Wednesday, June 27, 2018
This article is from the summer 2018 Harvard Law Bulletin and profiles four different clinical programs that offer students a great experiential legal experience.
Nearly 40 years ago, Harvard Law School pioneers in clinical education Gary Bellow ’60 and Jeanne Charn ’70 launched the school’s Legal Services Center in a house in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. In its earliest incarnation, 24 students were enrolled.
Bellow passed away in 2000, but before that, he and Charn, now a senior lecturer on law at HLS, established the Legal Services Center in a commodious complex in Jamaica Plain. Today, more than 82 percent of the HLS Class of 2018 have participated in at least one clinic and 43 percent participated in two or more. The WilmerHale Legal Services Center, as it is now known, and the clinical wing of the newer WCC building on campus buzz with the creativity and commitment of students, faculty, and clients.
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. They may choose domestic or international projects and focus on direct services, policy, litigation, or transactional work. Opportunities range from representing military veterans in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, to examining the First Amendment implications of online communications in the Cyberlaw Clinic, to working with the Navajo Nation through the Food Law and Policy Clinic.
“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. A significant number of alumni from the International Human Rights Clinic have gone on to become leaders in human rights organizations, for example, and other clinics demonstrate similar influence.
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.
While J.D. students are required to work 50 pro bono hours before graduation, the Class of 2018 put in 376,532 pro bono hours, an average of 637 hours per student. Since 2005, HLS students have provided 4.475 million hours of pro bono legal services to people in need.
“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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