Making a Commitment to Innovation

HLSVia the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau 

The student-run Board of Directors at HLAB recently approved the addition of a new Knowledge, Innovation, and Technology (KIT) Director to the Board, beginning in 2015. The creation of the new position was the result of a semester-long deliberation among students and clinical instructors on how to better manage information at the Bureau. The existing clinical technology – Remote Clinics and Time Matters – had proven inadequate as a means of organizing and sharing internal knowledge across generations of Bureau students. Board members Rina Thomas ’15 (Communications Director) and Nick Pastan ’15 (Training Director) collaborated on a plan to fill this gap at the Bureau.

“Before today, at the Bureau, knowledge management consisted of going into the computer lab and asking whether someone in there had drafted a particular kind of motion,” said Nick. “The answer you received depended entirely on which students and CIs were in the building at the moment.”

“I had spent my last few summers in a variety of work settings: a public defenders’ office, a corporate law firm, and a management consulting firm. They all had systems for tracking what individuals learned over time so that the entire organization could benefit,” said Rina. “I thought the Bureau, which loses and gains a new class of students each year, would really benefit if we created our own internal system.”

Through extensive discussion, the Bureau identified two near-term priorities: 1) assembling exemplary motions, agreements, and other documents and 2) creating consolidated outlines for the substantive areas of law practiced at the Bureau. A dedicated group of Bureau students will spend this upcoming J-term creating this content and uploading it to a new internal Bureau wiki, hosted on the Harvard Confluence platform.

Recognizing that online content can quickly grow stale, the Board approved the creation of a KIT Director who will manage the Bureau’s process of updating and developing the wiki over time. The KIT Director will also serve as the point person to advocate for the Bureau’s technology needs and to handle special projects related to innovation in the delivery of legal services.

“With the creation of this new position, we have made a commitment as an organization to preserve and build upon what we’ve learned and to stay on top of technological changes which can help us to better serve our clients,” said Nick.

“Building a wiki is just a first step,” said Rina, “I’m excited to see what shape the Bureau’s knowledge and innovation efforts take in the future.”

Clinic and Partners Call on Myanmar Officials to Drop Charges against Father Complaining of Rights Violations

Via the International Human Rights Clinic

In a letter to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on December 8, the International Human Rights Clinic and five leading international human rights organizations called for criminal charges to be immediately and unconditionally dropped against Shayam Brang Shawng, a resident of Kachin State in northern Myanmar. Brang Shawng is accused of making “false charges” in a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission about the alleged killing of his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, by Myanmar Army soldiers. A Myanmar Army officer initiated the case against Brang Shawng, and the action appears to be retaliatory in nature. The Myanmar government has not responded to a letter, reposted below, which the Clinic and its partners published today.

Continue reading the letter here.

Fall Retreat 2014: A Dynasty Is Born?

HLABVia the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

This fall, HLAB headed out to the woods around Camp Burgess for a day of bonding and reflection. Members engaged in thoughtful discussions of what it means to be a student-run organization and the goals for the upcoming year. The group then tackled a high-ropes challenge course.

Members took a pause from their deliberations around midday to engage in the time-honored Bureau tradition of “Huggy Bear.” President Cassie Chambers served as announcer, yelling out numbers with great gusto. A shout of “three” was a signal to grab two nearby members and envelop them in a bear hug in order to form an unbreakable group of three. With every shout, members raced to configure themselves into groups of the appropriate size. Any member who found himself or herself outside of a group was immediately disqualified. The competition for the title of Huggy Bear champ grew fierce.

Steve Hassink ’15 was playing to win. “I wanted that sweet taste of victory,” said Steve. “After dominating last year, I knew I could do it again.”

However, Cassie, in her role as announcer, quickly disqualified Steve for his “overly vigorous” play. “Huggy Bear is an opportunity for Bureau members to demonstrate their love and caring for each other,” said Cassie. “Not to break ankles.”

Andrea Mathews '15 is cruelly pushed out of the Huggy Bear group by Dami Animashaun '16 and Steve Hassink '15.

Andrea Mathews ’15 is cruelly pushed out of the Huggy Bear group by Dami Animashaun ’16 and Steve Hassink ’15.

Upon disqualification, Steve turned his full energies towards coaching his 2L mentee Dami Animashaun ’16. “Even if I couldn’t play, I wanted to make sure that my HLAB mentee had all the knowledge he needed to succeed at his disposal,” said Steve.

“Adrenaline was high,” said Dami. “I definitely didn’t want to let my 3L mentor down.”

After throwing Andrea Mathews ’15 out of the center of the field, Dami was crowned the champion. “It was a tough loss,” said Andrea. “But well played, Dami, well played.”

