation requirement.

The SPO Panel, held earlier this week, provides an opportunity for students to hear directly from the students boards and members of SPOs. During the 2019 SPO Panel, representatives from all 11 SPOs spoke on focus areas, levels of commitment, attorney supervision and particularly emphasized the communities formed in each individual SPO through the work that they do.

“Community is one of our main priorities. It was a game changer for me. I met some of my closest friends, it reminded me why I decided to come to law school.” said Emma Broches, co-president of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, on her experience with SPOs.

President of Harvard Defenders Martina Tiku also noted how SPOs encourage members to interact with other students and individuals in the field who are committed to and passionate about the work that they do, reflecting the sentiments of several other panel participants.  “You get a chance to talk to people who are passionate about their work.” she said.

For students interested in joining an SPO, the organizations hold information sessions and open houses are coming up. All SPOs require some form of registration or sign-up, with several requiring separate applications. While all SPOs accept students in the fall, some  accept members during the spring term. Information session, open house, and registration/application deadline dates can be found on the  Opportunities for Student Practice Matrix.


SPO Skills Matrix

SPO Sign-Ups

SPO Student Reflections

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

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Alexis Farmer

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

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

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

Right to Counsel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rent Escrow

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

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

A Large Base of Support

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

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

Lynn Weissberg receives an honor from the Massachusetts Chapter for the National Lawyers Guild

By: Alexis Farmer

Lynn Weissberg

On May 17, 2019 the National Lawyers Guild – Massachusetts Chapter (NLG) celebrated its fifty year anniversary at St. Paul African Methodist Life Center in Cambridge. The NLG celebrated its achievements in supporting social movements over the years, from defending anti-war demonstrators against criminal charges in the late 1960s to representing labor unions, prison activists, tenants with substandard housing conditions, and tenants in eviction proceedings more recently. During the celebration, the organization honored long-time activist and former clinical instructor at Harvard Law School Lynn Weissberg.

Lynn Weissberg has been a fierce advocate for social justice throughout her forty-year legal career. At Weissberg & Garin LLP, Weissberg vigorously fought on behalf of her clients in a wide variety of employment cases, representing academics and professionals, low-wage workers, and women facing discrimination in non-traditional jobs such as firefighters and heavy machine operators. She is a founding member of the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association and was an Executive Committee member and committee chair until her retirement.

Weissberg has often been politically active since her college days. While at Brandeis University, she worked on Al Lowenstein’s congressional campaign and after graduating cum laude in 1969, she worked for former New York City Mayor John Lindsay. Believing teaching was a way to promote social change, she received her Masters of Arts in Teaching from Harvard in 1972 and taught for five years at the George Bancroft School, an alternative public school in Boston’s South End. After graduating cum laude from Boston College Law School in 1979, Weissberg worked as a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, representing people who had been discriminated against in employment and housing.

For over 35 years at the Tenant Advocacy Project, Weissberg supervised law students who represent public housing tenants in eviction cases and Section 8 tenants in subsidy termination cases. Through her work at TAP, hundreds of tenants were able to keep their homes. Many law students gained practical experience and a wonderful mentor and role model under Weissberg’s guidance.

Congratulations to Lynn Weissberg on a well-deserved honor. We are profoundly grateful for all of your years of service supervising and mentoring students, and advancing access to affordable housing for people in Greater Boston.

Lynn joins a list of other Harvard Law School clinicians honored by the National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts Chapter, including Deborah Anker, David Grossman, Nancy Kelly, John Willshire-Carrera, and John Salsberg.

Sarah Rutherford ’21, David Shea ’20, and William “Billy” Wright ’21: Candidates for Director of Student Organizations and Journals

Via The Harvard Law Record

By: Merve Ciplak and Kate Thoreson

Sarah Rutherford ’21

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

Sarah Rutherford: I never saw myself at HLS. Both my parents were immigrants who came to this country from Caribbean islands, and so I’m a first-generation college student. I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate from law school, so as soon as I got to Harvard, I said “I’m gonna be a part of everything that I can possibly be a part of. I’m so thankful that I’ve been in community in BLSA, I’m a student attorney for the Tenant Advocacy Project, and I’m also active in First Class, which supports first generation and low-income students. It’s been so nice to have group that are so focused on inclusion and diversity, and I really want to help to lift up the work that those organizations are doing. I’m so impressed at the student orgs’ ability to create community at this campus.

Record: You’ve just listed a number of other commitments. How would they affect your ability to do this job?

SR: Some [organizations] are not huge commitments. Some are just about creating spaces where people can go and feel comfortable. So I would say that my responsibilities for First Class or for BLSA are just being a great member of that community and being someone that younger students can reach out to if they need any help. But I don’t actually have leadership positions in those organizations; I would say I am part of coalitions and committees. I think the Tenant Advocacy Project is a significant commitment, but that’s what we came to law school for. So many people came to law school saying they wanted to do community service, and that’s the great part about SPOs.

Record: My understand is your campaign is tied in with Jake and Parisa’s campaign for co-presidency. What made you decide to ally yourself with them?

SR: I really believe in what they’re fighting for. I think a lot of our goals and values are aligned. So many organizations at HLS have been fighting to get Belinda Hall officially recognized. BLSA, La Alianza, so many organizations have been fighting for this. But what I really like about Jake and Parisa’s platform is that they are willing to work with those organizations and really want to help them get to the next frontier in the work that they’ve been doing. There’s a little gap between what these organizations are doing and just having more backing and support from the administration. Jake and Parisa will get it done; I just wish that more people would give them the chance or had the chance to meet them and hear their thoughts.

Record: If you were elected, what kinds of changes would you want to make in the next year?

SR: This position is so unique because you get to meet with the Dean of Students office every week, so what I would love to have is biweekly, invite leaders from different student organizations to come to those meetings for a listening session between them and the administration. I would also love to address some issues with funding and make it more equitable, because right now, there’s one big opportunity in the spring to make a request for funding. There would be a great opportunity for collaboration if, throughout the year, organizations could crowdsource funding within the organizations. I think a lot of organizations really appreciate the town hall the administration tried to have after the Kavanaugh hearings, and I think that we shouldn’t just wait until a contentious moment to hear from the school’s administration. It should be something that’s on a regular basis, so I’d like to institute a State of the Law School every semester where we’re able to hear from the Dean and students are able to participate in a town hall. There are also small things we could work on, like having a spring semester orgs fair. Even the training for student org leaders can be addressed. Student organizations are the heartbeat of this school, so it’s exciting to have this opportunity.

