Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Joint Clinic Report: Company’s Remedies for Rape in Papua New Guinea Deeply Flawed

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Geneva & New York, November 19, 2015—A controversial process created by one of the world’s largest gold mining companies to compensate women for rapes and gang rapes in Papua New Guinea was deeply flawed, said human rights investigators and legal experts at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools in a study released today.

The three-year study of Barrick Gold’s remedy mechanism at its Porgera gold mine found that the effort to provide packages to 120 rape survivors was flawed from the start and fell far short of international standards.

“These are some of the most vicious assaults I have ever investigated,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the lead authors of the report, and the Director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute. “The women and local communities had to struggle for years just to get the company to admit what happened.”

Most women were offered less than $6,000 USD each in compensation, and were also given some counseling and healthcare. Knuckey continued, “They had been suffering for far too long, and deserved much more.”

For several years, security guards at the Porgera mine physically assaulted and sexually abused members of the community. It was only after repeated pressure by local and international groups that the Canadian mining company finally acknowledged the sexual violence and launched an internal investigation in 2010. The company created a remedy mechanism to handle claims by survivors two years later.

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A shout-out to the Recording Artists Project

Via Billboard
By Shirley Halperin

Aaron Rosenberg, From The Desk Of

When a client list reads like the Billboard Hot 100 — Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Future, John Legend and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few — one has to wonder: What came first, the attorney or the hit act? In the case of young 38-year-old Aaron Rosenberg, the youngest partner in the history of entertainment firm Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light, the question is often moot, especially with regard to two long-standing clients: Rosenberg had just graduated law school when he began representing Legend and took on Bieber when the would-be pop star was just 13.

To hear Rosenberg tell it, the Kansas City, Mo., native’s music business roots were planted back at Harvard Law School, where a clinical program called the Recording Artists Project paired law students with aspiring musicians around Boston “to provide legal advice under the supervision of a faculty member,” he explains. “It was literally hands-on training. And being a music lawyer is really about learning by doing.”

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FLPC, in partnership with the Food Recovery Project, Launches Legal Guide on the Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donations

Via Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Tax Deduction for Food Donation report 2015An estimated 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten; at the same time, more than 14 percent of U.S. households are food insecure at some point during the year. Diverting a fraction of the wholesome food that currently goes to waste in this country could effectively end food insecurity for all Americans.

The federal government has recognized the importance of food donation and provides an enhanced tax deduction to incentivize certain businesses to donate food. In “Federal Enhanced Tax Deduction for Food Donation: A Legal Guide,” the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Food Recovery Project at University of Arkansas School of Law provide an important resource for food businesses and food recovery organizations to determine whether a food donor is eligible to receive the enhanced deduction.

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Pursuing the vision of Horace Mann

By Jonathan Wall, J.D. ’16 


Jonathan Wall, J.D. ’16

In 1848, Horace Mann, the “father” of American education, wrote, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” These words were rooted in the belief that a great education could overcome the effects of unequal backgrounds and allow any child to thrive in American society. My life experiences have taught me much about the power of education to combat socioeconomic disparities and to transform lives. As a result of these experiences, I have developed a strong interest in the legal and policy issues relating to education equity and adequacy. More than anything, I chose to attend HLS because of the opportunities to pursue these interests through HLS’ diverse and innovative clinical offerings. During the spring semester of my 2L year, I participated in the Semester in Washington Clinic, where I worked in the Educational Opportunities Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Now, as a 3L, I am participating in my second external clinic in as many semesters – Public Education Policy and Consulting Clinic (PEPCC).

PEPCC brings together graduate students in business, policy, education, and law from universities across the nation to engage in consulting projects serving public and social-sector organizations undertaking and supporting transformational change in the education sector. Through the clinic, I’m on a team with three other students, working with a large urban school district. The district is operating under state-law constraints, and is in the process of developing a strategy toward independence from the state. In December, our consulting team will provide the district with a proposal that will allow the district to transition to an economically and politically feasible “end state” that is aligned with its vision, includes key stakeholders, and sustains academic progress.

Among other things, my work has included conducting legal research and drafting memos, interviewing key stakeholders within the district, and attending meetings to brief the district’s superintendent and other leaders on different aspects of our team’s proposal. In addition to the consulting work, the class includes weekly seminars on topics in education policy, governance, management, and politics. We also engage in “skills sessions,” in which we’ve learned tangible skills, like how to translate a scope of work into a clear project plan, how to prepare for and conduct interviews, and how to calculate and analyze descriptive statistics. In the end, I’ll leave the class with a new skill set and knowledge base that far exceeds my original expectations of what I could learn in a semester.

As an aspiring lawyer, I find hope in my belief that through thoughtful collaboration and legal advocacy, our education system will one day become the “great equalizer” that Horace Mann envisioned. I’m thankful that HLS and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs have allowed me to spend some time away from Cambridge and the traditional law school classroom, to gain practical experiences within organizations tackling the important education issues that I hope to dedicate my career towards addressing.

Clinic students present legal workshops for veterans

Via Legal Services Center

LSC clinic student, Carys Johnson, presents to veterans about estate planning

LSC clinic student, Carys Johnson, presents to veterans about estate planning

On Monday, November 9, 2015, the Legal Services Center opened its doors to veterans from our community to serve dinner and provide a series of legal workshops on a range of topics relevant to veterans.  Twelve Harvard Law students from the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic presented legal information and tips to attendees about estate planning, Ch. 115 state veterans benefits, VA benefits, and Social Security benefits.  Approximately 30 local veterans and family members attended the event.

Rebecca Rattner, a second-year student in the clinic, worked with her fellow students to present about benefits available to veterans at the state level.

“I thought it was a really useful activity to engage the community and provide them with information about their rights and practical suggestions for how to advocate for themselves,”

Ms. Rattner said.

Staff from Boston and Bedford VA healthcare facilities helped to coordinate the event.

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Pivotal Elections in Myanmar

Via International Human Rights Clinic

By Roni Druks, J.D. ’17, and Sharon Yuen, LL.M. ’16

Today, Myanmar held its first contested general election in 25 years — one that will have major implications for human rights. As vote counting starts, everyone is waiting to see whether the current ruling party, the military-backed United Solidarity and Development Party, or the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, will win control of the parliament. There is a long history between military-backed parties and the NLD, dating to 1990, when the NLD won a landslide victory that was never recognized. In 2010, after decades of military rule, the country held elections again, leading to a USDP victory in parliament and the appointment of former general Thein Sein as president. But the NLD boycotted the 2010 vote, which was largely considered illegitimate.

