12 Ways Dean Manning Can Respond to The Crisis of Legal Inequality

One year ago, I published Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission. At the time, Harvard Law was inviting Supreme Court justices, senators and other famous alumni back to campus to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the legal giant’s 1817 founding. But while the administration was celebrating, public interest law students were sounding the alarm: of their school overtaken by corporate interests and losing relevance to the average American; of a watchdog of the law largely asleep as the institutions of the rule of law and equal justice under law were under siege; and of a law school community that had lost track of its declared mission to “educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”

Our Bicentennial Crisis aimed to compile and surface these concerns. It documented: first, the crisis of mass exclusion from legal power for the average American (in the criminal justice, civil justice and political systems); second, Harvard Law’s failure to address this crisis, and the inaccurate excuses our community tends to give for not addressing it; third, what accounts for this civic deficit; and fourth, twelve reform proposals that aim to help us better live up to our mission. An electronic version of the full report is here, but below is a summary of Our Bicentennial Crisis’ findings. Continue reading “12 Ways Dean Manning Can Respond to The Crisis of Legal Inequality”

A Q&A with William T. Oree, law clerk and incarcerated person at Attica Correctional Facility

Harvard Law School’s mission statement is “to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.” We cannot advance justice and societal well-being without knowing the reality of what is going outside of our campus and case books. In an effort to bring one of these outside voices to campus, I asked William T. Oree, an incarcerated person and law clerk at Attica Correctional Facility to share his thoughts with the Harvard Law community.

Oree is serving twelve years to life at Attica. He is the founder, writer, and editor of The Prisoner’s Lampoon, a self-published prison comedy magazine; his work has also been published in The Harvard Lampoon. He and his comedy writing partner are shopping a pilot script called PEN * PALS to production companies in Los Angeles. He is the inventor of “jailhouse comedy,” a blend of edgy, often raw humor with a little Shakespeare thrown in for good measure.

Pete Davis, Harvard Law Record (PD): What inspired you to write to Harvard Law School students about indigent defendants and ineffective assistance of counsel?

William T. Oree (WTO): In a nutshell, I have to say mass incarceration. More specifically, the desire to repair our nation’s broken justice system motivated me to make lawyers aware that their normative practices were actually contributing to the fact that the United States locks up more of its citizens than either China or Russia.

Sadly, many of the incarcerated have received sub-par legal services because of defense attorneys who allow considerations of judicial economy to drive their professional and moral obligation instead of the other way around. Unlike medical practitioners, there is no Hippocratic Oath that holds lawyers to a “first do not harm” standard. Moreover, many state and federal courts agree that the standard of effective assistance of counsel should be evaluated in a normative fashion. That is, that courts accept the minimum standards and practices as recommended by the American Bar Association with the understanding that what is minimal is fair and rational. Unfortunately, in all too many cases, the law is neither fair nor rational. It’s hard to avoid seeing this in any other way than as a mechanism by which the courts protect attorneys from malpractice, prioritizing the professional well-being of licensed attorneys over the constitutionally mandated defense of our nation’s citizens. Continue reading “A Q&A with William T. Oree, law clerk and incarcerated person at Attica Correctional Facility”

Jeff Flake’s shameful record on civil legal aid for the poor

Civil legal aid is in crisis. Stanford Law School professor Deborah L. Rhode estimates that about four-fifths of the civil legal needs of the poor, and about half of the civil legal needs of the middle class, remain unmet. The Legal Services Corporation’s estimate is even more dire: by their count this year, “86 percent of the civil legal problems faced by low-income Americans in a given year receive inadequate or no legal help.” Less than $1 out of every $100 spent on lawyers is spent helping advance the personal legal interests of poor Americans. Since only 1 percent of American lawyers are in legal aid practice, the nation with one of the highest concentration of lawyers provides less than one legal aid lawyer for every 10,000 low-income Americans living in poverty.

