BY JENNY PAUL
Members of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau elected a new board of directors in January to manage Bureau services and shepherd a development plan to expand its legal service offerings in the coming months.
Ten second-year law students will serve on the Bureau’s board of directors for 2011. The Bureau’s 50 second- and third-year “student advocates,” who represent clients from Boston and surrounding areas, elected the new board.
The election process is “pretty informal,” newly elected President David Williams said.
“A few weeks before elections start, people talk about ideas they have, but there’s definitely no official campaigning,” Williams said. “It’s very collegial. We’re all kind of one big happy family.”
Williams said board members take on the day-to-day management of the Bureau. Members of the Board manage case assignments, case files, recruitment of new student advocates, and financial issues, he said.
“Basically, we’re almost like our own private law firm,” he said. “Running an organization like this takes a lot of manpower….We don’t have a huge support staff like a big firm’s going to have. A lot of it is really people who are dedicated to the organization and would be good at doing these particular tasks.”
Much of the Bureau’s work is centered in housing and family law, so students choose to concentrate in one of those areas. They then receive cases including post-foreclosure and eviction cases and divorce, custody, and restraining order disputes, Williams said. Each student works on about four to five cases at a time and is supervised by a clinical instructor. Clinical Prof. David Grossman ’88 serves as managing attorney for the Bureau.
Because students choose the cases the Bureau takes on, each student advocate is personally invested in the Bureau, Williams said.
“There’s a level of investment and dedication that you just don’t get with your traditional clinical program,” he said. “There’s also a large community sense, too, which all of us enjoy and get a lot out of.”
The Bureau is also developing an employment discrimination pilot program this semester to supplement its current employment law practice, Williams said. Currently, the Bureau represents clients in wage and hour cases, where clients seek to recover unpaid or underpaid wages from employers. The Bureau also represents clients in unemployment insurance hearings at the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance. If the pilot program is successful, the board may decide to roll out a more comprehensive employment law program in the fall of 2011, Williams said.
“Creating a comprehensive employment law practice will not only give Bureau members more diverse practice opportunities, but it also fills a large need in the community. “In these tough economic times when jobs are scarce, protecting workers’ rights is more important than ever.”