Record: Let’s circle back to your work with First Class. What kinds of things would you do as Director of Student Orgs to support first generation and low-income students?

SR: It’s about asking student organizations with hierarchical power if they would collaborate with a newer organization that supports an affinity group. It would solve a lot of problems. First Class did a dinner with Harvard Law Review during first semester. It was very informal. Just hearing about it ahead of time was really helpful. I think that there could be a greater emphasis on academic support and how you can have mentors between different organizations. There’s also an opportunity socially. A lot of clubs get funding to make sure students are able to participate in things that the rest of the school is going to. DOS should provide additional funding for organizations that want to sponsor their members to do things. First Class got 25% off to go to Parody, and BLSA got $5 tickets. Things like that are integral to what it means to be an HLS student. If you aren’t able to go on the HL Central Boat Cruise, or you can’t go to Parody, you might feel like you missed out.

Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?

SR: We need way more dogs. How come Remy has a prime spot and goes in and out of buildings? We need an equivalent dog that’s just prancing around the law school. People love corgis.

Record: I love corgis! Anything else?

SR: I’d like to add that Jake, Parisa and I love this law school, and when you love something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical of it. The school can grow, it can be more inclusive, and it can come up with a better way to build community, and that’s what we want to work towards.

David Shea ’20

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

David Shea: I don’t want a campaign like this to come down to empty promises. I came as a transfer, so I was scared that HLS was gonna be a place that you could get lost in the woodwork. Harvard provided the newly formed Section 8 to help bring me on board, and I realized how incredible the school was at providing opportunities for transfers in the student body more generally. Seeing that, and seeing how much they gave me to make me feel comfortable with my classmates and the different student orgs on campus and how much outreach they did to make us feel at home made me realize I had to give back. First I was Transfer Rep, and then I got invited to be Events Chair, and I just had an amazing experience working with them and talking with a diverse set of student groups. It’s about giving back and trying to empower people to have the same opportunities that I did to get involved and to hear their voices.

Record: This is the second time I’ve personally interviewed a transfer student running for this particular job. Is there a reason that transfers are drawn to it?

DS: I think transfers come in as very high achievers, just because in their respective law schools they were not only top students, but usually highly involved. I think part of it is self-selection, but I also think there’s a natural opportunity to compare and contrast that gives a transfer an upper hand to look at things at HLS objectively. I had a very narrow aim coming in as transfer rep in changing the write-on process for law review for transfers because it was not geared towards transfers. You had to write on prior to being accepted to HLS on the hope that you would get into HLS, which for most people is not a realistic proposition. So we worked closely with the Law Review to change that process, which is a conversation that’s been ongoing for years, but I set out to actually change that process, and we have. They have now opened up a new summer write-on specifically for transfers to write on with 1Ls. That opened up my eyes to the fact that I could take experiences of being a transfer and help change the overall culture for everyone. I made a point of getting involved with the 1Ls’ effort to reform LRW here, because again, I had all these transfers saying “things are different at our other schools and we can tell there are things missing in [Harvard’s] 1L writing program.” So I was able to work with Micah and I compiled a cross-section of commentary from transfers on their experiences with LRW at their respective universities and gave it to Josh, who was leading the charge on LRW, and Josh gave it to Dean Manning, and it has led to the change that we’re now seeing today where they’re instituting a total overhaul of LRW next year. I’m not saying I was the lead by any means, it was a group effort, but I was involved.

Record: What could you do to increase inclusion for transfers in orgs across the law school?

DS: A lot of it is symbolic. Having me in the DSO position would show that you can have a place here, that you’re not an outsider. If you make an effort to make a place here at HLS, you can do that. This is the ultimate example that if we really want to show that HLS is a place that’s welcoming to transfers, I could be that figurehead that could help. But I don’t want to be typecast as a transfer, and that’s part of my hope in breaking out of the Transfer Rep role. You can build consensus broadly, and that’s what a DSO does. Your budget is always a fight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a space for everyone, and the more a DSO can be open and listen, the better. The outsider status does help in that, because it’s a visual sign that we are open to listening to other parties and bringing another perspective.

Record: What other commitments to student orgs do you have?

DS: The DoSO position would be an absolute priority for me, but I am an executive editor of online content for CRCL. They’re helping push for more professors of color. It’s great to have activism on the ground level, but if they don’t have support from Student Government, they’re dead in the water. So I want to empower things like that, but I also don’t want people to think that those are pet projects for me. I really want to have the door open for everyone. In terms of other things, I am invested in PLAP pretty heavily. I would love to get involved in [CJI] 3L, but at the moment, I’m in PLAP. I made an effort to pick up a disciplinary hearing. It’s been amazing to act as a student attorney. I wanted an opportunity to be on the ground helping people in need. I think that’s one of Daniel and PD’s mottos, leveling the playing field. And you have to level the playing field not just here at HLS, but in the world at large, and for me, PLAP is that opportunity to find the people in prison who are most in need of representation. I go to Talks. I love the Talks program. Daniel is instrumental in putting that out, and I think it’s amazing. That is the core of what I want to bring to Student Government, which is a space where people can be heard and listened to. There are so many times when people are shouting at each other and not listening, and I love the passion, but we have to create a space where people can talk about their experiences and share with each other. We have to change the campus culture in terms of how people communicate because whether you’re left, right, or otherwise, there’s no reason people should be shouted down. If we create a culture where people are really engaged and listening to each other, I think we can shift that tone.

Record: How would you help improve student organizations?