Today, as the USDP, NLD, and other parties face off, seats in both the upper and lower houses of the national legislature, as well as at the state and division levels, are at stake. Despite concerns about whether the election will be free and fair, the key question is whether the NLD or USDP will win a victory and be able to control parliament—either alone or in a coalition. The winning party should control the selection of the next president, who will have a major influence over the course of human rights in the country over the next few years.

The outcome of the election will prove especially crucial since the president and newly elected parliament will bear responsibility of advancing a challenging peace process. Although the Myanmar government signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with eight ethnic armed organizations on October 15, 2015, the agreement remains neither nationwide nor a ceasefire. (For more on that, see the recent piece by our fellow clinic student, Roi Bachmutsky, JD ’17). Fighting has continued in several ethnic areas, raising concerns about the displacement of ethnic communities and other human rights violations.

Beyond the elections, Myanmar’s human rights record was under scrutiny this past Friday through the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is evaluating Myanmar’s progress on human rights since 2011. Regrettably, Myanmar appointed Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to head the committee responsible for Myanmar’s UPR process. Ko Ko has a long track record of alleged involvement in human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity as the International Human Rights Clinic previously documented in a four-year investigation.

The Clinic made a UPR submission in March highlighting that the Myanmar government has not taken any steps to investigate the allegations against Lt. Gen. Ko Ko. In a major development, more than 500 groups from Myanmar (who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation) have signed a petition calling for international action to hold Lt. Gen. Ko Ko accountable due to inaction at the national level. In response, the Clinic, along with eight other organizations, released a statement echoing the need for an end to impunity.

Whether on the election front, in its peace process, or on issues of accountability, it is a pivotal time in Myanmar. Along with the world, the people of Myanmar wait to see whether a new chapter for human rights is on the horizon or whether it will be more of the same.

Using law to protect veterans

Via Harvard Gazette

Credit: Heratch Photography While flying air missions in Afghanistan, Anne Stark said her greatest concern was protecting soldiers on the ground. As a student at Harvard Law School, she sees yet another way to protect those who have served their country.

Credit: Heratch Photography
While flying air missions in Afghanistan, Anne Stark said her greatest concern was protecting soldiers on the ground. As a student at Harvard Law School, she sees yet another way to protect those who have served their country.

Harvard students who have served in the armed forces represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experience, but all have one thing in common: a profound dedication to serving the nation, under the most perilous of circumstances.

Fifteen active-duty or veteran soldiers have matriculated at Harvard Law School (HLS) this year. Among those who have shared their perspectives on their service and their experiences at Harvard is Anne Stark. In honor of Veterans Day, HLS profiled three of its students, including Stark. To read additional profiles, visit the HLS website.

Anne Stark, J.D. ’18

During her 10 months as company commander in a U.S. Army attack reconnaissance battalion in a volatile region of Afghanistan several years ago, Anne Stark, J.D. ’18, commanded a company that was responsible for the daily operations of a 500-soldier battalion. Charged with all aspects of her soldiers’ welfare, equipping, and training, Stark was so exceptional at her job that she was recognized as one of the top five commanders in the 47-commander brigade, according to the brigade commander.

As pilot of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, Stark also flew 150 hours in combat operations in Afghanistan, heading out three or four times a week for eight-hour missions to protect soldiers on the ground. Though she was company commander with significant responsibility, there were never enough pilots to fly missions, so she and every other qualified Apache pilot pitched in.

“The area we were stationed in in Afghanistan was at the time, and still is, very volatile, so there was heavy demand for aviation assets,” said Stark, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and one of the few women in her battalion who can pilot the Apache, which carries missiles, rockets, and reconnaissance equipment. “Insurgents recognize what the Apache looks and sounds like and they very rarely attack a convoy if it’s being protected. I feel being in that role was a real privilege for me.”

While acknowledging the inherent danger of air missions, Stark — who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class in the Army’s Aviation career course — said her greatest concern was protecting soldiers on the ground. “If you ask any Apache pilot, they’d say if they were afraid of one thing, it’s that we wouldn’t do the best we possibly could to support troops, that we didn’t get there quickly enough or deploy our weapons systems quickly enough to save American lives,” she said.

Stark, whose parents both served in the U.S. Marine Corps, grew up in Ohio; at West Point, she majored in physics and earned the highest class rank in all nuclear physics classes as well as in political analysis and physical geography. Named a 2005 Marshall Scholar, she earned a master’s degree in technology policy at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, then a second master’s degree, in Middle Eastern and Central Asian security studies, at the University of St. Andrews, where she played rugby.

During a college summer shadowing an Apache pilot on an Army base in Korea, Stark became fascinated with the helicopter. After graduating St. Andrew’s, she entered the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence in Fort Rucker, Ala., where she met and married a fellow Apache pilot, Capt. Aaron Stark, a 2017 M.B.A. candidate at Harvard Business School. The couple was assigned as platoon leaders at the same Army base in Colorado, then sent to Germany as company commanders. Shortly after arriving, they were deployed to different parts of Afghanistan, Anne Stark to a region near the Pakistan border.

As headquarters commander, she learned that many of her soldiers struggled with serious financial problems. “I realized many of them have exorbitant loans at high interest rates,” said Stark, who became a coordinator for Financial Peace University, a financial literacy course for soldiers and their families. “It outraged me a bit that these less-than-reputable companies were targeting soldiers, and that got me interested in the legal and policy side of the regulation of the financial industry.”

Her final assignment before leaving the army, as chief of relocation operations, involved relocating — from Germany to the United States — her battalion and its operations, including 55 families and $10 million in equipment. Stark then matriculated at HLS, which she chose because of its Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, which assists military veterans with a range of legal issues. “That attracted me because of what it communicated about the University’s culture and its values,” she said. Veterans “are a population who are underserved.” Although she hasn’t decided what direction her legal career will take, “because of my background, it’s a population I’d be very interested in serving.”

A shelter for homeless youth

Via Harvard Gazette

In a heartfelt ceremony at First Parish in Cambridge, the Harvard students and alumni who led the effort to open a student-run overnight shelter for homeless youth in Harvard Square announced that it is set to open next month, as winter weather nears.

Sam Greenberg ’14 and Sarah Rosenkrantz ’14, who work full time as co-directors of the shelter, thanked all those who helped the project, which they began in 2013, become a reality.

“Thank you for making us the people we wanted to be,” said Greenberg as the crowd of 500 who packed the church’s sanctuary on Friday afternoon broke into applause.

