In celebration of the National Pro Bono Week, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs interviewed past winners of the HLS Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award who were chosen for their excellence and extraordinary contributions to the public good. Lam Ho, HLS ’08, is the Executive Director at Community Activism Law Alliance and completed over 3,000 hours of pro bono work with Harvard Defenders and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Please read our interview with Lam below.
OCP: Why did you choose to study law and what sparked your interest in pro bono work?
Ho: I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an attorney working with disadvantaged populations because of my personal background, which exposed me to many examples of how unequal access to justice is in our country, including my mother, a victim of domestic violence, who was an even greater victim to our legal system due to her gender, immigrant status, and inability to speak English.
OCP: What do you think the biggest learning experiences were?
Ho: For me personally, discovering and negotiating the limitations of “the law.” By acknowledging that the legal system can sometimes be slow, unfair, inequitable, or ineffectual for creating true social change, I opened myself to, and learned to push the boundaries, of what “lawyering” is. My work now is focused on how much more lawyers can do: besides filing lawsuits, reading statutes, and arguing in courts. In particular, “community activism lawyering,” the model on which my new organization (the Community Activism Law Alliance) is based, focuses on how lawyers can create powerful collaborations with activists and social movements to produce more meaningful, greater impact than what they can achieve alone in the courtroom.
OCP: What do you find most challenging and satisfying about pro bono work?
Ho: Obviously the most satisfying is the assistance that we can provide our clients. The moment when our clients realize they’ve won are the moments that keep us going. The most challenging is the sheer magnitude and extent of injustices that exist, and the comparative tininess of resources available with which to fight them: both in terms of financial and human capacity.
OCP: Did your involvement with pro bono work influence or change you long terms goals?
Ho: It definitely affirmed my childhood dream of becoming a public interest attorney, but more importantly, it gave me greater clarity on how to pursue and realize the dream, filling in the details and colors of the vision.