DS: I think input from the student body needs to be better. Student Government is very siloed. We do a lot of work behind the scenes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it leads to a perception that we’re inactive. I think we need to make students understand that we are truly open to listening. I can promise you that not everyone on Student Government fully internalized what the Prison Divestment Campaign said, let alone what they believe. I personally signed the petition. I believe there was a core of something that needed to happen there, but I also think the job of student government is to take that passionate, activist message and put it in a way that’s politically soluble. So we’re working on drafting a proposal that could pass muster with Student Government, but also take the administration to task, and it’s that kind of consensus-building that Student Government has to be cognizant of. That’s a strength of mine.

Record: How do you think the DoSO could make it easier for student orgs to do things?

DS: That gets down to the equity and transparency debate. I stress democracy, but that doesn’t mean the majority always rules. There is a time where we have to recognize that there are marginalized and vulnerable groups on campus that may need a microphone because they don’t have the larger support. FedSoc is not the darling of the left, but they have every right to organize, have money, do their events, and further what they believe in. They’re ironically a minority here whereas in the larger sense, they may not represent minority views. You look at the opposite of that, a group like Lambda, who is representing the LGBTQ+ community. That’s a marginalized group that you have to recognize probably doesn’t consist in the majority either and also needs someone fighting for them, so when they reached out to me and said, “do you support more gender inclusive bathrooms [or] an increased budget for Lambda in light of JAG being on campus,” I would be hard pressed to say no realizing that [every] dollar that goes to Lambda may in effect be taken away from a student org. That’s a reality that if a candidate doesn’t admit to, [they’re] lying. It’s easy to say I can fund every initiative, but I can’t. I have to make some executive judgment to figure out, where are the voices that need empowering, and where are some that just have a large consensus behind them? It’s a question of balancing.

Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?

DS: I really can’t say that this is an issue I’ve thought greatly about. There’s a fine number of dogs on campus. I would love to know who these people are who have strong concerns about dogs and tell them to please come speak to me.

(Ed. note: it’s me.)

DS: I’m a huge dog lover, but I do love cats, which has drawn the ire of some dog owners. I think cats are greatly misunderstood animals. They’re very smart, but they play coy. There’s people on campus that are a little bit more like cats than dogs. They’re very smart, but they can be siloed in their interests. The DoSO’s goal is to make us a little more doglike and a little less catlike. We’re all very smart, but we’ve gotta remember that friendship and loyalty are important things, and people of all different stripes can be friends. Ginsburg and Scalia were friends, so it’s not a pipe dream.

William “Billy” Wright ’21

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

William “Billy” Wright: When I got to HLS and started my 1L year, I found a home in the section very quickly. I felt a real sense of community right off the bat. I didn’t want to just be a part of the community and exist in it, but I wanted to help shape it and make it something that worked more for everyone.

People complain all the time about problems at HLS, going back to Scott Turow, and there are all the tropes about it. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you’re at a place, you’re part of the place and you’re responsible for it. You can’t just complain, you have to find solutions. So I was 1L Rep, and was very thrilled and honored to be the representative for the section, and really did get to address a couple of problems I had identified at a low level with HLS in general. I’d like to start doing that at a higher level, and I think that Director of Student Organizations and Journals is a really powerful way to do that because they’re at the center of so much of student life. Student organizations are a real strength, and once you leave 1L year you’re not really in a section. Your main student organization is your real home at HLS, and it does contribute to community, but it can also hurt community by keeping people siloed. I think we stay siloed from sections, and we don’t really talk to a lot of other sections, and we see, just as an example, FedSoc and ACS people who aren’t talking. It’s bad for the community and for discourse in general. It’s a bad state of affairs in the profession if you’ve got two major camps going forward and not engaging with each other.

Can you expand on the things you worked on as a 1L Representative in Student Government this year?

BW: Last semester, Veteran’s Day was coming up. It was the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which is the day most other countries call the end of the war. There were a few events across campus that recognized it, but they were mostly Harvard or organization events. It was usually veterans’ programs, and there really wasn’t anything at HLS about it. Being a veteran and being passionate about that part of history, I noticed this. It’s really not just a veterans’ thing, and it’s such a seminal event for human history that touches on law and shaped the world so much. I thought we should do something to recognize this in some way, and it should be a more sober event than a dinner or a happy hour. So I put together an Armistice Day Run the Friday before at sunrise. I wanted to make it a Student Government thing and not an Armed Forces Association thing, because it’s not just veterans. I wanted to open it up to the university at large, because it shouldn’t just be a law school event. I like doing things beyond HLS if at all possible. We got a handful of people out from the law school, which is a small miracle at sunrise in November. We got some people from the College, the Kennedy School, and the Business School. We were 30-40 people out there in total, and it was a really cool thing to see a diverse group of people come together around this event. Not many people who fought in it are alive to remind us that it’s important and of the pitfalls of a failure to have a respect of the downside of failing to keep international peace. I think it’s really important that we recognize that, and I was glad and excited that we did and to have been able to be driving something that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

After that wrapped up, I started digging into the Pete Davis public service report. It’s a huge report, and it’s got all sorts of components to it. I was struck by the discussion of how all these little, subtle cues around us sway us towards the corporate side of things. There’s nothing with the corporate side of things, it’s absolutely essential for the economy to work as it does, but people are going to go there regardless because the money’s always pulling people there, and it makes sense. So you need some sort of counterbalancing push to help people get excited about public service and attach prestige to it. You look around at other schools, and West Point, for example, has a lot recognizing the achievements of its graduates. The new building here has not really been used as well as it could be to honor graduates who have actually impacted society. If you go into the lobby, you look and there are two portraits: one is Wasserstein, and one is Caspersen. Both of them give a lot of money, but they’re not really going to inspire anyone in terms of public service. The Obamas, who I respect profoundly, and most people do as well now, aren’t recognized at all. We’re two years from the Presidency now, and it’s not politicized to honor them. So many activists who were instrumental in the civil rights movements aren’t honored. Say whatever you want for his recent political influence, but Ralph Nader, as the one-man wrecking ball that he was in his heyday and the young HLS grads that he got on board to really change the consumer rights scene, should be recognized. There are just so many people who were trailblazers in women’s rights, civil rights, consumer rights, people outside of the US who were political leaders and came through HLS…none of it is recognized, and it’s a real shame. I think the building doesn’t really do anything to inspire, and for 1Ls especially, we spend most of our time in this building and it’s a mission that the school should be taking seriously. So I’ve been looking at ways we can try to change the physical space in a way that honors those who have had worthy impacts on society. We’re starting to try to move forward with it, and funding’s a big issue right now, but we’ve got a couple things we’re going to try to do. A great example to give something concrete: in Langdell North, they have black-and-white prints of social activists at work, and they are very poignant scenes. It’s very aesthetic as well. But it’s hidden away. The most prominent space is just kind of blank. We should be able to commit to at least the people who change society; that’s not really that controversial.