Located in the basement of First Parish, a Unitarian Universalist church, the shelter aims to be a safe space for adults between the ages of 18 and 24. It will include 22 beds that are gender-neutral. Officials said it’s the nation’s first student-run overnight shelter.

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Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers: helping faculty and students connect with clients

Since 2007, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) has sponsored a Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers (SPIL) non-credit course to help students learn Spanish language skills. Later, in response to demand, OCP introduced a separate SPIL class for clinicians, in addition to the class for students. The curriculum emphasizes commonly used language in civil and criminal legal services and aims to strengthen attorney-client relations. Over the years, various LL.M. students have taught the course. For the past year, it has been taught by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau alumnae Nicole Summers J.D. ’14.

“Nicole is an outstanding teacher, and she really has a great understanding of what kinds of exercises and vocabulary will be most useful and have a direct application to our different practice areas,” said Clinical Professor of Law, Susan Farbstein who teaches in the International Human Rights Clinic.

Anna Andreeva J.D. ’17, a student in the class, said that she has already gained the confidence to hold an interview with a client in Spanish.

Another student, a native Spanish speaker, Mario Nguyên J.D. ’17 is also taking the course. “My mother is from Mexico, and I worked and went to school in Mexico,” he said. “However, in law school we are introduced to words we didn’t know existed in English –much less Spanish. While taking this course I feel clients already trust me more because I have the words to explain their legal disposition in a language that is familiar to them.”

“Halfway through the summer a judge gave me just a few minutes to advise a Honduran couple on an important choice he needed them to make. We had a Spanish-speaking community organizer available to translate, but using my Spanish from class I was able to monitor and correct the translation and even skip it in many instances to make sure we fit the consultation into the short time allowed by the judge,” said Esme Caramello ’99, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “I don’t think I could have enabled the clients to make a fully informed decision had I not understood legal Spanish.”

Sabi Ardalan ’02, Lecturer on Law and Associate Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic works with Spanish-speaking clients all the time. “My ability to communicate with them has improved tremendously as a result of the course,” she said. “It has given me the vocabulary necessary for all facets of representation, from rapport building to conducting client interviews to explaining the adjudication process. This course is truly unique, and Nicole is a phenomenal teacher! The course has also provided me with a fantastic opportunity to meet and learn from other clinicians and hear about their amazing work. Their tireless and creative advocacy is inspiring.”

Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers will be offered next in Spring semester of 2016.

Harvard Law School Library: A trove of resources for clinics and student practice organizations

The Harvard Law School library offers a wealth of resources including information guides, tools, and toolkits relevant to students and faculty working in clinics and student practice organizations (SPOs). With the front-line lawyer in mind, the library covers more than 50 subject areas, each one detailing the best way to get started with legal research, including pertinent regulations, case law, and journal articles.

There are also more than 10 Library Liaisons, assigned to the clinics and SPOs, ready to help clinical faculty, staff, and students develop efficient research skills and techniques through training sessions and individual meetings.

More than that, clinics and SPOs have access to a number of online tools, including:

  • LexisNexis, where a dedicated LexisNexis on-campus-representative can offer trainings on topics related to a specific clinic’s subject matter;
  • WestlawNext for quick access to textual forms and clauses, fillable PDF forms, and drafting aids;
  • Bloomberg Law to find a topic and keep current on issues; and
  • Practicing Law Institute Discover Plus for access to more than 50,000 documents, including treatises, course handbooks, answers books, transcripts, and forms.

More recently, the library began offering free and total access to Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education’s (MCLE) OnlinePass, a searchable database containing all MCLE’s live and archived webcasts, books, forms, and practice-area professional development plans.

OCP encourages you to take some time and explore these helpful resources and connect with your library liaison, individually or as a group, to meet your specific clinic or SPO needs.

For more information please visit the library’s Services for HLS Clinics and SPOs website.

Clinic and HRW Urge Strengthening of International Law Governing Incendiary Weapons

Via International Human Rights Clinic

(Washington, DC, November 5, 2015) – Countries should take concrete steps to strengthen international law governing incendiary weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, ahead of a diplomatic meeting devoted to incendiary and other weapons that will be held in Geneva November 9-13, 2015.

A video posted to YouTube by activists from Quseir, Syria shows ZAB 2.5 incendiary submunitions burning in the playground of the Ghaleb Radi school following an airstrike on December 3, 2012. © 2012 Private

A video posted to YouTube by activists from Quseir, Syria shows ZAB 2.5 incendiary submunitions burning in the playground of the Ghaleb Radi school following an airstrike on December 3, 2012. © 2012 Private

The need is urgent in light of new reported uses of incendiary weapons, which cause excruciatingly painful burns that are difficult to treat and can lead to long-term psychological harm and severe disfigurement.

The report, “From Condemnation to Concrete Action,” provides a five-year review of developments related to incendiary weapons. It lays out evidence of recent use, including in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, as well as allegations of use in Yemen in 2015. It also examines the evolution of countries’ policies and positions regarding the use of incendiary weapons.

“Countries have been voicing concerns and condemning use of incendiary weapons for five years, but it is time for more tangible progress,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior clinical instructor with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School and senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Countries should seize the opportunities at upcoming diplomatic meetings to strengthen the law curbing the use of these exceptionally cruel weapons.”

A protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an international treaty, regulates the use of incendiary weapons. But it has significant loopholes that have undermined its effectiveness and failed to deter ongoing use, the report said.

At their annual meeting in Geneva next week, countries that are party to that treaty should agree to initiate discussions to review current law. Such discussions would lay the groundwork for efforts to amend the law at the 2016 review conference, a major diplomatic gathering held every five years.

The joint report is co-published by Human Rights Watch, where Docherty is also senior arms researcher. Sarah Abraham, JD ’17, Lauren Blodgett, JD ’16, Danae Paterson, JD ’16, contributed research to the report.

Today HLAB Student Attorney argues before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court


Today, Louis Fisher J.D. ’16, student attorney in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), presented an oral argument in the case of Meikle v. Nurse. The focus of the case is whether a landlord’s violation of the security deposit law provides a defense to a tenant in a summary process action for eviction of the tenant.

“Charlie Reese J.D. ’16 from the Legal Services Center’s Housing Law Clinic filed an amicus brief in the case, which was a tremendous help, on behalf of City Life/Vida Urbana,” Louis said.

Louis is working on the case under the supervision of HLAB’s Senior Clinical Instructor Patricia Whiting. Deena Greenberg J.D. ’15 also worked on the case.

