BY DANIEL MACH
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the oldest student-run legal services organization in the country, has elected its new board of directors. 2Ls Lam Ho, of Brockton, MA, and Anna Ferrari, of Los Altos, CA, will be heading the public-interest law firm as President and Executive Director, respectively. Erika Anderson, Heather Byrd, Michael Thompson, Benjamin Sauter, Kristin Small, Alison MacManus, Ruth Bray, and Monee Takla complete the 2007 Board of Directors. The elected board looks forward to continuing and improving a long tradition of practical litigation training and public service. “The Legal Aid Bureau has been the most powerful part of my legal education,” says Ho, who looks forward to leading the Bureau in its capacity as “the best litigation training experience at the law school.”
Since 1914, approximately 20 students are selected annually through a competitive application process during their first year of law school and make a two-year commitment to the organization. Bureau members provide free legal representation to low-income clients in the greater Boston community, handling cases involving a diverse range of practice areas including housing, employment, domestic, and public benefits law, while gaining valuable experience in the courtroom. Over the years, the Bureau has successfully adapted with changing times, and currently serves a dual function of community service and pedagogy. The Bureau is the only clinical program of the three historically honor organizations on campus-the others being the Harvard Law Review and the Board of Student Advisors. Alumni of the Bureau include Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, renowned constitutional scholars Professors Laurence Tribe and Erwin Chemerinsky, as well as numerous partners at prestigious law firms.
The Bureau, Ferrari adds, fills a gap that exists in conventional law education: “Law students are often limited, frighteningly so, in exposure to the most practical aspects of lawyering.” Not so among Bureau members, who handle hundreds of cases from intake to closure each year, and work in coordination with in-house clinical instructors and experts in public interest law. In these cases students regularly protect tenants rights, obtain governmental benefit payments, and resolve legal domestic conflicts with gratifying success. The Bureau provides an important community service while simultaneously giving its members the opportunity to develop professional skills and substantive knowledge in the applicable areas of the law.
Bureau student attorneys are primary case handlers as opposed to assistants working on cases handled principally by clinical instructors. This dynamic, throughout the two-year commitment, allows Bureau members to engage in intense and realistic practice by taking ownership of multiple cases from start to finish. This long-term process has many advantages over 3-4 month clinical programs, which give students only brief snapshots of a few cases. Though the work is often difficult, says former President Kim Harbin, ’07, “there is also the great thrill of winning cases that you initially thought un-winnable.
Development Director Ben Sauter ’08, values another aspect of his work as the Bureau. “It’s not only a chance to practice law,” he points out, “but also an opportunity to run a law firm.” Along those lines, Training Director Kristin Small ’08, outlines plans for “expanding into the wage and hour area, changing our housing practice, and improving our intake procedures.” These expansions in practice will be complemented by more extensive membership recruitment and training protocols that return, Small explains, to the fundamental goal of “improving the student attorney experience.”
The new board will be leading the 94-year-old institution during an exciting time of development. In the last five years, the Bureau has transitioned from an energetic student practice organization into a vibrant center of pedagogy and clinical practice. Besides its relocation to Everett Street, Clinical Professor David Grossman has been appointed to serve as Managing Attorney and Faculty Director. Bureau members have expanded their practice to include affirmative wage and hour cases in federal court, as well as larger impact housing cases representing tenant associations.
In January, several students were treated to an unusual experience when former Bureau president Deval Patrick, ’82, was elected Governor of Massachusetts, and invited
Bureau members to attend his inauguration ball. The event proved an opportunity to take part in a discussion of the Patrick administration’s social agenda for the current term. Later that month Bureau student attorney Julie Park, ’07, and Prof. Grossman spoke before a Patrick – Murray Housing Commission.
We can expect to hear more from the Bureau this year as it enters another period in its long history of providing student legal representation to the Boston community. “I am confident,” asserts Ferrari, “that our new student board can only strengthen our 94 year-old institution.”
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