In 1979, the late Gary Bellow and Jeanne Charn proposed that Harvard Law School help create a legal services center, called the Legal Services Institute, in Boston to provide improved legal services for the urban poor and continuing clinical education for attorneys and law students entering the field. Bellow and Charn, together with four other organizers, including a professor from MIT, two Boston attorneys, and Katherine Stone, 2L, submitted a proposal for the Institute to the Legal Services Corporation for funding in conjunction with the Greater Boston Legal Services office. The Harvard Law faculty unanimously approved the proposal.
The curriculum initially focused on legal services and poverty law and drew heavily from case work at the Institute. Students participating were and are closely supervised and evaluated individually. Bellow believed that one of the strengths of the Institute is the teaching function performed by all Institute staff members. The Legal Services Corporation funding was terminated two years into the original four-year grant. From 1983 to 1985 the Institute (renamed the Legal Services Center) struggled, as did many other clinical programs after the decade of CLEPR support. to survive. However, the law school eventually made the decision to support the Center as its primary civil practice facility with a capacity for up to seventy-five law students, supervised in ratios averaging no more than five students per full-time staff attorney or paralegal.
By 1991, the end of the second decade of Harvard’s clinical program, the original funding ratio for the Center had been reversed with the law school providing about three fourths of the Center’s operating budget and the balance provided from Boston based public legal services funds. While cost is high, situating clinical practice centers within the law school has generated support from law school alumni. Most notably, in 1992 alumni of Harvard Law School at the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale) contributed $2 million to the law school to purchase and renovate a permanent home for the Center.
In 1995, the Legal Services Center saw the opportunity to create a transactional legal practice, to support the development of urban communities through community enterprise and community development. The underpinnings of the approach stemmed from the desire to directly help individuals and groups build engines for economic vitality within their own neighborhoods — creating jobs and wealth and a platform for organic future growth, and providing needed goods and services to often under served populations. With the guidance and assistance of the WilmerHale law firm, the “Community Enterprise Project” was developed. Legal services were targeted to residents of urban districts in Boston, in the areas of business and non-profit law. Soon thereafter, the Community Enterprise Project’s legal practice expanded to incorporate real estate work.
More recently, seeing a continuing opportunity to combine service to clients with sophisticated work educating law students, a music, arts and entertainment law practice was begun, to assist the many artists, musicians, performers, and participants in the music and arts scene in Boston. This practice became the Recording Artists Project, and is coordinated with a student-run practice organization of the same name at Harvard Law School.
In 2009, the Community Enterprise Project and the Recording Artists Project administratively separated from the Legal Services Center, and moved to new offices on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, where they continue the work started in urban Boston, while serving a broader client community throughout the Boston metropolitan area. The “Transactional Law Clinics” name was adopted to better describe the breadth and scope of our work and client services.