Liability Concerns Bar Student Organizations’ Practice of Law

On March 21, the Dean of Students office e-mailed the leaders of student organizations clarifying that student organizations may not practice law, according to Dean of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs Lisa Dealy.

According to the guidelines formulated by the Dean of Students office, “student [practice] organizations that are not approved shall not under any circumstances engage in the practice of law in any form.”

“We are working with existing organizations to identify ways that they can continue to operate within the policy,” Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove said, “But we assume some projects will necessarily go away.”

According to Dealy, student organizations not formally recognized as Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) should not represent themselves as Harvard organizations that practice law because they don’t have internal attorney supervision. “The reason for this is that in order to practice law, you must be licensed and have malpractice insurance coverage.” Dealy said, “Students are not licensed and do not have malpractice [insurance]—clinics and SPOs provide that coverage through their supervising attorneys. Working as a group under the Harvard name with assorted outside attorneys does not always provide that coverage, which leaves students personally exposed to liability.”

According to Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project President Daniel Doktori, ’13, HLEP, which is not a recognized SPO, was affected by the policy. According to an April 3 e-mail Doktori sent to HLEP members, HLEP “will not be able to continue pursuing the legal research element (the practice element) of the organization next year under the same structure currently employed.” The e-mail also said that HLEP was working with the administration to continue its work with real world clients.

According to Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove, the administration does not plan on recognizing any current student organizations as SPOs.

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