BY JEN CANNISTRA
Charlotte Sanders, a second year student from White Stone, Virginia, began her tenure this week as president of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, taking the reins from 3L Susan Rohol. Founded in 1913 and incorporated in 1914, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is the oldest student-run legal services office in the nation. The Bureau is made up of approximately forty-five 2L and 3L student members, who are selected through a competitive process during the spring of their first year. They litigate in state courts, federal courts and administrative agencies in practice areas such as housing, benefits and family law. Student attorneys at the Bureau provide free legal services to low-income individuals in Middlesex and Suffolk counties. “I am honored,” says Sanders, “to be able to carry on the Bureau’s tradition of student leadership, high quality client representation and hands-on legal experience.”
Sanders, a 2000 graduate of Columbia University and a 1999 Truman Scholar, has always aspired to be an advocate for progressive change and social justice. Following internships at the Legal Aid Society in New York City and the Department of Justice Office of Policy Development during college, Sanders spent two years prior to law school working for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in its Equal Employment Opportunity Project. Sanders spent last summer interning in the Farmworker Division of the Georgia Legal Services Program in Atlanta, and she will intern at the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, a division of Florida Legal Services, and the Atlanta Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund this summer.
Sanders says that she knew she wanted to join the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau before even arriving in Cambridge. “I plan to go into legal services work as my career, and the Bureau provides the perfect opportunity to get an early start.” She also enjoys the practical skills that the Bureau offers. “I have had the opportunity to interview clients in Spanish, formulate a theory of the case, conduct discovery, argue motions and cross-examine witnesses.” But Sanders was primarily drawn by the chance for contact with the “outside world” beyond HLS. “The Bureau allows all of its members the opportunity to look beyond the Law School to problems of poverty and inequality and do what we can to address them.”
As President, Sanders oversees the Board of Directors, sits on the Intake and Diversity Committees, works with the Law School administration and faculty and helps coordinate policy initiatives including expansion into test case areas such as special education, workers’ rights and consumer law. Sanders also hopes to increase alumni involvement at the Bureau through a mentoring system and an advisory board. She looks forward to carrying on the excellent work of the previous student board and working with the new board to strengthen the Bureau’s ties to the surrounding communities where their clients live and work. “These types of connections are important not only for the Bureau – to better inform our student attorneys about their clients’ communities – but also for the Law School as a whole. The Bureau is a very important link between ‘town and gown,’ and I hope to strengthen that link.”
Sanders says that working with her peers at the Bureau has been her most rewarding Law School experience. Her colleagues seem equally happy to have her. As 2L Jill Tauber notes, “Charlotte is a natural leader. She is one of those rare people who you meet and automatically know that they are really going to make a difference in the world. The Bureau is lucky to have her.” The new Board also includes Vice President for Practice Standards Paul Serritella, Vice President for Membership Jennifer Cannistra, Executive Director Mercedes Davis, Secretary/Treasurer Rachel Labush, Research and Technology Director Ron Lazebnik, Intake Director Ommeed Sathe, Training Director Veena Iyer, and Outreach Director Jill Tauber, all 2Ls.
Sanders looks forward to working with her fellow Bureau members in the upcoming year. “The Bureau is an amazing community of talented, committed student members, staff and clinical instructors. Their hard work is what makes the Bureau as good as it is, and what makes me so excited to be President.” She also highlights that the Bureau is a unique organization, both at the Law School and nationwide, because it is a clinical program that provides excellent training to its members while being completely student-run. “The students both manage the office and shape the office policy. There is truly no other experience like it.”