Record: Is there anything you know you want to accomplish as a part of Student Government next year if you get elected?

BW: Like I said, things can get kind of siloed. Student organizations play a role in that. We can bring about a state of affairs where student organizations have more cross-talk, engage each other and aren’t afraid, where people don’t just leave the classroom and go their separate ways and not ever see anyone except the certain people similar to them. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. One good example is the trans ban. After that happened, LAMBDA and the Armed Forces Association hosted a joint discussion on litigating against the trans ban, and I thought that was great because that kind of event has the potential to create a lot of hostility towards veterans and it was the opposite, where we communicated that we were going to confront this together, and that we were going to figure this out as a cohesive and as a community. I thought that was way more powerful. Director of Student Organizations plays a role in allocating funding, and if there was a way of equitably providing certain incentives for organizations that do this more often, bearing in mind that some organizations can do it more readily than others, I think that could be an interesting incentive. Similarly, spreading it across the university-wide community through organizations.

Another area is pushing for a sleeker, more up-to-date digital presence by a lot of organizations online. We’ve got the WordPress suite that student organizations have to use. It’s okay; they all look serviceable, but not great. If you survey the Harvard student organizations, you’re going to get the same kind of thing and it’s fairly uniform. There is something for every organization, which is good. If you survey other schools’ organizations, they’re much more variable. Some are better, and some are far worse or don’t exist. That is a benefit of the uniform system, but WordPress is far more powerful than that, and I think a lot of student organizations would run with it if the system were looked at and changes were enabled. A stronger web presence helps prospective students find things they’re interested in and gets them excited about the school, and provides information about them. It provides more transparency to the rest of the school about what all these other organizations are doing, so that helps cut through the siloed nature as well. It’s good for the organization itself, it makes it more functional. A good counter-example is if you look at some of the big journals on campus, their websites are excellent: JOLT, ILJ, JLPP, and I’m sure a bunch of the other ones have incredibly well-done websites. At least one of them are run off WordPress platforms, so I’m sure there’s a way to fix that. That would be a big initiative of mine.

Another is creating a nimbler constellation of student organizations. There are two issues: it’s intimidating and hard to start the process to start an organization, and that goes into all the administrative requirements for it, getting people on board with it, developing the idea to the point where it’s ready to go and be presented, and then having an idea that’s not already addressed by some other organization. I think Director of Student Organizations, and Student Government or DoS largely, could provide a better pathway. This could maybe consist of a pitch event to have student organizations that are only ideas at this point, or things they want to address and they want to run by someone. We could tell them “hey, this is a good idea for a student organization and it’s not addressed already on campus, this is what you need to do to get it done”, or not by saying “this should be done through another organization”. Post-pitch event, a separate event could help people prepare for the actual pitch to DoS. I think that could be powerful to creating organizations that respond to things that are more current. You’ve got the Mississippi Delta Project, and that organization is very nimble. They address specific problems. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t have an “Opioid Crisis in Massachusetts” organization, or a “Wind Energy Project”. But it is very intimidating to try to go start something like that.

The other side of that is the dormant organizations policy. We’ve got organizations that aren’t started, and those that are hanging on and still getting funding but don’t do anything. There’s got to be a policy put in place that balances that where you phase out organizations that aren’t doing anything, which Student Government is trying to do right now. Some students have actually used organizations to get funding and then just used it to go out to dinner. But then you also have to not hurt organizations that actually do something. That’s directly a Director of Student Organizations role.

Record: Is there anything you think is beyond your, or Student Government’s, control that you would like to change?

BW: The clerkship hiring pilot is coming down the pipe, and it’s something that I believe in and is really important for us to do because it’s obviously a problem at Harvard. It leads to inequitable outcomes at large and it induces a lot of stress. If you hear about people trying to go out and do stuff for clerkships as a 1L in your first semester, that just makes you sweat a little bit more. You should have a bit of a buffer where you don’t have to think about these things yet. It’s an important thing at Harvard and in the legal profession at large, and if it’s not done at Harvard, I don’t see it getting done for a long time. We should be leading the way on this. Student organizations are a vehicle for this and for the letter that Radhe Patel put together. A lot of student organizations on campus signed on to the letter, and student organizations have also been a way that people have found information about clerkships and have gotten on the right path, if not outright help. I think that’s a powerful way to address it, but 90% of organizations isn’t good enough. If anyone’s circumventing it, then the whole thing falls apart. I don’t think you can impose this on people who don’t want it and fight them on it. It’s got to be a collective buy-in type process. There’s a faculty working group who’s looking at it, and it would take a whole-school approach and the right judges signing on as well. This is certainly happening, and I think Director of Student Organizations and Student Government play roles in generating buy-in and seeing what the issue is for those who oppose it and how to work with them on it so we can get the right people who are leading the clerkships on board with this. But it’s definitely a huge thing that goes way beyond Student Government. But just the fact that we’re working on it is a powerful signal to the legal community.

Record: Beyond Student Government, what other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you personally?

BW: I’m currently involved in the Armed Forces Association and HLEP, and I’m a strong participant in Section 6 and Student Government, of course. I’ll probably also be subciting for the National Security Journal and maybe try to take on a roll with them going forward as well.

Record: What do you think distinguishes you as a candidate?

