BY MIRA EDMONDS
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau has elected a new Board of Directors, with second-year student Kimberly Harbin replacing 3L Tina Platto at the helm as President. After 93 years in existence, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau remains a vibrant community of student-attorneys committed to providing free legal services to low-income clients in the areas of housing, benefits, and family law, and for the first time, wage and hour law.
According to Harbin, the new Board is already hard at work on proposals aimed at improving the Bureau’s service to Boston area communities, enhancing the experience of its student members, and strengthening its partnerships with other organizations both on and off campus.
When asked about what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure, Harbin responds, “The Bureau is such a unique institution on campus, but I’m afraid that not enough people know who we are or what we do. I plan on working this year to make sure that students know about the Bureau not just during recruitment season, but before they even come to HLS for their first year.” Underscoring the relevance of Harbin’s goal to the future of the Legal Aid Bureau, the outgoing Board has created the new position of Development Director to assist the President with publicity and fundraising. Joining Harbin on the new Board are 2Ls Jean Kosela (Training Director), Julie Park (Intake and Outreach Director), Paul Pineau (Executive Director), Humayun Khalid (Vice President for Practice Standards), Mira Edmonds (Development Director), Vivian Chum (Secretary/Treasurer), Libby Brown (Vice President for Membership), and Jonathon Bashford (Research and Technology Director).
The selection of the Board is a particularly important moment for the Legal Aid Bureau because, unique among clinical programs at the Law School, the organization is primarily staffed, managed, and driven by students. The Board of Directors works with the Faculty Director, Managing Attorney, Administrative Director, and an Alumni Advisory Board to make the Bureau’s major policy decisions, as well as managing its day-to-day operations. Although it is the oldest student-run legal services organization in the country, the Legal Aid Bureau only recently became a clinical program for which students receive credits, in recognition of the pedagogical import of Bureau activities.
Despite the transformation from student practice organization to clinical program, the Bureau has maintained a level of student leadership that would not be possible without the two-year commitment made by approximately forty-five 2L and 3L members, after having been selected during the competitive process that takes place in the spring of their 1L year.
This crucial distinction between the Legal Aid Bureau and other clinical programs at HLS also provides students with the opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of substantive areas of law and to hone their lawyering skills. In addition, the continuity of representation benefits Bureau clients, many of whose cases are carried by the Bureau for years. Furthermore, because students’ involvement is not limited to representing clients, they have the unusual opportunity of running a non-profit organization. With that aspect of the Bureau experience in mind, Harbin says that she is looking to innovate ways to “promote different learning opportunities for students in their second year at the Bureau. We already have two great examples-our mentoring class and a reading group-in place, but I think the Bureau would really benefit if 3Ls could also pursue more formalized options that focus on community outreach or on non-profit management.”
Other Board members have equally ambitious agendas. Incoming Intake and Outreach Director Julie Park says, “I think the Bureau needs to address the fact that we don’t have very many Asian or Asian-American clients. I hope that we can accomplish this by reaching out to community organizations in Chinatown, as well as on-campus groups that serve different cross-sections of the Chinatown community. I’d also like to reach out to the Vietnamese community in Dorchester. If it turns out that there isn’t a need for our legal services in these communities, that’s great; but if there is an unmet need out there, then I think we should strive to meet it.”
Wage and Hour Practice
Under the leadership of 3L Jose Rodriguez, the Legal Aid Bureau has begun to develop a wage and hour practice in partnership with the Brazilian Immigrant Center (BIC) in Allston. Over the past year, Rodriguez has worked with clinical instructors Rick Glassman and Lee Goldstein, along with a number of other Bureau student-attorneys to lay the groundwork for this new practice area. Working with the BIC to develop common intake guidelines and adopting appropriate cases from BIC, the Bureau has been able to take advantage of BIC’s experience working with low-wage laborers and its ties to the Brazilian community, while taking on cases that BIC otherwise could not. The result is a productive, streamlined partnership that benefits both organizations.
HLAB student-attorneys are already representing several plaintiffs who have wage and hour claims against employers. Incoming Wage & Hour Cohort Leader and 2L Kate Buzicky says, “We’ve been working hard to expand our practice into areas that serve the Boston area, and especially working people. This new set of cases is a first step toward building a strong wage and hour practice for the Legal Aid Bureau, and we hope that we will assist workers with their claims successfully for years to come.” Buzicky also hopes that the Bureau will be able to recruit more Portuguese-speaking students to join the organization, and the wage & hour practice area in particular.
The new Board looks forward to the challenge of expanding this exciting new practice area, while continuing to strengthen the Bureau’s service to its clientele and improving the student experience over the next year. As recruitment gets underway during the next few weeks, interested 1Ls should look out for the announcement of information sessions, where they can learn more about what the Bureau has to offer.