The World’s Role in Burma’s Peace Process

By Roi Bachmutsky, J.D. ’17, student in the International Human Rights Clinic

There is a joke in Burma* that George Orwell unintentionally wrote a trilogy about the country: Burmese Days about its colonial era, Animal Farm about its road to socialism, and 1984 about its military dictatorship. With Burma’s national elections coming up in just one week, President Thein Sein has been using smoke and mirrors to persuade the world that dystopian Burma is history. The final act is the recent signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Ethnic Armed Organizations that have long been plagued by armed conflict with the regime. Burma has changed, the story goes: it is a democracy, it has made peace. Enticing though it may be, this narrative is just not true.

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Chayes Fellows journey abroad to serve the public good

Via HLS News

In the summer of 2015, 86 Harvard Law School students worked in 37 countries on a diverse array of projects; 19 of those students traveled to 15 countries through the Chayes International Public Service Fellowships. Chayes Fellows spend eight weeks working within the governments of developing nations, or with the inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them. As seen in the slideshow below, their projects take many forms, this year ranging in topic from school transportation and sanitation concerns in South Africa to environmental provisions in international trade agreements at the United Nations, or transitional justice processes in Colombia. The profiles below highlight the experiences of four of the 2015 Chayes Fellows.


Credit: Photo courtesy of Aditya Pai

Aditya Pai ’17

Sehgal Foundation

Gurgaon, India
Aditya Pai '17 in Mewat, India

Credit: Photo courtesy of Aditya Pai

Aditya Pai returned to India, the country of his birth, to work with the Sehgal Foundation. As part of an initiative to improve villagers’ access to government benefits, he analyzed the effectiveness of the foundation’s legal literacy camps in the Mewat district of Haryana. His interviews—all of which he conducted in Hindi—of camp attendees, members of government legal aid centers, and foundation field staff members, documented cases of successes and setbacks. The assessment was developed to better understand why some citizens achieved positive results from what they had learned (for example, securing an old age pension that had not been provided previously), while others did not. His final report made recommendations for improving future legal literacy camps. “Meeting and interviewing the villagers in Mewat, who face serious challenges of poverty and political corruption, provided an incredible education in the hard realities of the world —especially after a useful, but largely theoretical, 1L curriculum.”

As a student attorney for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Pai will apply the lessons he learned in India to the Bureau’s efforts to promote legal literacy about eviction and foreclosures among disadvantaged communities in Boston. “Getting plugged in to the legal empowerment community enriched my understanding of both international development and the practice of poverty law in America. These two communities do not often talk to each other, but the work of one has obvious relevance for the other. I’m now better prepared for a career in public service, whether at home or abroad.”

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Clinic Submits Report In Support Of Hearing On Rights Of People Affected By The CIA Rendition And Torture Program

Via International Human Rights Clinic

Last week, the International Human Rights Clinic submitted a report in support of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights thematic hearing on the rights of people affected by the CIA rendition and torture program. The hearing was requested by the ACLU and the NYU Global Justice Clinic, who asked us to adapt our 2014 shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture for this purpose.

Titled Denial of Justice: The United States’ Failure to Prosecute Senior Officials for Torture, the report documents how the Obama administration and other government entities are in violation of the law by shielding from criminal liability the senior officials, including lawyers, who were responsible for the post-9/11 U.S. torture program. It notes that the U.S. government has failed to heed calls by the Inter-American Commission and other human rights authorities to conduct an in-depth and independent investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and to prosecute and punish those responsible.

We submitted both the Inter-American Commission and the U.N. Committee reports as members of the advocacy group U.S. Advocates for Torture Prosecutions.

Thanks to Michelle Ha, JD ’16, Kelsey Jost-Creegan, JD ’17, and Marin Tollefson, JD ’17 for their work on the report, and to Fernando Delgado, Tyler Giannini, and original co-authors Ben Davis, Trudy Bond, and Curtis Doebbler, for their review.

Read the rest of the documents the ACLU and the GJC submitted for the hearing.

DMCA Exemption Granted for Medical Device Research, Patient Access to Data

Via Cyberlaw Clinic

We are happy to report that the Library of Congress has approved of exemptions to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions in order to protect independent medical device safety and security research and patient access to data. This announcement comes after a year of litigating this issue before the Copyright Office. You can review all of our prior coverage and the filings of the case at our page about the 2015 Anticircumvention Rulemaking. I wanted to take time to review the decision, and reflect briefly on the process of the DMCA rulemaking.


The Cyberlaw Clinic represented a coalition of medical device researchers – Hugo Campos, Jay Radcliffe, Karen Sandler, and Ben West – who study the safety, security, and effectiveness of implanted medical devices. Some of our clients study this by analyzing the software of medical devices for vulnerabilities or flaws, and others look specifically to how patients can protect themselves by getting more timely access to medical data. Through a petition, initial comment, reply comment, and two subsequent letters, the Clinic articulated why such research is vital to ensuring patient health and safety, does not seriously risk piracy or infringement, and should be allowed to continue as medical device manufacturers begin to employ encryption and other “technological protection measures” that implicate anticircumvention law.

At the recommendation of the Copyright Office and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Library decided to split our proposed exemption into two pieces – those accessing software to do security testing, and patients accessing their own data – and consider each separately. In the end they granted both parts of the exemption, though not without some important caveats and qualifications.

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U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy ’09, remembers Professor David Grossman

“Professor Grossman was a talented lawyer, a dedicated teacher and a passionate advocate. He committed his life to the fair implementation of the law, believing that it applies to all of us and protects each of us. Throughout his career, he showed how words like justice and fairness were not just ideas for discussion but principles that had to be fought for, protected and defended. In so doing, he protected thousands of people in need and inspired hundreds of young lawyers. Our community has lost a champion, but his values and vision live on through all those he touched. My thoughts and prayers are with Stacy, Lev and Shayna during this difficult time.” – Congressman Joe Kennedy ’09 

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus delivers Disabled American Veterans Distinguished Lecture at Harvard Law School

Via HLS News


L-R: Dana Montalto, attorney and Liman Fellow in Harvard Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic; Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus ’75; and Dan Nagin, Harvard Law School Clinical Professor, Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, and Faculty Director, Veterans Legal Clinic. The event was co-sponsored by Harvard Law School Veterans Legal Clinic, which provides legal advocacy for veterans, and the HLS Armed Forces Association. The Disabled American Veterans Distinguished Lecture at Harvard Law School is supported by a grant from the Disabled American Veterans’ Charitable Service Trust. Credit: Lorin Granger

Delivering the 2015 Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Distinguished Lecture at Harvard Law School on Oct. 22, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus ’75 told attendees that “one of my proudest moments as Secretary” was the reinstatement of the Reserve Officers Training Program on the Harvard campus in 2011.

