Letters: Defending OPIA, clarifying torture, and HLS parents

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OPIA Director defends Associate Director hiring process

I am writing to address a major error in your article and related editorial about OPIA’s staffing. The article makes it sound as though 1Ls will face waits as bad as or worse than last year. This is not true.

As I told the author of the article, I had already taken steps to try to avoid the waits of last year. We have hired additional part time staff to ensure that 1Ls will have quick access to public interest advising appointments. It is true that our hiring process for the Assistant Director has taken a long time because we want to be sure we select the right candidate; but it should not mean 1Ls will have trouble getting advising appointments with our office.

This past summer, I hired two new part-time attorney advisers for our “peak” season which starts after November 1. In fact, the eight attorney advisers your author refers to in the article include these two additional attorney advisers. Just yesterday, after learning that there would be additional office space available to OPIA so that I would have space to accommodate new people, I hired a third new part-time adviser. I have taken these steps even though it means more management and oversight for me and more logistical considerations for the rest of our staff (since everyone part-time must share offices, calendars, etc.), just so that first year students will be able to have as easy access as possible to public interest advising. We are even arranging for some of the advising to be done in the evenings to provide a broader array of options.

Because of the boom nature of career advising for 1Ls (there tends to be a mad rush after November 1st), additional part-time advisers would have been necessary even if we had hired an Assistant Director already. One new person – especially one who would have to devote some time to the other work of our office such as running events – would not be able to provide enough advising slots to accommodate the increased demand for public interest advising. Therefore, I staffed up for this period, even if we are able to bring an Assistant Director on board by November 1. While I cannot predict the amount of student demand this year, I think you do a great disservice to 1L anxiety by not accurately noting the steps we have taken this year to provide increased advising opportunities to 1Ls.

I do want to also note that even last year, despite some resource constraints, we added advising and events to meet the increased demand for public interest advising. I had already added one more part time adviser last year. We had additional group job search strategy sessions. For the first time, we even held one job search session in the Spring for to reach those who wanted but did not get a law firm job. One-Ls and 2Ls were very successful in landing public interest jobs – over 300 HLS students worked a full summer of public interest work this past year, an HLS record.

Finally, I want to assure you that we are not “dallying”. No one could possibly want this new hire as much as me. We’ve moved as fast as we could with the hiring process while simultaneously trying to run programs, publish books and advise 2Ls, 3Ls and alums with the existing staff. We hope to have the Assistant Director in place soon but – as everyone has advised me – we do not want to compromise just to have a live body in place. I am trying hard to balance the immediate needs of this year’s class against the long term need of the school to have the right person in the Assistant Director position.

I hope that you will correct The RECORD and tell the 1Ls that they do not have to worry: I have worked to make sure that we have sufficient advisers in place for 1L advising season.

– Alexa ShabecoffDirector, OPIA

Students defend OPIA director

Last week’s paper unfairly criticized the Office of Public Interest Advising. The language of the article detailing OPIA’s search for an Associate Director, the tone of the editorial and the inclusion of an ill-informed op-ed piece on OPIA’s attitude about corporate culture reveal a perplexing hostility towards one of the most beloved administrative offices on campus.

Anyone who has had contact with OPIA knows how deeply Director Alexa Shabecoff and her staff care about students. Despite cramped quarters and limited resources, the OPIA staff bends over backwards to offer unparalleled advising services. On a consistent basis, the staff members of OPIA have demonstrated commitment and dedication to students on not only a professional but also a highly personal level. OPIA staff members stay late, sacrificing time with their families, to hold special advising sessions and host public interest events and panels. They open their homes to students for public interest potlucks.

To characterize Alexa’s actions in searching for an Associate Director as “dallying” is counterintuitive. Why, after fighting so hard to get the funding for this much-needed position, would she simply drag her feet to be picky at the expense of the students to whom she is so dedicated? The difficulty in finding an Associate Director who can best serve students’ needs should not be so flippantly dismissed. Most students would gladly wait for the right candidate to come along rather than have a warm, barely-adequate body filling the position.

In addition, Adam White’s op-ed characterizing OPIA’s attitude toward firms is as antagonistic as it is inaccurate. OPIA gives candid and supportive advice to students interested in trying out a firm and has a nuanced understanding of how to integrate private sector and public interest work. It helps coordinate the Pro Bono Panel, and has authored a leading Pro Bono Guide. The staff at OPIA knows that career choices are difficult and personal. To suggest that the office’s ethos simply polarizes careers into public good and private evil is absurd.

We hope that in the future, the Record will strive to more accurately characterize this invaluable and vital resource at Harvard Law School.

– Adam Stofsky, 2L

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