BW: Immediately upon getting here 1L year, I got involved with Student Government and have been as active as any 1L representative. I’ve had one small project that was just initiated and completed. I’ve had another project that I’ve started that’s in the works. I think I’ve been a fairly active voice generally in the discussions. I don’t think you see a lot of people as involved from the get-go and as constantly committed to taking some sort of initiative. I think that distinguishes me. I’m trying to find things, I have been from the get-go and I’ll continue to do that. It’s hard to do that if you haven’t been involved in the process. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this issue I’ve identified and I’ve thought of a solution”. But then once you start talking to DoS and you’re in a couple of meetings with them, you realize they have constraints as well and there are a lot of big things going on at this school. Solutions are very hard to actually stitch together. If there’s a problem that hasn’t been solved it’s often because it’s a tough problem with competing interests. Having seen that and having navigated it a little bit is a powerful platform to actually go address things at a higher level.

The other part of it is that if I’m involved next year in this capacity, then the year after that would be two years of involvement in Student Government at a high level. One of the biggest problems with Student Government is that the turnover is so high that even if you’re involved for three years, three years is a blink of the eye. You’re gone, the administration is generally the same, the school sails on as it does, and the same problems keep rotating back. It does help to have people who are consistently involved all three years, even though even that’s not enough. That’s something that I would be able to offer: a consistent, long involvement.

My background also helps a lot. I was in the Army in Europe. For most of my time in the Army, I dealt with a lot of different interest groups: foreign militaries, a lot of varying components with the US military and US government. I think there’s something to be said for learning how to deal with all of these different stakeholders, and to take initiative and leadership in that kind of environment. There are things in the Army that don’t translate to being successful, but that’s definitely something that would not only benefit a leader anywhere, but particularly Director of Student Organizations. When you’ve got this very different constituency of people with different and sometimes competing interests, and you have to find a way to be representative of all of them and help them find the best possible and broad solution, I think that’s something I’ve been trained to see.

Record: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BW: Being involved in Student Government has been the best part of my 1L experience (except for Section 6!), and it’d be really cool to be able to continue to do that.

Why TAP Defined My Law School Experience

Elizabeth Gyori J.D. ’19

By: Elizabeth Gyori, J.D. ’19

The notice came in a white envelope, hand-delivered by a staffer at the project-based Section 8 development that my elderly grandparents lived in. From the outside, it looked like it could be a notice that they received on a weekly basis. However, this was a “Notice to Cease.” From what my immigrant Chinese family could tell, it meant eviction. Then about to enter my first year of law school at Harvard Law School (HLS), I took charge of the situation. I knew nothing about subsidized housing and the rights afforded to my grandparents who spoke no English. Fumbling my way through preserving affordable housing for my grandparents and noticing the lack of culturally-competent legal services afforded to low-income tenants pushed me to join the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) as a 1L. My transformative time in TAP has not only led me to serve as the organization’s Co-President, but I hope to continue the fight for housing justice after graduation.

TAP is a student practice organization that provides representation and advice to tenants of subsidized housing who are facing eviction, subsidy termination, application denial or transfer denial. Every year, approximately 40 law students conduct a wide array of legal advocacy before local housing authorities. This ranges from reasonable accommodation requests for tenants with disabilities to representing clients at administrative hearings—a more informal, court-like proceeding—about eviction or termination of a rent subsidy. The ultimate goal of TAP’s practice is not only to ensure that tenants remain housed, but also that they are able to thrive in their affordable housing. Thus, student advocates work closely with social service providers in the Greater Boston area and conduct advocacy on policy issues that affect TAP’s client population. TAP’s intake process, run by a nine-student Intake Review Committee, allows advocates to shape the priorities and caseload of the organization. At the end of their time in TAP, students will have amassed a wealth of knowledge about many areas of the law and developed their trial advocacy, negotiation, legal research and writing, and client interviewing skills.

This skill acquisition is not the only reason why students join or return to TAP year after year. Students are also interested in housing justice and how it intersects with other pressing social issues. For example, one of my clients, who is elderly and disabled, was facing voucher termination because her son became addicted to opioids after a surgery and was arrested for possession of drugs. The arrest was not near her apartment and her son was actually away at college at the time. She had no idea about her son’s addiction, and in the years since, her son had turned his life around. Even still, the overlapping web of the criminal justice system, the nation’s opioid crisis, and other public health issues threatened my client’s stable housing. My colleagues and I worked with the son’s public defender, filed reasonable accommodation requests for my client’s disabilities, represented her at several hearings about her termination, and referred her to social services. Like every advocate, I grew immensely by getting to know and working closely with my client. I developed my legal research and writing skills, my understanding of how the administrative process is related to later court practice (i.e., preserving the record), and my ability to work effectively with clients with disabilities, especially translating complex legal concepts into everyday language. Personally, I was moved by the trusting relationships that organically formed between my client, her son, and me. Their resilience re-energized me. Further, I was grateful to have the opportunity to see and trace first-hand how housing justice is deeply linked to many other areas of law and policy, including disability law, criminal law, economic justice and public health. This front-row seat allows TAPpers to become passionate and effective legal aid and community lawyers, policymakers, and impact litigators, among many other career paths after graduation.

Moreover, TAP’s vibrant community, which gives students a space to engage with the Greater Boston community, discuss various social issues and reflect on law school, is where many TAPpers make life-long friends. Key to this community has been TAP’s long-time Clinical Instructors, Lynn Weissberg and Marcia Peters, who have supervised students for over 30 years. Lynn, who founded TAP in 1981, has been a strong advocate for housing justice in the Greater Boston area, from the days of rent control until today. Marcia, who joined TAP a few years after TAP’s founding, has similarly fiercely fought for the rights of low-income tenants. On each case that they supervised, Marcia and Lynn not only brought wisdom and legal insight, but they have taught, by example, generations of TAPpers what it means to zealously advocate for your client. Though Marcia retired this past April and Lynn retired in October, TAP’s community is only expanding. We are excited to welcome Shelley Barron to the TAP family as our new Clinical Instructor. Since her start this past June, we have seen how her background in housing law, family law and working with survivors of domestic violence has strengthened our advocacy for clients.