When the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index ranked high-income nations by terms of the accessibility of their civil justice systems, the United States ranked 20th of 23. On their ranking of nations in terms of the ability of people to obtain legal counsel, the United States ranked 50th of 66. As Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, the federal program established to distribute civil legal aid grants, told National Public Radio for their 2012 report “Legal Help for the Poor In ‘State of Crisis’”: “We have a great legal system in the United States, but it’s built on the premise that you have a lawyer… and if you don’t have a lawyer, the system often doesn’t work for you.” Continue reading “Jeff Flake’s shameful record on civil legal aid for the poor”

The Ref Has Been Worked: Harvard Law’s Flake-Out

There is an idea in sports called “working the ref.” You accuse the ref of being biased toward your opponent, and the ref starts being biased toward you to make up for it. It’s a clever tactic for bending an easily-rattled referee to your will.

In institutional politics, the right-wing establishment has honed working the ref into an art form. It’s a two-part dance. First, they take institutions that see themselves as “neutral referees” and accuse them of having a “left-wing bias.”  Then, they repeat themselves over and over and over again — no matter what the truth of the matter is — until the institution is so rattled by being called biased that it, in an attempt to affirm its neutrality, starts doing whatever the right-wing wants.

Dozens of institutions that see themselves as referees have been worked. PBS has long been accused of being left-wing, so it finally gave in this year and launched its own conservative talk show. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic editorial boards got accused of being left-wing so much that they just went on a hiring spree for conservative columnists. The Obama administration so internalized the accusation of being left-wing that  it started implementing conservative agenda items, like cutting entitlements and deporting thousands of American families, to prove its neutral bona fides. Continue reading “The Ref Has Been Worked: Harvard Law’s Flake-Out

At The Harvard Law Forum: Rep. Keith Ellison

Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee. He was the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives.

On April 2, 2018, he came to Harvard Law School to share his thoughts and experience on what the path forward for the Democratic Party is in the Trump era.

The video is below:

At The Harvard Law Forum: Chuck Marohn on What Lawyers Can Do to Build Strong Towns

Charles “Chuck” Marohn is the Founder and President of Strong Towns, a leading non-profit advocating for models of city planning and development that allow for financially strong and resilient cities, towns and neighborhoods. Marohn is a Professional Engineer licensed in Minnesota, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and the lead author of Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volumes 1, 2, and 3) and A World Class Transportation System. In 2017, he was named one of the 10 Most Influential Urbanists of all time by Planetizen.

On March 29, 2018, he came to Harvard Law School to share what lawyers and law students can do to help advance sustainable and resilient models of urban development.

The video is below:

At The Harvard Law Forum: Isabel Sawhill on A Post-Trump Agenda for a Divided America

Isabel V. Sawhill is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. She has served as co-director of the Center on Children and Families, a senior fellow at The Urban Institute, an Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and co-founder of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Her research has spanned a wide array of economic and social issues, including fiscal policy, economic growth, poverty and inequality. Over the past decade, her major focus has been on how to improve opportunities for disadvantaged children in the U.S.

On April 5, 2018, she came to Harvard Law to share her thoughts and experience on what inclusive growth policies could unite a post-Trump America.

The video is below:

At The Harvard Law Forum: Pastor Donna Hubbard and Carl Route on Building a Better Prison Re-entry System

Carl Route and Pastor Donna Lynne Hubbard are civic and religious leaders in Atlanta, Georgia. Formerly incarcerated citizens themselves, they are inspiring advocates for a better prison reentry system.

Route is the co-founder of both the National Association of Previous Prisoners, a community agency providing support for returning citizens, and the Young Fathers of Metro Atlanta, a community agency that provides fatherhood services to young Atlantans.

Pastor Hubbard is the founder of the Woman at the Well Transition Center, a non-profit ministry providing services to formerly incarcerated persons, and the author of the Parenting from Prison Project, an active program in many county jails around Atlanta.

On March 28, 2018, they came to Harvard Law School to share with students their experiences, insights, and wisdom from decades of prison reentry work.

