By: Olivia Klein
OCP’s Summer Speaker’s Series is well underway. The annual program features HLS clinicians, alumni and others who share their personal and professional trajectories in their respective fields of law to Harvard Law School staff and summer interns. Below are a few recaps from the talks that kicked off the series.
Kendra Albert, Clinical Instructional Fellow at the Cyberlaw Clinic, was the first speaker in the series. A member of the HLS Class of 2016, Kendra did impactful work in technology law. Kendra worked at companies such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CloudFlare, and Public Citizen. They were also a Research Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. During their time at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, they argued and won a change in the law that makes it easier for museums and libraries to maintain archives of video games.
After graduating, Kendra worked at Zeitgeist Law in San Francisco, a law firm dedicated to addressing the legal challenges raised by technology. The firm focuses on maintaining privacy and freedom of expression in the digital age, which are matters that Kendra addresses in their own scholarship. At Zeitgeist Law, Kendra co-wrote amicus briefs in Google v. Oracle and Lynch v. Under Seal, while also counseling clients on maters including privacy, contracts, data minimization and security, and handling online abuse.
Since 2017, Kendra has been back at HLS, supervising clinical students as they learn how to practice technology law. Kendra still engages in litigation and produces scholarship covering a wide variety of topics, from transgender privacy to reference rot in legal citations. They filed a brief on behalf of two members of Congress in ASTM v. Public.Resource.org, and worked with security researchers from DEF CON’s Voting Village to publish voting machine vulnerability findings under threat of litigation.
On June 21, 2019, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) Clinical Fellow Phil Waters started his lunch talk with a question: did anyone in the room always know what they wanted to be when they grew up? Only a few hands were hesitantly raised. Phil chuckled, and he said that those few members of the room were lucky, since he never knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Phil received his undergraduate degree in Business at the University of North Carolina, at the suggestion of his father, who worked in sales. After graduation, Phil was seeking something that sparked more passion in him. Based on the experiences he had so far, he knew that he wanted to help people and was interested in working in health, and he saw the law as an avenue to do both.
While attending University of North Carolina School of Law, Phil worked with Legal Aid of North Carolina as a Healthcare Navigator within their Medical-Legal Partnership. He also served as a summer associate with the National Health Policy Program. In these positions, Phil engaged directly with clients and with fellow attorneys in active cases, giving him a strong perspective that he brings to his clinical work here at Harvard Law School. Now at CHLPI, Phil focuses on litigation and legislative advocacy to defend and implement public health programs aimed to preserve and expand access to care for vulnerable populations.
One student asked Phil what classes stood out to him during law school. Phil said none really stuck out to him, but said that the most important thing he was taught was how to think like a lawyer. Phil recommended that the students in the room take classes that might not be directly applicable to their field of interest, using his experience in his 1L Criminal Law class as an example. In his current work, Phil says he needs to read and understand complex documents thick with citations quickly – and learned that skill from his 1L Criminal Law class.
After receiving his J.D., Phil returned to the Legal Aid of North Carolina, where he worked one-on-one with consumers to help them understand changing healthcare laws, primarily having to do with insurance. Phil began to feel frustrated by the repetition of issues facing his clients, and he asked himself what could be done to eliminate the issues altogether, starting at the root of the problem. He found a solution in policy work.
Phil is passionate about implementing and preserving the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, in addition to other public health programs that protect vulnerable populations, such as those with HIV and other chronic health conditions. He encouraged students to find their passion in either policy work or direct legal services. Both areas are crucial for helping those in need, he said, so it is important to find out which will create the most passion in you.
There wasn’t an empty seat in the room for Stephanie Davidson’s talk – not even for Stephanie, who hopped onto a table to address the room. Davidson ’13 spoke about her path to where she is today, immediately engaging all thirty people in the room with her eloquence and storytelling.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Stephanie joined the New York County District Attorney’s Office as a Sex Crimes Unit Investigative Analyst, noting that it was the office that Law & Order SVU is based on, and yes, her boss did look just like the main character. The process of working with survivors of sexual abuse moved Stephanie to pursue law school, since she wanted to serve the women she worked with in a different way than she could from within the criminal justice system.