In the summer before law school, I was able to help my grandparents remain in their affordable housing. But as I have explored housing justice more and more throughout law school, I have realized that lack of culturally-competent representation is not the only barrier to affordable housing. Rather, sheer lack of enough affordable housing, housing policies and laws that clash with communities’ differing conceptions of family and dignified living, and the effect of intersecting issues like economic injustice prevent the fulfillment of housing as a human right in the United States. I hope to bring my skills, experiences, personal background and understanding of the Asian American community to my future work in housing justice. As I look towards graduation and practicing law in the “real world,” I only hope that I can be as brave and resilient and my TAP clients, as fierce and compassionate as Lynn, Marcia and Shelley, and as dedicated to housing and social justice as my fellow TAPpers.

Welcome, Shelley Barron!

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs would like to extend a warm welcome to Shelley Barron, who recently joined the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) as a Clinical Instructor.

After earning her JD from Northeastern University School of Law in 2012, Shelley began working at Community Legal Aid, Inc. in Worcester, MA as a Staff Attorney. While there, Shelley was a part of the Honorable Harry Zarrow Homeless Advocacy Outreach Project, which aims to prevent or reduce homelessness by providing legal assistance to those experiencing or at-risk for homelessness. Shelley focused on representing clients in eviction defense and housing discrimination cases, as well as advocating for access to shelters and affordable housing.

In 2015, Shelley began working as a Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc. (CMV), a non-profit domestic violence agency in Boston. She provided an array of legal services to low-income clients in cases involving abuse prevention orders, family law, housing issues, and immigration matters. Shelley was also involved in managing Medical-Legal Partnerships with two Boston area hospitals while at CMV.

As a Clinical Instructor at TAP, Shelley will be supervising law students as they provide legal assistance to applicants and low-income tenants of affordable housing programs.

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.

An interview with TAP student leaders

The Tenant Advocacy Project (affectionately known as TAP) represents clients in benefits termination, public housing eviction, and application denial hearings at housing authorities. TAP co-presidents Emily Seelenfreund, J.D. ’17 and Laura Dismore J.D. ’17 reflect on their time with the organization.

OCP: What interested you in working with TAP?

ES: I came to law school because I wanted to use a legal degree to make an impact in the public sector. It’s all too easy to spend 1L in a bubble but I didn’t want to become removed from the issues that impact my future clients. I chose TAP because of the opportunity to directly represent clients right from the get-go and because equitable access to housing is such a vitally important right.

Laura Dismore J.D. '17

Laura Dismore J.D. ’17

LD: TAP caught my attention from the very beginning – I remember realizing that I had never thought about how much housing (and particularly housing instability) can affect other aspects of people’s lives. The more I learned about TAP, the various local and state bureaucracies our clients (and, by extension, TAP members) have to navigate, and the areas of law that intersect with housing, the more excited I was to participate.

OCP: Can you describe a memorable case or project that you have worked on?

Emily Seelenfreund, J.D. '17

Emily Seelenfreund, J.D. ’17

ES: I met one of my most memorable clients last year at an outreach event I coordinated with Haley House. She was facing termination of her Section 8 subsidy, without which she was unable to afford housing. At the hearing my client gave powerful testimony about how the abuse she had suffered as a child had led to a life of addiction but how with the help of Haley House and other programs she was taking control of her life. The Housing Authority found her mitigating evidence persuasive and our client retained her subsidy and was therefore able to continue turning her life around.

LD: Last year, I worked on a priority status denial case. My client had been displaced by a fire, but the housing authority had denied him natural disaster priority status because he hadn’t been able to provide documentation of his tenancy (or of the fire itself). That’s because his lease and all his other documents were burned up in the fire that made him homeless, and because the Fire Department had no record of the blaze despite multiple news articles describing its devastation. I was able to track down his landlady and get her to sign sworn statements about his tenancy. The fire report was tricky, but we eventually found it thanks to one firefighter with an incredibly good memory: the report had been filed incorrectly, which is why my client couldn’t retrieve it despite diligent efforts. The housing authority ultimately reversed their decision and gave him priority status on the waitlist, which was an exciting victory. But even now, six years after the fire and almost a full year after he went to the top of the waitlist, my former client has yet to be given a voucher and is currently still homeless.

OCP: How would you evaluate your learning experience? Do you feel you’ve gained new skills in working with TAP?

ES: TAP has been an invaluable learning experience and among the most compelling experiences during my time at HLS. I’ve come to really understand the importance of coordination among legal services organizations, as so many of our clients are facing battles not just with their housing- but also their disability, veterans, childcare, and other services. I’ve also learned the importance of persistence- oftentimes receiving necessary documentation from other service providers requires multiple follow-ups and perseverance. TAP has two experienced clinical instructors and working with them allows students to gain experience working under supervision while still managing their own caseload.

OCP: What would you say is your biggest learning experience? 

LD: Aside from the substantive legal concepts, the biggest learning experience for me has been the importance of fighting for our clients in whatever way we can. Working on a case last year, I had to follow up with a client’s former landlady who did not want to talk to me. In fact, she hung up on me the first time I called. I told my supervisor the landlady was unresponsive and that there wasn’t much we could do. My supervisor’s response will probably echo in my ears for the rest of my life: “Wow, you’re giving up on this very easily.” No one had ever told me that before, but I realized she was absolutely right. We came up with a strategy to try to get the landlady to work with us, and it succeeded! We got the documentation we needed and ultimately won the case. And I learned that if your clients need you to go to the mat for them, you do it, even if it’s scary and you’re not sure how.

Tenant Advocacy Project students explain access to public housing

By Andrea Lowe, J.D. ’16

tapOn Saturday, November 21st, students from the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) presented information about access to public and subsidized housing, and how criminal history can affect access to these resources, to members of Haley House’s Transitional Employment Program (TEP).

Our goal was to disseminate useful information about access to housing resources, based on the laws and regulations governing Massachusetts public housing, as well as anecdotes and patterns that we have observed while practicing in this area. Public Housing Authorities have substantial discretion in most cases of denying applications, particularly if a criminal history is involved. By connecting the law to what we have seen in our clinical practice, in terms of what arguments are most effective, and how to present evidence of mitigating or changed circumstances, our presentation aimed to provide the TEP participants with the resources to make their cases most effectively.

