Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
HLAB launched an exciting new partnership this fall with Rosie’s Place, which was founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in the United States. Today, Rosie’s Place offers thousands of women each year emergency services, educational opportunities, advocacy, and ongoing outreach.
Every week, HLAB students set up a table on site at Rosie’s Place and run a family law clinic to assist pro se litigants with guardianship, divorce, child support, and restraining order petitions. Women in need, also known as “guests,” who visit the clinic receive on-the-spot assistance in filling out the right legal forms in order to achieve their goals as well as education on their legal rights, the court process, and timelines.
As HLAB has committed to a weekly clinic on site, Rosie’s Place guests can return to the table to seek out additional assistance as their legal cases develop. “The partnership with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau allows our guests to meet with a legal advocate and discuss their specific needs and receive tailored legal information,” said Casey Shupe, Staff Attorney at Rosie’s Place.
Nora Mahlberg ’15, HLAB’s Outreach Director, worked extensively with Rosie’s Place staff to set up this new clinic. “Rosie’s Place was understandably cautious about bringing in outsiders to their site, which serves as a safe place for vulnerable women who may have been abused,” said Nora. “We worked hard to make sure that any concerns regarding the privacy and confidentiality of the women on the site would be addressed.”
Nora began searching for a family law partner organization in the spring of 2014, in response to HLAB students’ desire to provide support for pro se family litigants. HLAB had historically run a pro se divorce clinic out of its offices but had experienced dwindling attendance over time. “Getting to our location in Cambridge was potentially a barrier for people who needed help,” said Nora. “We decided to get closer to our client population and to go out to Rosie’s Place in Boston.”
Along with Nora, a group of HLAB students – Cassie Chambers ’15, Kellie MacDonald ’15, Jocelyn Keider ’15, and Donna Harati ’15 – worked with Rosie’s Place staff over the course of months to develop a curriculum tailored to the needs of Rosie’s Place guests. The curriculum was built from the existing pro se divorce clinic curriculum with additional material on child support, guardianship and restraining orders, and worksheets for guests to be able to identify the areas where they may need assistance.
Starting a new clinic is always a slow process, requiring flexibility by both organizations as they test and refine a new curriculum. Both HLAB and Rosie’s Place are excited by how the clinic has developed and improved over the course of the fall.
Courtney Lynch ’16 helped staff the legal aid table during the first week of HLAB’s partnership with Rosie’s Place. “When we first arrived, the women seemed nervous about talking to us, but they eventually got comfortable opening up and sharing their stories with us,” said Courtney. “It felt really rewarding to be able to earn the trust of the guests and to help them achieve a better legal outcome.”
“Rosie’s Place welcomes the chance to work with such wonderful students who have already shown a strong commitment not only to fulfilling our guests’ needs but also to our overall mission of affirming self-empowerment and dignity through support and legal advocacy,” said Casey.
Nora said, “HLAB looks forward to the continued growth of this partnership to better serve low-income women in Boston.”