Legal Services Center Budget Cut By $200K

BY ERIN ARCHERD

Last Friday, the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center laid off two staff members and scaled down the work of another as part of a $200,000 budget cut to the program. The 10% reduction in LSC funding comes despite a 28% overall increase in the funding for clinical programs as a whole at Harvard Law School.

Dean Kagan characterized the cuts to the LSC as called for by efficient management of the overall clinical budget and said they were in response to diminishing student interest in certain clinics at the center. She claimed there would be no reduction in the number of students the Center could accommodate, and that the Art Law and Unemployment clinics that were cut as a result of the lost funds had 5 or fewer participants this past year.

“With respect to every program we look where we can do as well or better with fewer dollars,” said Kagan. “We felt there was an opportunity to do that at LSC… At least as many, or more, students will be at the LSC. We’ve worked closely with them to be geared toward where there’s student interest.”

Brian Price, Director of the LSC, suggested that the reduced funding may allow the law school to direct that money toward other clinical programs. However, Lisa Dealy, Director of Clinical & Pro Bono Programs, said that the money was not going directly to any specific clinical programs and that the money would be going into HLS unrestricted funds. She viewed the cut as an issue of funding equity across clinics.

“The Dean has to make tough decisions,” said Price. “She’s supportive of clinical programs in general and she’s making an effort to diversify the clinical programs to address student interest.”

The budget cuts should not be seen as a statement about the quality of the LSC, Dealy emphasized.

“LSC is a phenomenal legal services/clinical program, with great lawyers and students who uniformly love their experience there,” said Dealy. “The Center has grown over time and done a great job at evolving to changing client needs and adopting new practice areas.”

She said that the Clinical Office would work to find placements for those who will no longer be able to take their program of choice at the LSC.

“If there are students displaced, we will try to accommodate them through the independent clinical program, e.g. the Art Law placements at the Center will not be available through the curriculum, so students who want to do Art Law can set up independent clinical work in that area,” explained Dealy.

Students interested in doing unemployment work could apply to the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, said Price. This effectively excludes all current 1Ls and 2Ls since applications to HLAB are only accepted during a student’s first year and the application deadline has already passed.

Among those who lost their jobs at the LSC were Business Manager Mary Skahen – a mother of two and long-time Jamaica Plain resident who had been with the Center since 1999 – and part-time Clinical Instructor Andy Kisseloff, who led the unemployment law clinical and joined the Center in 2000. Cyndi Monteiro, a Clinical Instructor/Paralegal in the Family and Children’s Law unit, will move from an 80% to a 60% time schedule. Monteiro founded the Center’s family mediation program and has been at the LSC since 1979.

Many HLS students were disappointed by the news. “I’m very shocked by the budget cut,” said 3L Rachel Lu, a former LSC student. “HLS devotes a lot of time and money [to] building a cocoon of privilege and comfort that shields us from the realities of life in the communities around Boston. A few years down the line, when we think about our law school experience, we probably won’t remember the flat-panel televisions in the hallways, but we will remember the real people we met through our clinical experiences. I sincerely hope Dean Kagan reconsiders the decision.”

Students of the affected instructors were eager to praise the instructors’ contributions to the Center.

“Cyndi has been a wonderful mentor to me,” said 3L Bill Gordon. “Due to her instruction I have discovered many interests that would have been impossible to find in the classroom alone. I will forever be appreciative of the ways the [the Center] will make me a better lawyer, leader and citizen.”

“The unemployment clinic gave me great opportunities,” said 2L Alison Asarnow. “Andy gave me an incredible amount of one-on-one guidance. I can’t believe how much I learned through this clinic, and I’m saddened to learn that no one will be able to have this opportunity next year.”

“[Andy] was an excellent clinical mentor, skilled in balancing supervision with independence,” said 3L Josh Kreamer. “Because unemployment compensation is a narrow practice area, I was able to intensely focus on a few central issues, and as a result, I learned more about the real world practice in this field than any other I have studied in law school.”