However, because of other issues relevant to TEP members, we decided not to focus the presentation exclusively on the effect of a criminal background on housing access. We presented information on priority status and on Reasonable Accommodation (RA), so that TEP participants who might have physical or mental health impairments may be able to access housing fairly. We also discussed appealing a denial of housing, RA, or priority. Appeals can be confusing and onerous, and applicants often do not believe that the process would be of help. TAP sees many initial decisions overturned at the appeal stage, so we encouraged all of the participants to exercise their appeal rights. Especially in the case of a criminal history, an appeal hearing would give the individual a chance to tell his/her story, provide mitigating evidence, and provide any recommendation letters or other corroborating evidence of how his/her life has changed after incarceration.

The event itself was fantastic: the TEP participants were extremely engaged in the presentation, and asked challenging questions. It seemed from their questions and comments that they found the information we provided to be helpful in their housing searches going forward.

While TAP focuses on representing tenants at administrative proceedings, typically application denials, Section 8 terminations, or public housing evictions, participating in outreach events like this one is central to our mission of fair access to public and subsidized housing. Because TAP is limited in the amount of cases it can take, many tenants must go into these hearings unrepresented, without the advantages of knowing how to best make their case, or do not appeal at all. While the provision of this information is not a substitute for having a lawyer or advocate, we hope that these outreach events will empower applicants and tenants, enabling them to know their legal rights, and effectively advocate for themselves if they cannot get the help of TAP or another legal services provider.

Tenant Advocacy Project: Helping individuals with criminal records secure a second chance at housing

By Ryan Sakoda, Student in the Tenant Advocacy Project and Harvard Ph.D. Candidate in Economics

Over 100 million individuals, or about one-third of the U.S. population, have some form of criminal record. During 2012 alone, there were over 12 million arrests reported in the United States. In addition, about 640,000 individuals were released from state and federal prisons to try to rebuild their lives with the heavy burden of a criminal conviction on their record.

The impact of the criminal justice system has been particularly concentrated among low-income individuals, many of whom rely on public or subsidized housing. After having contact with the criminal justice system, however, most of these individuals are barred from public housing assistance even many years after their conviction. Without reliable housing, it is nearly impossible to maintain steady employment and establish the structure necessary for these individuals to move on with their lives.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recognized how important housing assistance programs can be in efforts to reduce recidivism and has recently issued two letters reminding public housing agencies of their discretion to admit individuals with prior convictions. These two letters, issued in 2011 and 2012, emphasize the Obama Administration’s belief “in the importance of second chances” and the necessity of “helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of a stable life—a place to live.”

During the past winter and spring, the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) focused on these issues, assisting four clients on criminal-history-based denials of public and Section 8 housing. Each of these clients presented a unique story reflecting the myriad and complex circumstances that can lead to a criminal record.

In our first case, Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez ’17 took the lead representing a young mother whose application for public housing was denied due to a drug conviction early in life. Her conviction was the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not understanding the long-run impact of a criminal conviction before pleading guilty to a crime she did not commit. Although this conviction had occurred before our client became a mother, it stood as the barrier preventing her two children from obtaining a stable home. These kinds of contextual details are often overlooked as an applicant’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report is sometimes the sole source of information relied on by public housing agencies when evaluating an applicant’s criminal history. Although applicants are given the opportunity to provide mitigating evidence related to their criminal record, they often do not have the time or resources to produce evidence deemed sufficient by the housing authority to overcome their record.

Throughout the winter, Pedro put together a package of mitigating evidence for our client. He spent countless hours interviewing her and collecting numerous letters of support from friends and former neighbors. In addition, we included a memo arguing that our client’s perfect record while on probation should be considered strong evidence of her commitment to remain free of criminal activity. Housing authorities normally place little or no weight on good behavior while on probation because of the assumption that it was the supervision rather than intrinsic motivation that kept the individual out of trouble. But contrary to this assumption, high rates of probation violations are found in a number of studies and suggest that not all individuals perform well under supervision. Therefore, we argued, those that do perform well should certainly be given credit for their performance. These materials, along with Pedro’s excellent argument at the administrative hearing, resulted in a reversal of our client’s application denial and her reinstatement to the waiting list for housing.

The remaining three cases resulted in victories as well, two through mitigation of the criminal record and one by way of Reasonable Accommodation. Like our first case, TAP helped each of these clients gather documentation including letters from friends, doctors, and social workers, evidence of the completion of programming, and academic research relevant to the client’s past behavior.

This research, along with the testimony of our client’s social worker, was particularly valuable for our case decided on Reasonable Accommodation grounds. In that case, we provided evidence showing that past trauma victims often have violent reactions to being held or constrained due to extreme agitation and fear, supporting our claim that there was a nexus between our client’s mental health disabilities and her convictions for violent criminal activity. After presenting this evidence at the hearing, the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) decided in favor of our client, finding that she should be granted a reasonable accommodation for her mental health disabilities and consequently, that the criminal convictions resulting from her disabilities could not be grounds to deny her application.

Working on this set of cases highlighted the challenges faced by individuals attempting to rebuild their life after a criminal conviction. These challenges are enormous and exacerbated by the numerous barriers to public benefits levied against those with a record. Fighting these barriers can seem hopeless, but as shown by TAP’s experience, these cases are winnable and worthy of the attention of our legal community.

Congratulations to Zoe, 2015 Law Student Ethics Award Winner!

Harvard Law School student Zoe Brennan-Krohn ’15 recently won the 2015 Law Student Ethics Award from the Association of Corporate Counsel, Northeast Chapter. One of ten students honored from participating local law schools, Zoe was recognized for demonstrating a commitment to ethics through her work in the Clinical and Pro Bono Program.

She has completed hundreds of pro bono work hours during her time at Harvard Law School. She has participated in the Disability Litigation and Benefits Advocacy Clinic, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, the Independent Clinical Program, and the Tenant Advocacy Project.

“I am delighted that Zoe’s exceptional legal abilities are being recognized with this award,” said Senior Clinical Instructor Julie McCormack, who has supervised Zoe in the Disability Litigation and Benefits Advocacy Clinic.

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.”