In March of that year, Mabus and Harvard University president Drew Faust signed an agreement ending ROTC’s 40-year absence from the Harvard campus.

“When I was in the Navy more than 40 years ago, it was a very different country,” Mabus said. “I was stationed in Newport and it was hard to walk through Logan Airport without having somebody upbraid me for being in the military. But today, Americans have learned to separate the warrior from the war. You can have disagreements about the conflicts we may be in, but not over the people who are fighting them, who are willing to raise their hand.”

His speech provided a broad assessment of the 900,000-person, $170-billion Naval Department under his command as “the best force we’ve ever had.” He also said that the Navy is operating more ships, striving for less dependence on fossil fuels, and focusing on improving the lives of sailors and Marines and their families.

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Spring Term Clinical Opportunity: Public Education Policy and Consulting Clinic

Application Due: November 10, 2015 @ 5 pm
Enrollment is by application and is limited to rising 2L and 3L students.

This full-semester interdisciplinary Clinic brings together upper-level graduate students in law, business, education and policy from Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Michigan, NYU and Stanford to immerse themselves in (i) emerging strategies for K-12 and allied institutional reform; (ii) structured, team-based problem-solving skills that effective organizations use to address the most difficult challenges in public education and many other domains; and (iii) high-priority multi-dimensional consulting projects on behalf of public- and social-sector organizations serving the educational and related needs of children.

Clinic Description

Participants in this Clinic engage in:

1. A comprehensive seminar in the design, governance, regulation, democratic accountability and transformation of K-12 school systems and allied public- and social-sector organizations.

2. Skills training in a constellation of twenty-first century problem-solving competencies, including working in diverse teams to address multi-dimensional problems; quantitative and qualitative analysis and measurement; organizational macro- and micro-design; project management; policy research and analysis; and presentation of professional advice to public- and social-sector clients.

3. A high-priority, professionally guided consulting project on which an interdisciplinary team of professional students provides research, design, strategic planning, and/or counseling assistance on matters that interweave legal, regulatory, management, policy, and/or technological problems crucial to the mission of the client organization—typically, a state department of education, school district, charter school organization, social services agency or other non-profit serving children.

Students who are interested in this Clinic should submit a resume, unofficial transcript, and brief statement of interest (500 word max.) to  cprl at by November 10, 2015 at 5 pm.

CPRL will notify students who have been invited for a video interview with Professor Liebman and the CPRL team. Feel free to contact CPRL at  cprl at with any questions.

Accepted students will be enrolled in the clinic and associated course component by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

Read full Clinic Description in the Course Catalog

New Publication | The Food is Medicine Advocacy Toolkit

Via Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

FiM Advocacy Toolkit coverCHLPI has just released The Food is Medicine Advocacy Toolkit: Using Advocacy to Expand Opportunities for Food and Nutrition Services in Public and Private Healthcare Systems. The release is the latest in a series of publications on CHLPI’s work to integrate access to nutrition and housing services as core components of health care. Food is Medicine was released in 2014, and Food is Prevention was released earlier this year.

Across the country, the evolving healthcare landscape is creating new opportunities for integration of food and nutrition services (FNS) into our healthcare systems. Specifically, recent changes have created new opportunities for FNS providers to obtain reimbursement from both public and private insurers and integrate their innovative services into a variety of healthcare delivery models. A growing body of research demonstrates that FNS are cost-effective health interventions that improve health outcomes among beneficiaries and patients with significant health needs. As a result, insurers and medical providers (such as physicians and hospitals), are recognizing the enormous potential of providing insurance coverage of FNS.

The toolkit is designed to support the efforts of FNS providers by providing practical guidance on how to identify and take advantage of opportunities for acquiring new funding streams from health insurance systems and their associated delivery models and programs. Additionally, the toolkit will help providers navigate the complex world of healthcare reform, understand potential opportunities for programs, and analyze internal and external strategies toward the development of an advocacy plan.

The report was written by the Center for Health Law, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, and Policy Innovation and God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD). GLWD is based in New York City and provides life-sustaining meals and nutritional counseling for people living with severe and chronic illnesses. On the national level, God’s Love leads The Food Is Medicine Coalition, a volunteer association of nonprofit food and nutrition services (FNS) providers across the country seeking to preserve and expand coverage of FNS for people with severe illness.

Harvard Law celebrated National Pro Bono Week

This week, Harvard Law School celebrated National Pro Bono Week. This celebration honored the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their time to help people in their communities and increase justice for all. The week was marked by ceremonies and panel discussions focused on the value of pro bono work.

HLS Students recognized for their Pro Bono Service Hours

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers its heartfelt congratulations to the 37 Harvard Law students that were recognized by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services for their commitment to pro bono work. The ceremony was held at the Adams Courthouse on October 28th and the students are listed on the SJC’s Pro Bono Honor Roll website.

The recognition is presented annually to law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government attorney offices, non-profit organizations, law school faculties, and law students who certify that, in the calendar year of 2014, they have contributed at least 50 hours of legal services without receiving pay or academic credit.

A Partner at WilmerHale, John (“Jack”)  J. Regan, was also honored with a Pro Bono Publico Award for his work on behalf of veterans and others with unmet legal needs. Among his many pro bono endeavors, Mr. Regan collaborates closely with HLS’s Veterans Legal Clinic on a range of matters, including efforts to increase access to representation for disabled veterans who received a less-than-honorable discharge. “Jack’s commitment to the veterans community and his unlimited enthusiasm for pro bono work are simply unmatched and are an inspiration to all,” said Daniel Nagin, Clinical Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, and Faculty Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “We congratulate Jack on this incredibly well-deserved award.”

