BY KAREN TENENBAUM
On January 31, Jeanne Charn stepped down as the director of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center after more than 30 years of service to Harvard Law School. She and her late husband, Gary Bellow, created Harvard’s clinical program from the ground up, and tested out several forms of clinical education before settling on the practice center as we know it today.
Charn and Bellow introduced the “rounds model” to clinical education: the LSC functions as a teaching hospital does and students learn to practice from presenting complex cases to each other for advice and insight, after the fashion of medical grand rounds.
Harvard’s clinical education was in its most nascent stages when Charn herself was a student here. (She graduated in 1970.) The Johnson Administration had just created the Office of Economic Opportunity (O.E.O.) – an anti-poverty program – and an O.E.O. grant made possible student externships at a community law office on Broadway. “[At that time,] the ethos of legal aid groups was service, not about a systemic issue,” Charn said. When Charn graduated, she took a job at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in Boston, bringing with her the substantial tenant advocacy caseload she had developed as a student.
In 1972, 28-year old Charn received an offer from Harvard to become the Assistant Dean for Clinical Programs. She and Bellow immediately set out to develop a new model of clinical education. Their first experiment was to place students in area legal aid offices, supervised by working attorneys there. This venture ran aground, because the attorneys were struggling under their own caseloads and unable to find the time to properly teach and supervise the students.
Next, Charn and Bellow tried a program in which HLS granted fellowships to attorneys who would supervise students in legal aid placements and at the same time earn an LLM at Harvard. Charn abandoned this approach as well. The fellows had difficulty balancing their two roles.
Finally, in 1978, Charn and Bellow created the Legal Services Institute, an intense version of what the LSC is today. 24 students dedicated their entire third years to practice in a legal aid office in which all the attorneys were faculty. The students had class for 8 hours/week and worked another 20 with clients.
Under Charn’s leadership, Harvard’s clinical program shepherded one of Massachusetts’ most precedential housing cases. In 1974, the MA Supreme Judicial Court gave private parties the right to sue landlords to enforce the state sanitary code. (Until then, only state officials could bring action). Tenants, however, rarely litigated such suits, out of fear and for lack of precedent to invoke.
In settlements, they usually agreed to just “a 3-month move out and waiver of back rent,” Charn related. Charn, Bellow, and the Institute looked around for a case that would decisively alter Massachusetts housing litigation. They found their landlord in Nick Haddad, a Boston slumlord notorious for egregious code violations and the favors he would do for tenants to keep them from suing. “The Court threw the book at him,” Charn said. After trebling and multiplying to the limit of the law, and adding in fees and interest, the court awarded the tenant more than $60,000. Haddad, likewise refusing to settle in subsequent cases, lost $1.5 million all told. The final check was divvied up last year.
The clinical program’s litigation changed the terms of the landlord-tenant relationship in Massachusetts. Charn recalls that in court mediations after Haddad, mediators would ask Harvard advocates, “‘Do you mind if I speak with the other side for a minute?’ and would say [to the landlord], “‘Do you know who you’re up against here?'” The Haddad cases gave tenants important credibility in refusing to settle. “That was exactly what we wanted,” Charn said. “We wanted a benchmark for landlords who weren’t as mean or rich, up-and-coming landlords who just wanted to make a buck.”
Although Charn’s official involvement with the LSC is at a close, she continues to teach at Harvard, offering Introduction to Trial advocacy, and probably Housing Law and Policy with Duncan Kennedy in 2006-7.
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