“The role of a criminal-defense lawyer is rarely comfortable, and never popular,” renowned defense attorney Jack T. Litman ’67 liked to say, “but it remains among the more noble professions.”
For the 85 Harvard Law students who each year participate in Harvard Defenders, a student practice organization in which they represent low-income clients in criminal show-cause hearings, that sentiment informs everything they do. Open to 1Ls and upperclassmen, Defenders over the past 66 years has assisted thousands of indigent people while offering students invaluable courtroom experience and exposure to the realities of the criminal justice system.
“I just ran into a former student who is clerking for a magistrate judge in federal court. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, and she said Harvard Defenders was the best thing she did in law school,” says John Salsberg, a criminal defense attorney who’s been the supervising attorney at Defenders for 35 years, and was chosen for a 2015 Dean’s Award for Excellence at Harvard Law School. “Now, if that isn’t gratifying, I don’t know what is.”