L-R: Paul Nightingale, President of Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), Northeast Chapter; Zoe Brennan-Krohn J.D. ’15; Jim Peck, Co-Chair of ACC-Northeast Ethics Committee

“I am very honored to have received this award. Clinical and Student Practice Organization work has been a critical part of my experience here at HLS, in part because of the opportunities it creates to grapple with real-life ethical challenges under the guidance of experienced attorneys,” Zoe said. “I feel very lucky to have worked with such thoughtful clinical faculty who worked with me to develop tools to address the ethical challenges that arise in the context of serving low-income clients.”

The Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel held the eleventh annual Law Student Ethics Awards dinner on April 16, 2015 at the State Room in Boston. CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gregen gave the keynote address.

Student Wins Hearing for Housing Client

Amanda Morejon, J.D. ’16

By Amanda Morejon ’16

When I accepted my first case with the Tenant Advocacy Project, it seemed straightforward enough. My client, a wheel-chair dependent man in his late 60s, had applied to the Boston Housing Authority’s Public Housing Program several years ago. In the last few years he had become very active in his church and neighborhood community and maintained his skills as a former chef. After moving to the top of the wait-list and passing all the neighbor screenings and financial requirements, his application was denied due to an old criminal record.

My first thought was that the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) simply did not realize that my client had changed his life. I imagined that once the BHA saw the mitigating evidence, their opinion of my client would change. I was surprised to find that they had already reviewed letters of support from his former employers and letters from his church community. I quickly learned that the Occupancy Department at the BHA will not approve an applicant who has any criminal record no matter how minor or how old the record is. Fortunately, my client could appeal the decision and contacted the Tenant Advocacy Project.

I was assigned to his case in September and almost four months later (a day before my last exam) we were informed that the Appeal Hearing would take place in two weeks, on the first day that students returned to campus from winter break.

With the guidance of my supervisor, Lynn Weissberg, I prepared the case for our hearing. I compiled the mitigating evidence and character reference letters, gathered additional letters of support, analyzed the BHA’s Admissions & Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP), researched similar cases with favorable outcomes, drafted direct examination questions for my client, and wrote my closing argument. In the two weeks leading up to the hearing, I went over the material with him, reviewed his criminal record, and discussed the changes he had made in his life after his last conviction. My client’s testimony would serve as the strongest source of mitigating evidence so ensuring he felt comfortable answering my direct examination questions was hugely important.

On the day of the hearing, everything came together. My client was able to clearly communicate with the Hearing Officer and answered both my questions and her questions directly. His thoughtful character and commitment to his community shone through in his testimony. His cousin and his close friend both attended and testified regarding his character. Sixteen business days later we received the decision and the denial of public housing was overturned. This wonderful news meant that my client was placed back at the top of the wait-list.

Without the guidance of my supervisor, the general support from the TAP community, and my client’s trust and patience, we may not have achieved this outcome. Knowing that unfair decisions can be overturned and indigent individuals like my client can have their voices heard has given me much hope and confidence. With due diligence we can work to ensure that people’s rights to receive public housing are protected.

Student Voices: A Thursday at Pinal County Jail

Joel Edman writes about his work in Arizona jails and detention centers (image credit: Paige Austin)

Today’s dispatch comes from Joel Edman, a second-year student at Harvard Law School. Joel spent his winter term at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona for an Independent Clinical. He is also a member of the student practice organizations Tenant Advocacy Project and Harvard Immigration Project, and is currently participating in the Child Advocacy Clinic for the spring term.

I saw the potential of the Florence Project‘s work one afternoon toward the end of J-term. It was Thursday, when the “Florence team” (as opposed to the “Eloy team”) goes to the Pinal County Jail for a know-your-rights presentation, a bond workshop, and one-on-one intakes. The real lesson – for me at least – from the day had nothing to do with the law. Instead, it was the presentation style of the legal assistant and soon-to-be law student who conducted the bond workshop that I will never forget:

The word “empower” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s the only way I can describe what she passionately tried to accomplish with those men that afternoon. We stand in a circle, fellow HLS student Paige Austin and I, plus about a dozen detainees in jumpsuits. The room is just starting to get cold – I learned quickly that jailhouse concrete, bricks, and restricted sunlight can make even the Arizona desert chilly. “Usted es su propio abogado” sets the tone for the talk. The legal assistant is upfront about the harsh reality facing many of these men, but at the same time offers encouragement. She is meticulous, not just covering legal rules and procedures, but also the practicalities of getting documents from family, how to address a letter to a judge, that those letters should be in English, how to use the internal mail system at the jail, etc. She answers dozens of questions, patiently and thoroughly. In short, if you manage to walk away from her presentation not knowing exactly how to maximize your chances of getting bond, you just weren’t paying attention. I left thinking, “now that’s how you lawyer to a detained population.” And it’s a good thing too, because for that vast majority of the people the Florence Project meets, those precious few minutes will be their only interaction with an attorney.

There are thousands of detainees housed in the rural towns of Florence and Eloy, Arizona, and only a handful of attorneys at the Florence Project. Yet, the Project has as its goal to provide quality legal information to every detainee, as well as more targeted services for a few who might be helped to get some form of relief. Most days of the week, attorneys from the Project go to the detention centers to give know-your-rights presentations to groups of detainees, ranging from about 20 to 60 people. They are scheduled to happen about a week before the detainees’ initial appearance before a judge and are designed to give the detainees a sense of what to expect. The presentations – entirely in Spanish – include a brief overview of potential forms of relief, so that the attorneys can identify detainees who might be eligible.

After the presentation, or during it if there are extra attorneys on hand, the attorneys do one-on-one intakes with anyone who 1) was previously identified as potentially being eligible for relief, 2) does not speak Spanish, or 3) simply wants to speak to an attorney. After watching a presentation on my second day at the Project and observing a few intakes, I began doing intakes myself. At first, I was just gathering relevant facts so that one of the attorneys could dispense legal advice, but by the end of the first week, I had a pretty good sense of what to say in most cases. Besides being an emotionally straining process, and a healthy test of my (somewhat rusty) Spanish, intakes were a great crash course in immigration law.

There is much more to tell, but I’ll end by saying that I was one hundred percent satisfied with my experience at the Florence Project. I could not imagine a better way to have spent those three weeks!

Recent “Student Voices”
Update from Florence…, Arizona
Dispatch from Tel Aviv