The video is below:

At the Harvard Law Forum: Joshua Matz on Legal Resistance to the Trump Administration

Joshua Matz is a constitutional and appellate lawyer involved in many cases against the Trump Administration. He is also the Publisher of Take Care, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law, and the co-author (with Larry Tribe) of “To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.” He is of counsel at Kaplan & Company LLP and Gupta Wessler PLLC.

On April 3, 2018, he came to Harvard Law School to share his experience and expertise on the legal backlash against the Trump administration: the source of its intensity, the judicial response to it, and how lawyers can use litigation to restrain the Trump administration in the coming months.

The video is below

At The Harvard Law Forum: Restorative Justice, Social Movements & The Law with Fania Davis & Peter Gabel

Fania Davis is a leading national voice on restorative justice, a new way to think about and do justice, based on principles and practices that mediate conflict, strengthen community and repair harm. She is a long-time social justice activist, Civil Rights trial attorney, restorative justice practitioner, writer, and scholar with a PhD in Indigenous Knowledge.

Peter Gabel is former president of New College of California and was for thirty years a law professor at New College’s public-interest law school. He is Editor-At-Large of Tikkun magazine, a co-founder of the Critical Legal Studies movement, and the president of the Arlene Francis Center for Spirit, Art, and Politics in Santa Rosa, California. He is the recent author of Another Way of Seeing: Essays on Transforming Law, Politics, and Culture.

On March 21, 2018, they came to Harvard Law School to share with students their experience and wisdom in shifting the criminal justice and legal system from a system that breaks communities apart toward one that brings communities back together.

The video is below:

At The Harvard Law Forum: Jesse Eisinger on Combating Wall Street Lawlessness

Jesse Eisinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning senior investigative reporter for ProPublica. He is the author of “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives,” a widely praised book that takes its name from what insiders call the group of prosecutors “who were too scared of failure and too daunted by legal impediments” to do their jobs well.
On March 1, 2018, he came to Harvard Law School to tell students the real story of the legal response to the financial crisis — and point the way toward the restoration of the rule of law on America’s most crime-ridden Street.
The video is below:

At The Harvard Law Forum: Karen Washington on Urban Farming and Food Justice

Karen Washington is a New York City community activist, community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens. She has worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens, helped launched a City Farms Market, is a member of the La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, is a Just Food board member, is a board member and former president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition and is the co- founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS). She is also the co-creator of Rise & Root Farm, a cooperatively run farm in the black dirt region of Orange County, New York.

On February 22, 2018, she came to Harvard Law School to share her insights and experience on what lawyers can do to promote urban farming and food justice.

The video is below:

David Zwick ’73: Harvard Law’s clean water hero

There is an unfortunately widespread belief among Harvard Law students that young lawyers must wait before they can begin using their newly-acquired lawyering skills to confront the great public problems of our time. “I agree there are problems,” many think. “But who am I to attempt to solve them— and, let alone, solve them now?” 

The life and work of David R. Zwick, who passed away this month, belies this belief.

Zwick, a member of the Harvard Law School class of 1973, did not even wait for graduation! In November 1972, The Record ran a full page story on the then-3L, titled: “Phantom 3L Attacks Pollution, Congress.” The lead reads:

“Author, pollution control advocate and 3L David R. Zwick has taken his time in getting his law degree. Since 1967 when he began his studies at HLS the young pro bono lawyer-to-be has authored two books, directed a national task force investigating water pollution under the auspices of Ralph Nader’s Center for Responsive Law, and completed most of the work toward a degree in public policy in the Kennedy School. The law degree seems anticlimactic.”

Continue reading “David Zwick ’73: Harvard Law’s clean water hero”

At The Harvard Law Forum: Lori Wallach on Advancing Justice in Global Trade

Lori Wallach (Harvard Law Class of 1990) is the founder of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. She is a 25-year veteran of congressional trade battles, from the 1990s NAFTA fight to the TPP fight this past year. Named a “Politico 50” thinker, doer and visionary, she is one of the nation’s leading advocates for the public interest within the global trade regime.

On February 20, 2018, Wallach came to Harvard Law to share with students how they can advance justice and the public interest within the all-too-corporatized global trade system.

The video is below: