by Grace Yuh
The first semester of law school is an important one as students begin to find their footing in the classroom, amongst their peers, and within the legal environment. Student Practice Organizations offer a unique opportunity for students at HLS to get involved in hands-on legal work and direct client representation beginning their 1L year. This fall the Tenant Advocacy Project, one of 11 SPOs that are student run and led, was an organization that changed the 1L experience for several students during a time where beginning law is drastically different from years past.
“Time spent in TAP has already been invaluable during our first semester at HLS,” said a group of TAP members from the Class of 2023, speaking on the breadth of issue areas they worked on. The group included 1L students Qianfeng Lin, Alexandra Cunningham, Daniel Montoya, Ayodele Aruleba, Rachel Niegelberg, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Mina Ezikpe, Alison Gentry, Tascha Shahriari-Parsa, Isabella Berkley, Noah Sissoko, Patrick O’Connor, and Sam Kurland.
Despite the remote nature of SPO work, TAP members detailed how they learned important advocating skills related to local and national housing laws, the operations of housing authorities, how to conduct and review client intakes, how to compose a reasonable accommodation request, how to create an exhibit packet, how to perform a direct examination in a hearing, how to prepare a client for a hearing, and more.
“Despite working remotely, I was able to successfully advocate for a client who will no longer face eviction from her home. It’s difficult to place into words the feeling of finding justice for a deserving client,” said Rachel Niegelberg ’23.
The current 1L members of TAP continued to emphasize the experience they acquired at TAP through practical learning.
“TAP encourages students to center lawyering around community, create genuine and trusting connections with clients, build and maintain networks with outside agencies, and take on supportive and leadership roles within an organization,” they said.
The students acknowledged that learning remotely, especially the lack of physical presence on the law school campus, means there is a barrier to 1L students feeling like a part of the HLS community. For them, TAP was one way in which they were able to make the connections necessary for a fulfilling law school experience.
“Being a valued member of TAP has helped us create a connection with the HLS community that would otherwise be hard to achieve,” they said. “TAP promotes working collaboratively, supporting members, celebrating successes, and comforting each other in times of defeat.
With each client interaction we are acting as representatives of Harvard Law School and can better understand what it means to be a member of this respected institution.”
“The Tenant Advocacy Project has allowed me to meet a diverse, inspiring group of people at different places in their law school careers, all doing the requisite and necessary work to support the broader community,” said Patrick O’Connor ’23.
For some TAP members, their work with the SPO was a call-back to their reasons for pursuing law in spite of remote class and social distancing.
“In a sense, I sorely needed TAP as much as our clients did,” said Qianfeng Lin ’23. “I felt grounded in the community, and all my juices were running again when I received my first assignment. My client called me the night before my civil procedure exam [and he was anxious about our case]. What kept me awake that night was not how to do a § 1367 supplemental jurisdiction analysis, but that I did not have an answer, knowing that my client’s anxiety to eviction was no less than I to the finals.”
As the TAP 1L members enter the second semester of their first year, TAP continues to support their journey towards becoming lawyers.
“As 1L students, it was our privilege and honor to join the organization this fall and experience the power of legal representation and the dramatic and direct impact it can have on the lives of the people in our community,” they said.