Pro Bono Honor Roll Students:

Tobyn Aaron J.D. ’16 Mark Giles Hamlin J.D. ’16
Mustafa Abdul-Jabbar J.D. ’16 Kirby Hsu J.D. ’16
Keaton Allen-Gessesse J.D. ’16 Brian Klosterboer J.D. ’16
Akeeb Dami Animashaun J.D. ’16 Jason Kramer J.D. ’16
Lauren Blodgett J.D. ’16 Sean Lo J.D. ’17
Aaron Bray J.D. ’16 Yixuan Long J.D. ’16
Torrance Castellano J.D. ’16 Sean Lyness J.D. ’15
Samuel H. Chang J.D. ’16 Lindsay E. Mullett J.D. ’16
Dongeun Ana Choi J.D. ’16 Catherine Taylor Poor J.D. ’16
Kenyon Colli J.D. ’16 Francesca Procaccini J.D. ’15
Samuel Bay Dinning J.D. ’16 Colin Taylor Ross J.D. ’16
Elisa Dun J.D. ’16 Emma Scott J.D. ’16
Sophie Rubinett Elsner J.D. ’16 Samantha Sheehan J.D. ’16
Rachel E. Endick J.D. ’16 Alexander W. Simmonds J.D. ’16
Samuel Feldman J.D. ’16 Ariel A. Simms J.D. ’16
Katrina Fleury J.D. ’16 Mark Thomson J.D. ’16
Marissa Florio J.D. ’16 Kellen Wittkop J.D. ’16
Zack Greenamyre J.D. ’16 Jung Hoon Yang J.D. ’16
Phoebe Yu J.D. ’16


Startups: How I Channel My Entrepreneurial Interests at HLS


Eli A. Shalam J.D. ’16

By Eli A. Shalam J.D. ’16

By the time my first semester at HLS began, I was chomping at the bit to work with the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project (aka “HLEP”—pronounced aitch-lep). By early October, I was placed on a team with three other law students researching the impact of independent contractor and employee classifications on a company’s business model. Our client was a company that facilitated the booking of housekeepers to clean customers’ homes*. The main issue was that the company wanted strict standards to ensure the quality and consistency of the customer experience, but did not want to risk any sort of liability if, for example, a housekeeper started a major fire in a customer’s home, a customer’s pet severely injured a housekeeper, or a housekeeper accidentally spilled cleaning supplies on priceless curios. Our job was to advise the company on whether, and how, to classify the housekeepers as employees or independent contractors.

The project began to get very real for me when one of the attorneys assigned to our team suddenly perked up during the client intake meeting and realized that her husband had just used the client’s service to hire a housekeeper during the prior week! This company was already operating in the Boston area and my team and I were in a position to directly influence their business!

That January, I applied for a seat on the Executive Board and became the organization’s Vice President of Operations—managing the team assignment and administration process, from collecting client, attorney, and law student applications, to assigning everyone to a team within their top few preferences, and ensuring that projects were completed without a hitch and to the clients’ satisfaction. One year later, I became President of HLEP during a period of huge growth. In my first semester with the organization, we had 54 students working with 12 attorneys on 14 client-projects. This past semester we had 133 students working with 39 attorneys on 30 client-projects. And every semester, as I review the wide array of client applications that we receive —an entrepreneur wildly passionate about selling his favorite beverage, two separate companies trying to build power generation plants, an alternative ice-cream store, numerous pharmaceutical companies, and investment funds — I remember the project that got me started in HELP, where I was able to work with two great entrepreneurs to revolutionize home cleaning services and the 90 other companies that we have helped since then.

*The nature of the client’s business has been altered to protect the client’s privacy.

Harvard Immigration Project fights for the rights of immigrants

CaptureBy Michelle Ha J.D. ’16

It is a particularly exciting time to be involved in immigration and refugee issues. The international spotlight on the migrant crisis in Europe has focused attention worldwide on the movement of people across borders, fleeing violence and poverty in search of a better life. Global public opinion has also shifted towards recognizing a shared moral obligation to help those in need and a forceful push on states to do more.

The Harvard Immigration Project (HIP) is excited to serve as a forum on campus for students interested in being a part of this incredible moment of energy and opportunity. The breadth and depth of our activities demonstrate the diversity and interconnectedness of the various areas within the field. We kicked off the year by partnering with Project Citizenship during the Citizenship Day workshop in September, where student volunteers helped legal permanent residents in the Boston area apply for citizenship. Student members of each of HIP’s four projects are gearing up for another productive year of advocating and training in different areas of refugee and immigration law: our campus chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project  will be teaming with pro bono attorneys to assist refugees in the Middle East apply for refugee status and resettlement in the United States; the Removal Defense Project will be working on the defensive side of asylum proceedings, assisting noncitizen clients in detention facing potential deportation; the Immigration Services Project  will be helping former clients of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) who have settled in the United States with follow-up immigration needs, such as petitioning for family reunification; and the Policy Project will be conducting legal and policy research and advocacy to support the Massachusetts Trust Act Coalition in its mission to reform policing in immigrant communities by combatting unconstitutional detention policies.

HIP is also organizing and sponsoring events on campus to help raise awareness and foster discussion on the important topics in migration that are being debated around the world today. Family detention policy in the United States will be highlighted and contextualized during a coffee chat with a mother who was held in a detention facility in Texas with her children; screening of a VICE documentary that follows the journeys of several Syrian refugees fleeing from the war is currently being planned; and the first HIP symposium will invite academics and practitioners from all over the world to engage in the difficult theoretical and policy questions confronting us today, such as the normative grounds for distinguishing between political refugees and economic migrants in refugee law. We look forward to engaging on immigration and refugee issues and providing space for Harvard Law School and the greater community to serve as leaders in thinking about innovative approaches to solving a global issue.

Judge John Cratsley (Ret.): A mediation and arbitration champion of the community

Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)

Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.)

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs offers its heartfelt congratulations to Lecturer on Law and Director of the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic, Judge John C. Cratsley (Ret.) on his Community Peacemaker Award.

The award was presented on October 14, 2015 by the Community Dispute Settlement Center (CDSC), a private, not-for-profit mediation and training center dedicated to providing an alternative and affordable forum for resolving conflict. The award celebrates the accomplishments of the mediation community. CDSC also honored the Founder and Executive Director of InnerCity Weightlifting Jon Feinman and the Cambridge Rindge & Latin Mediation Team with similar Community Peacemaker Awards.

Community Dispute Settlement Center’s Profile of Judge John Cratsley 

The Honorable John Cratsley (Ret.) is a mediator and arbitrator in the JAMS Boston Office. JAMS is an internationally recognized ADR firm. His mediations and arbitrations frequently involve business and employment disputes as well as construction and commercial matters.

Prior to joining JAMS in early 2012, Judge Cratsley served on the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1987 to 2011 and on the District Court from 1973 to 1983. In the interim period, 1983 to 1987, he was Chief of the Public Protection Bureau for Attorney General Frank Bellotti. While on the Superior Court, Judge Cratsley served as Regional Administrative Judge in both Suffolk and Norfolk Counties.

Judge Cratsley was instrumental in the passage of the Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution which were developed during his tenure as Chair of the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution from 1999 to 2004.

