BY LAURA KAPLAN
A new Board of Directors began their tenure this week at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, a student-run legal services office and two-year clinical program. The Bureau currently consists of forty-four 2Ls and 3Ls who provide free legal services to low-income people in Middlesex and Suffolk counties. Bureau members work in a variety of practice areas, including housing, domestic relations, and public benefits law. They handle all aspects of their cases, from interviewing clients, talking to opposing counsel, and drafting pleadings, to arguing in state court, federal court, and administrative hearings. Bureau members are selected through a competitive application process during the spring of their 1L year and make a two-year commitment to the organization.
During elections held January 17, Bureau members selected Tina Platto ’06 to succeed Charlotte Sanders ’05 as President of the organization. Platto ran on a platform that emphasized maintaining the high quality of the Bureau’s legal practice and the depth of its clinical education opportunities. While other HLS clinical programs offer practical legal instruction, the Bureau’s unique two-year membership requirement allows student attorneys to develop deeper relationships with clients and to work on cases that span several semesters.
Platto is eager to take on the responsibilities of Bureau President. “After I joined the Bureau, my law school experience went from only okay to incredible. I love the fact that I sit in class, walk a couple hundred feet to the Bureau, and then actually practice law. Being on the Board means doing more of what I came to law school to do-spending time with incredibly dedicated people, learning how to be an effective and ethical lawyer, and doing meaningful work in my community,” she said.
Bureau members elected Stephanie Coon ’06 to take over the Executive Director position. As E.D., Coon will coordinate the daily operations of the organization, monitoring student attorneys as they work with the managing attorney, administrative director, and clinical instructors to run every aspect of the Bureau. Coon is excited about her new role, “From this side of things, I’ll get to see how the Bureau interacts with the local community, how cases flow through our office and end up on individual student attorneys’ dockets, and how a legal services office operates on a daily basis.”
Both Platto and Coon plan to work with other new Board members to maintain the unique character of the Bureau while adopting policies that enhance the Bureau’s relationships with the communities it serves and with the Law School. Coon explained her motivation, “There’s nothing else like the Bureau on campus. We’re getting this phenomenal and unique hands-on education in the law, in negotiations, in courtroom presence and demeanor, in case management, and in client relationship. Our clients give us such enormous responsibility and faith, and we owe so much to them in return.”
The new Board also includes Vice President for Practice Standards Liz Arora, Vice President for Membership Nisha Agarwal, Training Director Sanetta Ponton, Intake Director Chris Grohman, Research and Technology Director Devika Kornbacher, Outreach Director Laura Kaplan, and Secretary/Treasurer Anand Swaminathan, all 2Ls.