By: Amanda L. Kool, Attorney and Clinical Fellow, Harvard Transactional Law Clinics, and Brett Heeger, J.D. Candidate May 2014, Harvard Law School
Community partnerships provide a promising mechanism through which lawyers can promote economic development. When lawyers serve to connect valuable resources rather than solely respond to the needs of individual clients, they can better contribute to the dismantling of legal barriers to economic development. This article will highlight the efforts of the Harvard Transactional Law Clinics, specifically the clinic’s Community Enterprise Project, to use collaborative, project-based lawyering to address systemic legal barriers in the City of Boston. Though law school clinics are well-positioned to implement innovative models for the delivery of legal services, practitioners in other settings can leverage similar models for the benefit of their clients and local communities.
The Traditional Clinical Legal Services Model
Law school clinical programs have risen in popularity as a means to provide law students with an experiential education while delivering valuable legal services to the communities to which the schools belong. In recent years, many law schools have expanded their clinical offerings beyond the traditional model that paired a law student (under the supervision of a practicing attorney) with a low-income individual facing a court appearance or other litigation-related matters. These law schools now offer a range of clinical programs tailored to the interests of the student body, the expertise of faculty, and the particular needs of clients in the area. In addition to expanded litigation-based offerings and policy clinics, some schools have instituted transactional clinical programs. These programs often assist individuals, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations of limited means with some combination of entity formation, contract negotiation and preparation, advice on protecting intellectual property, and (less often) real estate transactions. By participating in these clinics, law students gain not only the substantive legal skills necessary to complete such transactions, but also develop valuable “soft” skills, including experience with client interviewing, issue identification, and case management; in turn, clients of transactional clinics enjoy access to types of legal services not typically offered by other low-cost or pro bono legal services providers.