BY MIKE WISER
On Wednesday evening the law school honored Earl Phalen ’93 and Aaron Bartley ’01 by presenting them with the Gary Bellow Public Service Award. The two winners were selected by 300 students from a field of ten candidates. Though the night was meant to honor the recipients, the first annual presentation also offered a chance to remember Prof. Gary Bellow ’60, the founder of the Harvard’s clinical program, who died in April of last year.
Phalen received a plaque and check for $500, for his work with the B.E.L.L. Foundation (Building Enterprises for Learning and Living), a group which tutors and mentors youth in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He became involved in the project when he accepted the position of co-chair of the Community affairs Committee of the Harvard Black Law Students Association (BLSA). The project originated in Boston and grew from there. During his 3L year the B.E.L.L. foundation was established and in only a few years it expanded to the $4.6 million non-profit with 350 staff members it is today. While that is tremendous growth by any standard, Phalen said that when you hope to serve 100,000 but only serve 1,000 it feels like the growth is minimal.
Phalen told the RECORD that receiving the Bellow Award was “tremendous” and that he was “absolutely honored and humbled.”
Bartley received the Bellow Award for his work with Harvard’s Living Wage Campaign and the HLS Labor Law Project. While most students heard about the Living Wage Campaign when it organized a sit-in of the University’s administration offices, Bartley had been involved in the campaign for years. The campaign was designed to ensure that Harvard employees were paid a minimum wage that allowed them a decent lifestyle based on the cost of living in the Boston-Cambridge area. A University committee, which includes students, is now reexamining the issue of Harvard employee wages as a result of the campaign. After he graduated, Bartley went on to work as a union organizer here in Boston.
The award itself was the idea of Andy Michaelson ’02, who realized last year that there wasn’t a way for students to discover the public interest work done by their colleagues and recent alumni. Paul Krieger, who was on the selection committee, said that the award’s power lies in its ability to “promote these paths as viable and important career options and recognize people who do not normally get attention from the HLS student body.”
Michaelson felt that there weren’t any award ceremonies for such work that sought input of the entire student body.
“The idea with the Bellow Award was to really get students involved in the award process,” he said.
Starting with Catalyst, Michaelson took the idea to other groups like the Law School Counsel, BLSA and HL Central, who all pledged to support the project.
However, the award needed more than just support; it needed money. Financing came primarily from the Clinical Program, but HL Central and other student groups also contributed. While the administration has been nominally supportive, Michaelson described the support as “lukewarm at best.”
Both Michaelson and Krieger emphasized that they didn’t want the awards to be perceived as advocating “liberal” public interest. Michaelson said that students from across the political spectrum were involved in the process.
“I didn’t want the award to be dismissed on campus as a left-wing, public-interest thing,” he told the RECORD. He also pointed out that by naming the award after Professor Bellow they would emphasize his approach to community work, which “cut across traditional lines.”
After securing the support of a variety of groups, the award committee began the difficult process of narrowing down the field of candidates whom the student body would eventually vote for. Students, faculty and staff ended up nominating 35 students and alumni. Krieger said that the committee looked for candidates who had shown an innovative approach to lawyering that demonstrated their commitment to social justice. The committee whittled the field down to five current students and five recent alumni. Then the committee worked with the nominees to write brief biographies that were read by students who voted for the winners.
Michaelson said that he was encouraged by the 300-person turn out and called the elections “very successful.” He also added: “The finalists were just incredible.”
Andy Michaelson said that the idea of naming the award after the late Prof. Bellow had been around since early on. Bellow’s humor and charisma, he said, helped to disarm potential critics, enabling him to unify people from across the political spectrum behind Harvard Law School’s Clinical Program.
Two years after he graduated from law school, Bellow spent three years working at the District of Columbia Public Defender Service. The New York Times said he said he came to the realization that his Harvard education had not prepared him for the work that he was doing.
“We discovered that the best legal education Am-erica has to offer didn’t teach us how to get someone out of a cell block. We figured it out ourselves and developed our own learning and teaching techniques,” he said.
But the clinical program for Professor Bellow was not intended merely to teach students how to practice law. He also spoke of a “service dividend” that the school provided to the community by offering legal services to thousands of poor clients each year. Prof. Bellow was at HLS during the dramatic expansion in its clinical program, and with his wife, Lecturer Jeanne Charn, he began the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. Andy Michaelson said that he and the Bellow Award Committee worked with Charn to ensure that award remained true to his memory.
Earl Phalen insisted that the work he has done is “nothing on the scale, scope or impact of the life or Prof. Bellow.” He added that the socially conscious, entrepreneurial sprit that motivated Prof. Bellow’s work was the same spirit that inspired the B.E.L.L. Foundation and the Bellow award itself.