By Tori Anderson, J.D. ’16
I knew coming into law school that I wanted to work in public interest. Working for people and with people was very important to me and I wanted to spend my three years at HLS pursuing that. I discovered Harvard Defenders during the student activities fair in my first semester. I loved the idea of being a part of a supportive community of 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls who were like-minded in their commitment to giving back to the community during their time in law school. Defenders allowed me to help people in hearings where they were not provided representation and to gain experience zealously advocating for those most marginalized in society.
I have been able to represent clients in 10 cases, help with their criminal court issues, as well as connect them with housing resources, immigration consultations and school programs. During my time with Harvard Defenders, I have served as one of the Case Assignment Directors and as President. As Case Assignment Director, I ensured that people who called looking for legal help were connected with student attorneys. I also tracked the organization’s data. As President, I successfully advocated for a social worker for our clients and focused on revamping our referral network. I was able to get to know every one of our 83 members and forge lasting friendships with future public interest leaders. I learned how to research case law, look up criminal code statutes, find Massachusetts jury instructions, strategize for a case, prepare oral arguments and cross examinations and gained skills in how to navigate the often tricky relationship between student attorneys, law enforcement officers and court officials.
But my clients have taught me the most. We often meet our clients at a very difficult time in their lives when they have to face the potential of being prosecuted. They have taught me how to listen and how to be more empathetic. They have been open and showed a great ability to trust a complete stranger with personal details. My time in Defenders truly solidified my commitment to public interest. After graduation, I will be working as a public defender, a choice which was heavily influenced by my time in the organization.