LSC clinical instructors also commented on the changes in service. “It will be more difficult now for the Center to comprehensively represent clients facing loss of employment, although such holistic lawyering is a hallmark of our service model, pioneered at the Legal Services Center, and since then adopted by other leading clinical programs including Stanford’s Community Law Clinic,” said Administrative/Disability Clinical Instructor Julie McCormack, who has worked closely with Kisseloff on employment law matters.

She also mentioned the loss of Kisseloff and Skahen’s Spanish-language skills. “Mary and Andy, who speak Spanish, have offered access for our Spanish-speaking clients and are role models for bilingual and bicultural students,” said McCormack.

Clinical Instructor Lisa Sheehy of the Estate Planning Unit regretted the loss of an “experienced practitioner and clinical teacher” in Kisseloff and praised Skahen’s contributions to the Center.

“For years, Mary Skahen has been a compassionate presence for our clients and, as part of the Center’s efficient operations team, has freed instructors to teach students and represent clients,” said Sheehy. “Although I’m very disappointed by this budget cut, I believe the Center is a tremendously popular clinical choice because students gain so much from its intensive instruction, hands-on responsibility, and multi-issue community-based service model.”

Students were surprised to hear that the administration felt there might be a lack of interest in the Center. Kevin LoVecchio, a 3L, said his four semesters at the LSC were a highlight of his time at the law school, and knew dozens of other students and graduates who feel the same.

“I’ve worked with many 1L and 2L students in helping them review their registration options, and I’ve encountered enormous interest and support for the clinics at LSC,” said LoVecchio. “The pre-registration numbers – with nearly every clinical course having a long waitlist – speak for themselves, and enrollment has been growing for multiple semesters in a row. Every sign points to increasing LSC resources to meet demand, not cutting them.” While Dean Kagan assured the Record the Center could accommodate the same number of students in the future, with less staff instructor-student ratios will need to be higher.

LoVecchio thought that some of the perceived lack of student interest must be due to LSC participants needing to do more to show the Dean how important the program has been to them.

“I know from first-hand experience that Dean Kagan has always been extraordinarily responsive to student concerns and wishes, so my guess is that we at LSC have done a poor job communicating how important the program has been to our law school careers,” LoVecchio said. “I encourage everyone to speak up in this regard, because I’m confident that she’ll listen – just as she always has – if we give her the chance.”

Although she was saddened by the layoffs at the Center, LSC Co-Founder and former Director Jeanne Charn said the layoffs were an internal decision and a response to changes that “all mature institutions have to deal with.” She, too, mentioned Dean Kag
an’s support of clinical work.

“My understanding is that this dean, like the four before her, understands the value of the Center,” said Charn.

Charn highlighted the many unique qualities of the Center that make it and Harvard a model in clinical education, which include working on policy issues, but above all meeting the legal needs of poor and middle class people with cost effective and high quality service. She noted the LSC has one of the strongest quality assurance programs in the country and that its departments work together to provide comprehensive services for clients, such as when the special education unit must deal with a family that has been affected by violence.

Charn and her late husband, Gary Bellow, founded the Center in 1979 using the model of a teaching hospital to provide service to low-income clients and excellent hands-on training to law students.

Dean Kagan said that the cut to the LSC was not a tradeoff between different types of clinical programs. She said the work of all of the clinics is important and useful and that different students participate in these different types of clinics. What the law school wants is for the work to be of the highest quality. Although the LSC’s location in Jamaica Plain is a 30- to 40-minute commute for most law students, she did not propose moving the Center closer to campus.

“There are some inconveniences to students in the time that it takes to get to the LSC and that may deter some students,” said Kagan. “You have to ask yourself if there are things that could be done in Cambridge, but I suspect that most of the stuff is better done in Jamaica Plain.”

Charn felt that the mix of gentrification alongside low-income housing allows the Center to serve its clients while still remaining a comfortable place for students.

“Being in Jamaica Plain allows the Center to reach poorer people,” said Charn. “There is definitely a low income community and there are housing projects. It’s a viable mixed-income community, which makes for incomparable learning and service for students.”

Andrea Saenz contributed to the reporting of this article.

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