By Anna Jessurun, JD ’22
When I walked out of the new member orientation for the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) my first year at HLS, I felt extremely overwhelmed. A month of 1L classes had me steeped in legal doctrine, and I found myself wondering how all these pages and pages of reading were going to teach me how to be the lawyer I came to law school to be. The classroom was full of abstractions and hypotheticals, and I was eager for something tangible. And then I attended an eight-hour training on public housing law, case management, and intake procedures. It dawned on me that I would be expected to represent a client whose housing was at stake within a few weeks, and suddenly, everything became a bit too real.
That feeling came to a peak the day of my first hearing. I was representing my client who had her Section 8 voucher terminated. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving break, and the first snow storm of the season had just hit Boston. The night before the hearing, I practiced my opening and closing statements over and over again with my TAP team leader over Skype (remember when?). On my way to the T, I ran into a fellow TAP 1L (and future fellow Co-President), Alison Roberts, who wished me luck, and I was so nervous that all I could think to respond was “I’m nauseous.” Once I was seated next to my client at the hearing, however, the jitters went away as I focused on why I was there. I had prepared diligently for the hearing with the support of our clinical instructor and my fellow TAP members, and in that moment, all I had to do was stand with my client as she told her story and show how the law favored reinstating her voucher. The hearing officer heard my client and held that she was entitled to keep her voucher.
Now, a month away from graduation, I still feel overwhelmed, but in a different way. TAP has been an integral part of my law school experience. I have been a TAP student representative, intake representative, and, during the 2020-21 academic year, Co-President. These past three years in TAP have given me more than I could have ever imagined, but if I had to sum up my feelings in one word, it would be gratitude.
First and foremost, I am thankful for the relationships I have built with my clients. TAP represents low-income tenants with subsidized housing in administrative hearings before local housing authorities. Our clients are entrusting us with keeping them and their families housed. Representing and advising several tenants over my time in TAP has been an immense privilege, and I have learned so much from them—ranging from one client’s commitment to her recovery and not letting her past define her future to another client’s bravery as a survivor of domestic violence. I am grateful to our clients for sharing their stories and strength with us.
To represent our clients as law students, we rely on the supervision and guidance of our clinical instructor to teach us how to best advocate for tenants in administrative hearings. I have had the fortune of working under three clinical instructors during my time in TAP, and I have learned from their varied experiences and lawyering styles. I appreciate their tireless support and continued confidence in us as young lawyers. Even when we inevitably get things wrong and make mistakes, our clinical instructors have helped us overcome these challenges and grow into the attorneys we strive to be. Their dedication to housing justice and mentorship are unparalleled, and I can’t wait to bring everything they’ve taught me to the rest of my career.
Anyone who has been in TAP knows that there is one person without whom TAP would not even begin to function: the inimitable Betty Blake, TAP’s Program Manager. From my first days in TAP to these last few weeks, most of my questions in the TAP office begin with the words, “Hey Betty?” as I pop my head into her office. Betty is endlessly patient with helping students serve their clients and ensures that TAP runs smoothly, from fielding client calls to the office to making sure our records are properly kept (as well as maintaining our office candy supply). As Co-President during our remote year of learning, I relied on Betty’s wisdom and advice as we made sure that TAP kept serving our clients and continued to be a welcoming community for our members when we were all so far from each other. With everything these past few years being so unpredictable, Betty’s kindness has been a constant.
Last, but certainly not least, I can’t speak about TAP without thinking about all my fellow law students, past and present, that make up our community. TAP students carve time out of their busy class schedules and personal life to represent our clients, conduct hundreds of intake calls, and advocate for just housing policy for no academic credit or compensation. My friends in TAP have been some of the best people I have met at HLS. People in TAP care deeply about advancing housing justice and fighting for a more equitable world, and I have learned so much from them. From game nights and office chats to Zoom trivia and TAPpy hours, TAP has built a community of brilliant, thoughtful, and fun people. We lift each other up in our victories and stand with each other in our setbacks. I am particularly thankful for the 2Ls and 3Ls in TAP my 1L year who always encouraged us as we conducted those first intakes and stepped up to accompany us to our first hearings so that we wouldn’t be alone. I’m so grateful to have been a member of TAP’s community. I can’t wait to keep cheering them on as they continue doing incredible work as attorneys.
When asked to reflect on my own time in TAP, I can’t help but think about everyone who has shaped my TAP experience. What makes TAP special is the people: our clients, our staff, and our students. I’ve learned how to be a better lawyer, a better advocate, and a better person because of TAP. Thinking about TAP just makes me feel grateful to have been a part of it.