By: Alexis Farmer
A delegation of thirteen dignitaries from the Philippines touring law school clinical programs on the east coast made their first stop at Harvard Law School (HLS). Comprised of law school deans, Supreme Court justices, attorneys, U.S. Embassy representatives, and a representative from the Asia Foundation, the delegation spent two days visiting HLS and meeting clinical students and faculty to discuss how our clinical programs are structured. The group is interested in implementing new clinical programs in various law schools throughout the Philippines. Harvard is one of three law schools the delegation will visit.
A cozy brick building near the Stony Brook stop in Jamaica Plain is usually not the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of Harvard Law School, but this is where the delegation made its first campus stop – the Legal Services Center (LSC). Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education Dan Nagin gave a brief history of clinical legal education and an overview of the clinical pedagogy at HLS. He described the significance of having a legal services center rooted in an underserved and high-need community, and the importance of having legal services accessible to populations who might otherwise not know where to find help or who find it difficult to travel to Cambridge. A panel of LSC clinicians and students expanded on the impact their work has on the community and on students’ professional development. They discussed the type of work students are engaged in and what skillsets students acquire in the hands-on, experiential learning environment. The delegation was interested in hearing the nuts and bolts of the program’s design and asked questions about balancing client and student needs, how to grade students and evaluate their skills, how to prepare them to show up in court and represent clients, and how the clinical program is integrated into the curriculum.
The delegation was able to have their questions answered by learning about of the various structures and formats of the clinics – from the coordinated programming at LSC, to the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic’s hybrid format with in house and community based placements, to the student-led Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). The group saw the variety in autonomy and direction students had in deciding the cases they wanted to pursue and the type of work they engaged in. The group also got the opportunity to see HLAB and LSC students in action.
On the 5th floor of the Edward Brooke Courthouse, students staffed the Attorney for the Day table, as unrepresented litigants facing hearings and deadlines began to line up and seek legal guidance from the students and their clinical instructors.
On this particular Thursday in housing court, the hallways were bustling with commotion – attorneys and clients met quickly before entering the courtroom; a woman called for medical attention for a man who had fallen ill in the courtroom, and young children looked for ways to keep themselves entertained. Maureen McDonagh, LSC Managing Attorney, arranged for the delegation meet with retired Judge Jeffery M. Winik, who was serving on recall. He spoke about the value of students representing real clients in the courtroom and how much it helped the court. After speaking with the judge, the delegation had the opportunity to sit in the jury box as they witnessed an HLAB student, Emanuel Powell, powerfully and confidently present his case. Emanuel, and his supervising attorney Esme Caramello, represented a client challenging her landlord for failing to conduct a lead inspection while her daughter and infant grandchild occupied the apartment. The delegation was very impressed with Emanuel’s presentation, and remarked that he was well prepared and persuasive. They saw firsthand how comprehensive clinical training could prepare students to be active, and thoughtful practitioners.
Following the court session, the delegation visited the Family Court Services Center, where they heard an overview of the support services offered in Massachusetts trial courts. The centers are designed to help people navigate the intimidating court system, by serving as a welcoming and friendly space open to all court users. Sheriece M. Perry Esq., Acting-Co Director of the Department of Support Services, shared with the group the critical role that clinical students, interns, and volunteer attorneys have in advising individuals that need legal help, but often cannot afford it.
The group had lunch time discussions about clinical legal education with Lisa Dealy, Dean for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, and the Hon. John C. Cratsley (ret.).
The trip concluded with a reception for the delegations, where JD and LLM students from the Philippians, faculty, and staff joined the group in celebrating their visit. The group left with a lasting impression of the clinical program’s commitment to providing opportunities for students to develop critical legal skills while simultaneously advancing access to justice.