At HLS, Stephanie joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) as a family law attorney and relished her time delivering quality legal services. She is now a Clinical Instructor in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic, helping survivors of domestic violence obtain safety, ensuring that domestic violence is not a legal barrier to a client’s legal rights. She finds it crucial to build strong relationships with her clients in order to best serve their needs.
Stephanie sees social justice as essential to the work she does. She hopes to mobilize more people in social justice spaces to find systemic solutions to domestic abuse, though she recognized that one challenge is identifying what to ask for, other than for perpetrators to stop hurting people. She notes that the cycle of domestic abuse can increase the risk of homelessness and poverty of individuals for generations. Despite the hardships her clients face and the intensity of her work, Stephanie enjoys her work thoroughly. “Working in the clinic shows me more and more every day just how resilient humans are,” Stephanie said, which keeps her eager to take on the challenges her clients face.
Tom Smith and Lenita Reason
Tom is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Justice at Work, an organization driven to provide legal support for low-wage worker organizations and their members. During the lunch talk, Tom Justice for All’s as falling into three buckets: performing legal intake for workers whose rights have been violated; training staff at worker centers to help their communities “know their rights and know how to access them”; and supporting groups of workers who want to proactively improve working conditions. He stated that his goal in starting Justice at Work was to find a way to create power for organizations like worker centers, such as Lenita’s.
Lenita Reason is Community Organizer, Office Manager, and OSHA Outreach Coordinator at the Brazilian Worker Center (BWC) in Boston, which works in collaboration with Justice at Work. Lenita said that BWC was created by workers for workers, and all of the initiatives the organization takes on come directly from the workers participating in the Center. The BWC provides a wide variety of services, from health and safety training to ESL education to legal services, and Lenita is very well-versed in all areas of the wide-reaching organization.
Justice at Work and the BWC co-founded the Building Justice Committee in 2014, and Lenita and Tom both lit up with joy when discussing the committee. The committee trains workers to t o train and educate each other on their legal rights surrounding topics such as wage theft. Lenita smiled saying that she feels like a proud mother to the men who willingly give time on top of their busy work schedules to come to the BWC and learn how they can help uplift one another. She said that she can see how proud the men are of the work they do with the Building Justice Committee, and they are leaders even if they may not realize it.
Tom also touched on the topic of community lawyering, stating that the term does not necessarily need to mean you work as a public lawyer. Some of the attorneys who most embody community lawyering, he said, do private work. Tom stated that the most important aspect of community lawyering is the way you go about providing the legal service, touching on the importance of cultural competency. Whether there is a language barrier or not, Tom says it is most important to show that you are committed to the work, and you know why you are committed. Lenita backed this up with a “what not to do” attorney horror story that had the whole room aghast.
Shelley described her upbringing as one of privilege. She was the daughter of two doctors and lived in a wealthy Boston suburb. She wanted to use her privilege to do work that allowed her to give back to others and use her power to do good in the world. She decided on law school.
After receiving her J.D. from Northeastern University, Shelley worked at Community Legal Aid (CLA) in Worcester, MA. At CLA, Shelley learned about and worked in every area of the organization, including family, domestic violence, housing, and immigration law. This experience served her well when she continued on to work as a Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna, a community-based organization which she said allowed her to work with social justice in a different way, with a greater focus on empowerment and creating systemic change.
Timing has been an important part of Shelley’s journey. She applied for her current position as a Clinical Instructor at the TAP right when she was reevaluating her career priorities after having a child. She called her current position a “perfect change.” Working in the HLS environment is exciting, Shelley said. She is able to teach students and work with clients on housing law matters, but she is also surrounded by other clinics doing incredible work that she is eager to help out with wherever she can, once again finding broad knowledge of public service law useful.