Judge Cratsley currently teaches both at Boston College and Harvard Law School as well as in MCLE and Bar Association continuing education programs. He currently volunteers as a mediator in Suffolk Superior Court for those who cannot afford private mediation. He also serves on the Planning Board and the Community Preservation Committee in his hometown of Concord.

Judge Cratsley is a member of the Board of Directors of Communities for Restorative Justice, a community-based restorative justice program working with police departments in twelve suburban cities and towns. He recently completed two years as one of the five retired judges appointed Special Judicial Magistrates to hear cases resulting from the faulty state drug lab work of the now convicted chemist Annie Dookhan.

On and off the bench, Judge Cratsley’s work continues to reflect his commitment to community peacemaking, an outstanding lifetime achievement.

A Profile of Two Students

Via HLS Advocates for Human Rights 

Danae Paterson, J.D. ‘16, and Brian Klosterboer, J.D. ‘16, met one another at the start of their 1L year while working on a project in Advocates for Human Rights. Now in their final year of law school, they have applied the human rights strategies they learned in Advocates to their work in the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) and with human rights organizations in Syria, the West Bank, Turkey, Uganda, and Washington, DC.

Advocates for Human Rights is a student practice organization that enables students to hone their human rights skills and gain practical legal experience, while simultaneously fostering an active and aware human rights community at Harvard Law School. Historically, Advocates was a hotbed of student activism, spearheading campaigns to oppose the Iraq War and U.S. torture programs. Today, Advocates performs legal work on behalf of nongovernmental organizations and works to advance human rights in Boston and around the world.

Both Danae and Brian entered law school with a strong interest in human rights. Within the first few weeks of school, they joined in Advocate’s project called “Thinking Big.” Working with teams, they began to think critically of the systemic problems in human rights. And, throughout the year, they helped develop an anti-sex trafficking project and reading group, which culminated in a “gap analysis” of anti-trafficking organizations in Boston.

Before starting Harvard Law, Danae served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Rwanda, and earned an MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics, where she specialized in nationalism and conflict. Both experiences fueled her interest in human rights and served as a foundation for engaging in work related to conflict-affected areas and human rights.

Building on the experience she gained in Advocates, Danae worked as part of a legal team with the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG) in Washington, D.C. to support the state of Yemen and United Nation Envoy to Yemen in their constitution-drafting negotiations. She also went on to work on incendiary weapons treaty negotiations in Geneva as well as principles of assistance to conflict victims in IHRC. During Winter Term, Danae went back to work with PILPG’s Syria team in Gaziantep, Turkey, to support peacebuilding and local negotiations with Syrian community activists.

Before law school, Brian studied African history at Centre College in Kentucky and studied abroad in China and Cameroon. He then traveled to Uganda as a Fulbright Research Fellow to study the media and the military. There, he also worked as a journalist for a Ugandan newspaper that was shut down by the military and co-founded a bar and restaurant in Kampala.

Brian used the skills he learned in Advocates to return to Uganda during his 1L summer and work for the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a local nonprofit that successfully overturned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Constitutional Court. As a 2L, he worked on the Alien Tort Statute Project with IHRC and went on to work as a Summer Associate at Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., a plaintiff-side firm with practice areas in human rights and civil rights.

This year, Danae and Brian serve as co-presidents of Advocates and continue to be involved in promoting and enforcing human rights. They have both continued their work with the International Human Rights Clinic, Danae has continued to support PILPG’s Syria Team, and has worked to debut at Harvard the Caesar Project, a series of photos by a defected military forensic scientist exposing systemic torture in Syria, and Brian is co-authoring a book on the Ugandan gay rights movement.

Advocates has grown since Danae and Brian’s first year of law school and this semester has five active projects. The Criminalization of Homelessness in Massachusetts project investigates how municipal codes in Massachusetts affect people who are homeless. The Corporate Accountability and Legislative Action team is working to pass a bill in the Massachusetts legislature that will open legal channels to individuals who have suffered human rights abuses. The Accountability for the Rohingya project works with local activists in Myanmar to examine and explore legal mechanisms that provide accountability for human rights abuses on behalf of the Rohingya people. And there are two projects on Corporate Accountability for International Crimes in Latin America, one of which focuses on tort liability and another on international criminal law. In addition to these projects, Advocates is also continuously developing projects for the future and hosting speakers, workshops, and events designed to enrich the human rights community at Harvard Law.

A story of success: public service litigation and solitary confinement

By Irem Girmen, Northeastern University Co-Op Student at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

On September 4th, the Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs hosted a lunch talk by Jules Lobel, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburg School of Law and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Professor Lobel gave a brief history of Ashker v. Governor of California, a federal class action lawsuit filed in May 2012, challenging the practice of solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the prison’s Security Housing Unit for over a decade. The case was part of CCR’s effort to challenge mass incarceration and abusive prison policies.

Harvard Law School students who attended the talk were particularly curious about the conditions prisoners are subjected to. Lobel explained that the Pelican Bay State Prison has one of the largest solitary confinement units of its kind. Prisoners spend 23 hours a day in an 8-by-10 foot cell, without access to sunlight. The only way they can talk to other inmates is through a hole in the ground in the recreation area they can use for only one hour per day. Research has shown that, as a result, social deprivation and deteriorating health conditions characterize this particulate inmate population.

On September 1st, 2015, a landmark settlement was reached to end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. The victory will not only reduce the number of people in solitary confinement but also improve the situation for those who are in solitary confinement.

“Do not think something is impossible in litigation,” Lobel said. “You never know.”

Recording Artist Project provides pro bono representation to musicians

By Terron East, J.D. ’17 

Within the last decade, the music industry has shifted from an entity reliant upon physical goods, such as CDs and vinyl, to a business largely dependent upon internet streaming via companies such as Spotify and Apple Music. Although the traditions of the music industry have changed, the need for legal representation has remained constant, as artists must build their brands and protect their interests in their work while not infringing upon the rights of others. By advising clients on many aspects of entertainment law, the Harvard Law School’s Recording Artists Project (also known as RAP) has provided valuable pro bono representation to musicians in Boston and beyond since its inception in 1998.

While RAP cases focus upon the legal needs of musicians and others involved in the music industry, the specific legal work involved in each case varies widely. In recent semesters, students have had the opportunity to negotiate record contracts, draft work-for-hire and band partnership agreements, clear samples used in new works, register copyrights for compositions and sound recordings, and register trademarks for band names, among other legal tasks. The services of RAP have further been assisted by participation of students from the Berklee College of Music. These students, often musicians themselves, aid in client representation by providing advice based upon their classroom instruction and first-hand experiences with music business, recording, and performing.

