HLS to open new pro bono office

BY KRISTEN NELSON

Lisa Dealy, who previously oversaw the LIPP program, has been appointed to head the new office.

A Harvard Law School education has always demanded a hefty amount of academic face time in the form of required first-year courses and various other graduation mandates. These traditional obligations, in place for generations, guarantee that students will spend long hours thinking about law in the abstract — in the classroom, textbooks and cases, and on exams.

This year, however, a new requirement is in place designed to ensure that students will make a service-oriented connection between the law studied in the classroom and the law practiced in the real world. The Law School’s new mandatory Pro Bono Service Program, headed by former LIPP and Summer Public Interest Funding Director Lisa Dealy, will require students to undertake 40 hours of uncompensated public interest work as a prerequisite for graduation. Though it does not apply to current 2Ls and 3Ls, the pro bono requirement does apply to the class of 2005 and generations of HLS students to come.

An Idea is Born

“The notion for a mandatory pro bono requirement was born during discussions within the faculty-student Connections to Practice Committee, a component of the larger strategic planning process begun by HLS several years ago in efforts to reflect on and improve the Law School as an institution,” said Professor Andrew Kaufman. The process resulted in substantial changes in the 1L academic experience beginning with the class of 2004, and also serves as the basis for current Law School fund-raising efforts.

The Connections to Practice Committee saw the planning process as an opportunity for the Law School to instill in its students a sense of professional values, including the value of pro bono service. “The requirement is intended to introduce students into a habit of thinking of part of their time being pro bono time, which is a habit we think they should continue for their lives,” explained Dean of the J.D. Program Todd Rakoff, who served on the Steering Committee for the Strategic Planning Process.

The Committee developed the proposal for over a year before submitting it for a vote to the entire faculty. Rakoff said there was some initial opposition to the requirement within the Strategic Planning Committee as well as among the faculty as a whole. “The strongest argument against the proposal was that the Law School shouldn’t force people to do good,” he explained. “Those who were opposed were in favor of having the School do things to increase the number of voluntary pro bono opportunities, but didn’t want it to be mandatory.”

On the other hand, those in favor of the program felt that a mandatory requirement was legitimate because of its educational value as well as the broader message it conveyed to students as to the importance of contributing to the public good. Ultimately, when the vote was taken, the proposal passed comfortably, with “only a half dozen negative votes,” Kaufman said.

A National Trend

In adopting the mandatory pro bono requirement, the Law School joins the ranks of fifteen law schools nationwide requiring pro bono service of graduates, including the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Law Schools, which have had successful and well-respected pro bono programs in place since the late 1980s and early 1990s, respectively.

There is also evidence that the Law School’s adoption of the requirement will serve as an impetus for other schools. The University of Denver passed a mandatory pro bono requirement citing the HLS proposal as a model. Stanford Law School also recently passed a similar requirement and is in the planning stages of implementation.

The Search for a Director

The passage of the pro bono requirement left the Administration searching for the perfect candidate to administer the program. The Hiring Committee, which included Rakoff, Kaufman, several faculty members and Director of the Office of Public Interest Advising Alexa Shabecoff, interviewed well over a hundred applicants for the job. Applicants came from both the public and private sectors, encompassing a wide range of impressive professional and academic backgrounds.

However, the committee unanimously thought Dealy, Director of LIPP and Summer Public Interest Funding, was the person most suited to the task of implementing the new program. “We were lucky she was interested in running the program. She has the experience and the commitment to the program that is needed, and she knows how to get along with all the people who will be involved, including students, practicing lawyers and their organizations, faculty and administration,” Kaufman noted.

Shabecoff said the Pro Bono Program is “in great hands. Lisa already has a demonstrated track record in her former positions as running administrative programs in an innovative and student-friendly way.”

Since taking the helm in June, Dealy has focused on getting the office up and running by February, when it will begin servicing 1Ls. She says she has spent a good deal of time “researching opportunities for students, networking and talking to those in my position at other schools.” In addition, she has hired a full-time staff assistant and is poised to move into the program’s new office space in Gannett House, which became available when the Legal Aid Bureau relocated to Baker House this fall.

