BY CASSELLE SMITH
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau recently elected its 2009 Board of Directors, and I am honored to serve the Bureau as its next President. The Bureau has transformed my law school experience. It is amazing how this organization is able to unify kind, insightful, passionate people behind such an important mission: providing quality legal services to low-income members of the Boston Community. This experience has given me the opportunity to not only befriend an outstanding cadre of students, but also to advocate for marginalized people who might otherwise fall victim to the abuse of power by ex-lovers, big banks and the general structural inequality that robs so many people of their potential. This work is especially fulfilling for me because it allows me to give back to communities like the one in which I was raised. As someone who sometimes depended on government benefits and social service centers growing up, the opportunity to come full circle and serve this organization as its president brings me immense joy.
This year the Bureau has to adjust to the current economic crisis, which has created a greater community need for free legal services, especially in the areas of unemployment and housing representation. Additionally, other legal services centers in the area, which serve the same populations as the Bureau, are facing budget cuts. Therefore, as client needs balloon and our budget faces possible restrictions, it is imperative that we institute cost effective fiscal policies in order to meet the needs of our deserving client base.
The economic crisis is also providing the Bureau with new opportunities for growth and expansion of practice areas. As a student run organization the Bureau has been uniquely positioned to respond creatively to some of our nation’s most pressing issues. In the 1990s, the Bureau initiated an AIDS practice group to address an issue that was shaking our nation. In response to one of the most pressing issues of our time, David Haller ’09 and Nick Hartigan ’09 answered the call by starting the Foreclosure Taskforce. They have been working tirelessly to get the program on its feet and protect indigent renters for eviction by big banks. However, both Nick and Dave will be graduating in June. Therefore, the 2009 board will have the opportunity to turn Nick and Dave’s project into something sustainable going forward.
Sometimes I think that the Bureau is one of the Law School’s best kept secrets. In my opinion that is simply unacceptable. When I talk to other students about the amazing work that we do, they are routinely shocked and impressed. The impressed part is great, but we have got to do something about the shock. A lot of my friends didn’t apply to the Bureau because they didn’t have a clear understanding that Bureau membership entails not just the best opportunity on campus to engage with the law in a meaningful way, but also to form a enduring community friends. In hindsight many of them regret having missed out this experience – one of my 3L friends even says that not applying to the Bureau was the greatest regret of her law school experience.
This year we will be beefing up our recruitment efforts so that all 1Ls are fully informed about the prospects of Bureau membership. Beginning this month we will start a series of info sessions, classroom visits, and open houses to give 1Ls the opportunity to get to know us and learn about our practice. We encourage all 1Ls to join our Facebook group and to be on the lookout for emails coming soon.
The 2009 Board of Directors (all members of the class of 2010):
-President: Casselle Smith
-Executive Director: Jen Sansom
-VP of Standards: Lauren Seffel
-VP of Membership: Laura Kleinman
-Secretary/Treasurer: Steve Quinlan
-Training Director: Susan Reagan
-Intake Director: Julia Hildreth
-Outreach Director: Laura Openshaw
-Research/Tech Dir.: Megan Tosner
-Development Dir.: Marcus Hedrick
For more information about how you can become involved in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, email Casselle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 495-4408. You can also visit the Bureau on the web at: http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/hlab/.