In conjunction with providing direct legal services, RAP plans to expand its community outreach this year through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB). This collaboration will connect RAP students with members of various BGCB “Music Clubhouses” to educate the young musicians about music law, including copyright law, music publishing, and the role of record labels in an artist’s career. This collaboration will also give HLS students a chance to interact with teens from the Boys & Girls Club to provide mentorship and insight into the daily lives of law school students, with planned visits to a local Music Clubhouse as well as an event on the law school’s campus.

Although I was initially unaware of RAP upon entering HLS, the opportunity to join the program as a 1L seemed hard to resist. While I enjoyed the litigation, case-based approach to law that was employed in my core classes for the first year, I found that RAP provided much needed insight into the transactional spectrum of law. Moreover, RAP served as my first foray into entertainment law–a subject with which I was enamored since my time serving as music director for my undergrad college’s radio station years ago. After serving as team leader during my first two semesters with RAP, I sought to become director of the organization to not only participate further within the daily proceedings of the organization, but to also assist in making RAP more visible on both the HLS and Berklee campuses. Using the extensive alumni and faculty connections provided by RAP, I hope to allow interested students to use the program as a first step to establish themselves within the diverse and promising field of entertainment law.

Tenant Advocacy Project: Helping individuals with criminal records secure a second chance at housing

By Ryan Sakoda, Student in the Tenant Advocacy Project and Harvard Ph.D. Candidate in Economics

Over 100 million individuals, or about one-third of the U.S. population, have some form of criminal record. During 2012 alone, there were over 12 million arrests reported in the United States. In addition, about 640,000 individuals were released from state and federal prisons to try to rebuild their lives with the heavy burden of a criminal conviction on their record.

The impact of the criminal justice system has been particularly concentrated among low-income individuals, many of whom rely on public or subsidized housing. After having contact with the criminal justice system, however, most of these individuals are barred from public housing assistance even many years after their conviction. Without reliable housing, it is nearly impossible to maintain steady employment and establish the structure necessary for these individuals to move on with their lives.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recognized how important housing assistance programs can be in efforts to reduce recidivism and has recently issued two letters reminding public housing agencies of their discretion to admit individuals with prior convictions. These two letters, issued in 2011 and 2012, emphasize the Obama Administration’s belief “in the importance of second chances” and the necessity of “helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of a stable life—a place to live.”

During the past winter and spring, the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) focused on these issues, assisting four clients on criminal-history-based denials of public and Section 8 housing. Each of these clients presented a unique story reflecting the myriad and complex circumstances that can lead to a criminal record.

In our first case, Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez ’17 took the lead representing a young mother whose application for public housing was denied due to a drug conviction early in life. Her conviction was the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not understanding the long-run impact of a criminal conviction before pleading guilty to a crime she did not commit. Although this conviction had occurred before our client became a mother, it stood as the barrier preventing her two children from obtaining a stable home. These kinds of contextual details are often overlooked as an applicant’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report is sometimes the sole source of information relied on by public housing agencies when evaluating an applicant’s criminal history. Although applicants are given the opportunity to provide mitigating evidence related to their criminal record, they often do not have the time or resources to produce evidence deemed sufficient by the housing authority to overcome their record.

Throughout the winter, Pedro put together a package of mitigating evidence for our client. He spent countless hours interviewing her and collecting numerous letters of support from friends and former neighbors. In addition, we included a memo arguing that our client’s perfect record while on probation should be considered strong evidence of her commitment to remain free of criminal activity. Housing authorities normally place little or no weight on good behavior while on probation because of the assumption that it was the supervision rather than intrinsic motivation that kept the individual out of trouble. But contrary to this assumption, high rates of probation violations are found in a number of studies and suggest that not all individuals perform well under supervision. Therefore, we argued, those that do perform well should certainly be given credit for their performance. These materials, along with Pedro’s excellent argument at the administrative hearing, resulted in a reversal of our client’s application denial and her reinstatement to the waiting list for housing.

The remaining three cases resulted in victories as well, two through mitigation of the criminal record and one by way of Reasonable Accommodation. Like our first case, TAP helped each of these clients gather documentation including letters from friends, doctors, and social workers, evidence of the completion of programming, and academic research relevant to the client’s past behavior.

This research, along with the testimony of our client’s social worker, was particularly valuable for our case decided on Reasonable Accommodation grounds. In that case, we provided evidence showing that past trauma victims often have violent reactions to being held or constrained due to extreme agitation and fear, supporting our claim that there was a nexus between our client’s mental health disabilities and her convictions for violent criminal activity. After presenting this evidence at the hearing, the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) decided in favor of our client, finding that she should be granted a reasonable accommodation for her mental health disabilities and consequently, that the criminal convictions resulting from her disabilities could not be grounds to deny her application.

Working on this set of cases highlighted the challenges faced by individuals attempting to rebuild their life after a criminal conviction. These challenges are enormous and exacerbated by the numerous barriers to public benefits levied against those with a record. Fighting these barriers can seem hopeless, but as shown by TAP’s experience, these cases are winnable and worthy of the attention of our legal community.

Court by Court, Lawyers Fight Policies That Fall Heavily on the Poor

Via New York Times

CLANTON, Ala. — In January, Christy Dawn Varden was arrested in a Walmart parking lot, charged with shoplifting and three other misdemeanors, and taken to jail. There, she was told that if she had $2,000, she could post bail and leave. If she did not, she would wait a week before seeing a judge. Ms. Varden, who lived with her mother and two children, had serious mental and physical health problems; her only income was her monthly food stamp allotment.

Two days later, a civil rights lawyer named Alec Karakatsanis sued on behalf of Ms. Varden, alleging that bail policies in Clanton, a city of 8,619, discriminated against the poor by imprisoning them while allowing those with money to go free.

The response was quick: Clanton, while defending its policies, told the court that defendants would be able to see a judge within 48 hours. Within a couple of months, the city agreed to release most misdemeanor defendants immediately, without their posting bail.

Since then, Mr. Karakatsanis has sued six additional jurisdictions in four different states, representing single mothers, homeless men and people with mental disabilities, all who would have been free but for some ready cash. His novel legal strategy has proved effective: So far five of the cities have changed their policies. The suits, which are now being replicated around the country, have won support from the federal Justice Department and rulings that endorse his assertion that the money bail system is unfair to the poor.

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