Fulfilling the Requirement

As Director, Dealy will facilitate the administration of the program, a primary component of which will be advising students how to fulfill their pro bono requirement in a way most satisfying to them. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, provided the work students do fits a broad definition of pro bono work and is considered legal rather than clerical or purely academic.

For example, those who enroll in a clinical program, participate in a student practice organization such as the Tenant Advocacy Project or Harvard Defenders, become involved in a student service organization like the Battered Women’s Advocacy Project, or spend a summer working at a public interest organization will likely fulfill the requirement.

In addition, a primary focus of the Pro Bono Service Program will be to offer placements with Boston-area organizations. These placement could be specifically tailored to meet the pro bono requirement for students who do not naturally satisfy the requirement through participation in other activities. Dealy said she is focusing on finding pro bono opportunities for students of all ideologies and dispositions, including those more inclined to pursue private sector work upon graduation. Such placements may be as diverse as working at a government agency, performing pro bono service at a law firm (as long as it is uncompensated), or interning in the general counsel office of a hospital or school.

The decision to allow clinical programs to count toward the requirement was based on the logical overlap of a pedagogical, service-oriented experience with the requirement, as well as a desire not to hurt enrollment in clinical programs, Dealy said. The reasoning behind including summer public interest experiences in the definition of the requirement was that students are grossly “undercompensated” for summer work, particularly compared to lucrative law firm salaries, many times earning just enough from summer public interest funding to cover living expenses.

Though not required, faculty members are encouraged to perform a similar amount of pro bono activity to that required of students in their fields of expertise.

To Dealy, the broad range of experiences that count towards the requirement is geared so that students can gain exposure to the wide range of ways in which pro bono service can be performed. “My hope is that students will really start thinking about what kind of work appeals to them early on, and will have the flexibility to tail
or their fulfillment of the pro bono requirement to suit their individual interests,” she said.

Between one-half and two-thirds of HLS students may already be meeting the pro bono requirement through their participation in student practice organizations, clinical programs or summer work, according to the proposal submitted to the faculty by the Connections to Practice Committee.

It is also estimated that many students will vastly exceed the number of required pro bono hours. “Students’ transcripts will have a statement that they have fulfilled their mandatory pro bono hours, but will also have a space indicating the number of voluntary pro bono hours completed above and beyond the minimum,” said Dealy. Her hope is to design some sort of recognition dinner or award ceremony for students who exceed the number of required hours by a certain (still to be determined) amount.

Working Closely with OPIA

Both Dealy and Shabecoff anticipate their offices will work closely with one another to complement each other’s services. “We already have a great deal of resources — books, databases and institutional knowledge — that can help students find good placements that fit their interests,” explained Shabecoff. “I am sure we will send people back and forth constantly.”

Unfortunately, since the two offices will be located on opposite ends of campus, this may be rather inconvenient for students seeking to benefit from both offices. “It will awkward to be so far away from OPIA [when we move to Gannett House],” said Dealy.

Dealy sees the two offices as sharing a common, yet complementary mission. “I see OPIA as more of a national expert on public service opportunities, whereas the Pro Bono Service Program will provide more local expertise,” she said. “I also see the Pro Bono office as adding a connection between Harvard and the local community.”

True to the office’s local focus, the Pro Bono Service Program will take over a small voluntary pro bono program called Providing Unpaid Legal Services (PULSE), formerly administered by OPIA. Through PULSE, students could find volunteer placements with a number of Boston area nonprofits willing to host a law student intern. Shabecoff noted that because of OPIA’s many other services to students, keeping track of PULSE placements and feedback often got lost in the shuffle. OPIA has turned over PULSE placements to Dealy, who will use them as a core from which to build other placements.

1L Reactions

Some 1Ls expressed enthusiasm about their new requirement. “I think it will be a fantastic boost to the HLS community,” said 1L Jesse Tampio. “It could provide a great opportunity for some people to experience the kinds of legal work where the compensation comes from something often more rewarding than money.” One-L Mike Bloch agreed. “Hopefully the requirement will have the added bonus of turning more students on to the idea of pursuing a career in public interest after graduation.”

Ultimately, Dealy sees the new program as something students will learn to live with, if not love. “To me, this is a very valuable component of the law school curriculum,” she said. “Not everyone will love it, just like not everyone will love contracts or property, but providing pro bono service is an important responsibility of being a lawyer.”

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