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. Mira Edmonds, HLS ’07, is a Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School. At HLS, she completed 2,114 hours of pro bono work with the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). Please read the interview with Mira below.
OCP: Why did you choose to study law and what sparked your interest in pro bono work?
Edmonds: I decided to study law because it seemed like many of the people I admired as social change agents were lawyers and the practice of law seemed like one of the best ways to fight for justice. I can’t exactly say what sparked my interest in pro bono work since that is redundant with my interest in law. It never occurred to me that I would work for a client who could afford to pay me. I was only ever interested in representing people who would not be able to pay me because they would be the ones who would most need my services.
OCP: What were your biggest learning experiences at HLS?
Edmonds: I was fortunate to have extraordinary mentors and teachers both during my summer internships and during my two years as a student-attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. I probably learned the most from my mistakes — things I did which still make me blush, but which my clinical supervisors helped me to reflect upon and learn from. Above all, my clinical experience, which is where I did most of my pro bono hours, taught me how to be self-reflective about my practice, so that no experience went wasted. In any situation, whether I performed well or performed poorly, I was asked to reflect on how I could have done better.
OCP: What do you find most challenging and satisfying about pro bono work?
Edmonds: Working with clients! Working with clients is so often the most challenging part of pro bono work, particularly in the work I have chosen to do, because so many of them have had really rotten luck in life and consequently assume that the system is going to give them yet another raw deal, and unfortunately, I am often seen as part of that system. But the opportunity to improve a client’s life by some modest modicum, or even to help them to turn it around in some cases, is so satisfying.
OCP: Did your involvement with pro bono work influence or change you long terms goals?
Edmonds: I wouldn’t say my pro bono work changed my long term goals, so much as fortifying them. I came into law school wanting to do public interest work with every ounce of my being, and yet the pressure to go to a firm is so strong that even I participated in on-campus interviewing. The availability of summer funding from HLS enabled me to turn down the firm offers I received and spend my second summer at a public defender office instead, which is the field I entered upon graduation. I certainly could not have imagined that career, or been prepared for it, without that summer experience. And my experience at HLAB was so influential that I am now doing a clinical teaching fellowship through which I hope to teach and mentor and inspire a new generation of law students the way my clinical instructors at the Bureau did for me.