Legal Aid Bureau Radically Changes Selection Competition


The newly elected Board of Directors for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau has voted to overhaul its annual selection competition for the incoming 2007-08 Bureau class. The Board has decided to abandon the traditional blind process to one that will take into account applicants’ experiences, skills, and investment in the 94 year-old institution. The competition for the approximately 25 positions at the Bureau will now consist of (1) an essay portion which requires case analysis of a factual pattern similar to typical cases handled by the Bureau, (2) a cover letter, (3) a resume, and (4) an interview for finalists. The application process will consist of two rounds. In the first round, applicants will submit their essay, cover letter, and resume. Each applicant’s case analysis will be graded blindly by several Bureau members and given a composite score. The selection committee will review the scores for each applicant in conjunction with her cover letter and resume, from which a group of finalists will be selected. In the second round, each finalist will participate in a 20 minute interview that will be conducted by two Bureau members.

The application change is a radical move for the Bureau, which has used a blind competition for most of its long history. Lam Ho, President of the Bureau, remarked that the Board of Directors was “concerned with the limitations involved in adequately identifying the skills and experiences that would contribute to an applicant’s potential success as an attorney at the Bureau with a completely blind process.” He continued that the board “was positive this wouldn’t interfere with the Bureau’s commitment to remain as objective as possible since subjectivity is already inherent in the blind grading of applications.” The Bureau mandates that all of its members are involved with the selection process to ensure a variety of perspectives.

Ho noted that the Bureau looks for a diverse array of students, including those with backgrounds applicable to its work and also those who are interested in getting a completely new experience. “We are not looking for a certain type of person; instead we want people who would contribute to the continuing success of the Bureau.” This is evidenced by the application that allows those with and without experience to compete on the same level. Students with applicable experiences are given the opportunity to emphasize these experiences through the resume portion. Students who have not done anything related to Bureau work have opportunity to express their interest through the cover letter portion.

Because the Bureau is student-run, it has always been a facilitator of transformation as the varying preferences of new generations of students consistently foster change and development of Bureau policies. In fact, from 1929 until 1969, Bureau members were selected solely based on grades. In 1969, the Bureau was forced to abandon their grades competition when the law school formed a “Special Committee on Examinations, Grading, and Related Matters” headed by Professor Robert Keeton. The Keeton Committee recommended that the honorary status of the Legal Aid Bureau, the Law Review, and Board of Student Advisors be ended. As a result, the administration refused to allow the Bureau to use the rank list. Since then, the Bureau has used a blind application process.

Students were given over two weeks to complete their applications, which are due this week. The Bureau will then evaluate them based on the new system.

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