One intern asked Shelley what TAP’s work entails on a day to day basis. Shelley explained that TAP is filling a gap in access to justice by assisting people living in public housing who are threatened with an eviction and are facing administrative hearings, which is the step before entering the criminal justice system. Shelley stated that TAP’s goal is “to keep [the case] out of court,” emphasizing the importance of an attorney’s help in these housing law issues.
Shelley shared valuable resources with the interns, including AccessLex to help students plan for potential loan repayment options and receive law school financial education. The interns had many questions for Shelley, many regarding career advice for working in civil legal aid. Shelley also provided tips for making a career in the civil legal aid field, suggesting: get as much practical experience during law school as you can, whether it be through clinics, externships, or pro bono work; be proactive about networking; volunteer and cultivate relationships at the organizations you want to work at, since a foot in the door goes a long way; and if you can be flexible with where you are willing to live, that is always helpful.
Hailing from New Zealand, Anna first came to HLS to receive her LLM in 2012, going on to receive an HLS Henigson Fellowship to work in Columbia for a year with the International Crisis Group. Anna then joined Privacy International as a legal officer before returning to HLS to work in the Human Rights Program, where she now serves as the Assistant Director, a Clinical Instructor, and Lecturer on Law of the International Human Rights Clinic.
The interns had a lot of questions about Anna’s work in human rights law, and more than half of the hour was spent answering those questions during discussion. Interns asked about truth commissions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the trade-off between peace and justice, the value of living outside the society you grew up in, the difference between theory and practice in her work, and mental health for workers in the human rights field. The interns got a glimpse of Anna’s professorial skills from all the academic and theoretical human rights discussion. It was easy to imagine how engaging and exciting her seminar class might be.
Anna also shared valuable career advice with the interns. Speaking to the beginning of her career, Anna said it is important to look beyond the options you see in front of you. She did not find her passion working as a New Zealand government lawyer after receiving her undergraduate degree, so she made the decision to expand her horizons and come to HLS. On the same note, she emphasized the importance of flexibility in any career field, but specifically in human rights work. “You need to be comfortable with uncertainty” to work in human rights, Anna said. “I never had a ten-year plan. You need to be okay with not knowing where you’ll be in ten years’ time.” When an intern asked how to break into a field as nebulous as human rights, Anna said that mentorship was a big factor in her career, and it is important to be proactive about reaching out to people who have careers you want to emulate.
Cathy Mondell is a mediator and a Clinical Instructor in the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP).
Cathy’s professorial nature came out when speaking to the interns, as she paced the room and took questions from many engaged interns. She described her time as a student at Harvard Law School, her entrance into the corporate world of law, where she worked at Ropes & Gray for eighteen years, and her decision to switch from being an advocate to being a neutral: becoming a mediator.
When deciding to make her career switch, Cathy said that she wanted to focus on things she enjoyed the most from her corporate career and do more of them in a new way. “I get to be selfish, it’s my career,” she said, met with laughter and nods from the room. The things she wanted to focus on were mediation, teaching, and jury research – all of which come together in her current work at HLS and in her private practice, Mondell Dispute Resolution.
The question and answer portion of Cathy’s talk started off with one intern asking: “What is mediation?” Cathy was more than happy to explain, and she took the group through an overview of her work in commercial mediation and HMP’s work in small claims court. Cathy and the interns went on to discuss the debate over court-ordered mediation, the potential of online dispute resolution, and mediation on the international level. Another intern asked what the most important skill for a mediator to have is, and Cathy replied that genuine curiosity is crucial, as well as adaptability, since no two mediations are the same.
When the room fell quiet once the interns ran out of questions, Cathy let the pause linger. “This is what’s known in the mediation world as ‘using silence’,” she said, and the silence disappeared as everybody laughed. Cathy encouraged the interns to consider becoming mediators in the future, citing programs all over the country made for people of all backgrounds to become mediators.