Dami hopes to continue the mentor-mentee Huggy Bear dynasty. “Whomever I mentor in the 2L class next year is destined for greatness,” said Dami. 

Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers – Spring 2015

Description

Spanish for Public Interest Lawyers is a non-credit class that offers HLS students the opportunity to learn Spanish language skills in a legal context, emphasizing language most commonly used in civil and criminal legal services practice.

The class will strengthen existing Spanish speaking and comprehension abilities and teach Spanish legal vocabulary to students involved in public interest legal practice. The class will introduce students to general legal Spanish vocabulary (e.g. immigration, human rights, legal aid, etc.). Students will work to develop stronger attorney-client relations by improving communication with Spanish-speaking clients.

Student Requirements

  • Students must have at least advanced proficiency in Spanish.
  • This class is not for credit, but regular attendance is required. The class will meet once a week for two hours (time TBD).
  • Class participation is vital and outside homework is minimal. Language practice and listening to Spanish between classes is encouraged.

Enrollment

  • Enrollment is limited to 20 students.
  • 2L and 3L students currently in a direct services clinic or SPO who have at least advanced proficiency in Spanish will receive priority.
  • Students meeting the criteria will be accepted through a randomized selection process.

To Apply

Email  clinical at law.harvard.edu with the following information by 5 PM on Monday, January 12:

  • Name
  • Year (2L, 3L)
  • Name of clinic or SPO you will be working with in the spring and any clinic or SPO you have previously worked with.
  • Rank in order of preference ideal class time: (Tuesdays 7-9PM) (Wednesdays 7-9PM)
  • At least one paragraph, in Spanish, describing your general interests and your focus in law school.
  • Bullet points (also in Spanish) that list past or current experiences you’ve had speaking Spanish or working with Spanish-speaking clients.

Students will be contacted on January 16 with the results of their application. Students who are accepted will receive information about the class meeting time. Classes will be held weekly. The first class will meet the week of January 26 and the last class will meet the week of April 20.

New Policy Goes Only Partway in Helping Struggling Homeowners

Via the New York Times

Well, that was fast. At a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Nov. 19, Melvin Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was in the hot seat, explaining to Senator Elizabeth Warren why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had done so little to help families who were facing foreclosure save their homes….

Housing advocates like Eloise Lawrence, a staff lawyer with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, have an answer. Although expressing disappointment about the limited nature of the directive, Ms. Lawrence described it as “a positive move in the right direction.” She also noted that the bureau has four families who would directly benefit.

Those clients include Ramon and Rosanna Suero. As described in a DealBook column in June, the Sueros purchased a condominium in Dorchester, Mass., in 2005 for $283,000, using a combination of two high-risk mortgages. They lost the condo in a foreclosure sale in 2010. The nonprofit group Boston Community Capital has offered to purchase the condo from Freddie Mac for the fair market value of $115,000. The group hopes to sell it back to the Sueros, financed with a more affordable fixed-rate mortgage.

Freddie refused Boston Community Capital’s offer, saying that only the full balance on the loan was acceptable because the home would be returned to its owners. Under Freddie’s policy, anyone other than the Sueros could buy at the lower market value.

So in 2013, the Sueros, who are jointly represent by Andrea Park of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Nicole Summers of the Northeast Justice Center, sued Freddie Mac. The court has ordered that pending the outcome of the case, the family cannot be evicted and the condo cannot be sold. Their condo is one of the properties in Freddie’s inventory that is subject to the new directive.

We wonder, then, will the Sueros have their home back for the holidays? It’s too soon to tell. Stefanie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, responded via email that the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.” She added that “individuals can apply” under the new policy and that “this will be addressed” by Freddie Mac and Boston Community Capital.

Continue reading the full story here.

Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic Helps the Town of Sudbury

Via the MetroWest Daily News

SUDBURY – Perturbed by the incivility that has permeated political discourse in town the past couple years, a local clergy association has enlisted the help of outside mediators to solve the problem.

Through the collaboration, the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and Sudbury Clergy Association will hold listening sessions and focus groups with townspeople this coming spring with the aim of figuring out what’s wrong in Sudbury.

The association’s ultimate goal, according to the Rev. Richard Erikson of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic parish, is to “as a community move to a place where we can have respectful and productive conversations on matters where we differ greatly.”

That hasn’t always been the case in Sudbury, which has seen some ugly spats recently between elected officials and residents. This past spring, for instance, a Sudbury selectman reported finding three toilets left on his lawn one morning – retaliation for a recent unpopular vote he and two other board members took, the selectman believed.

“The lack of civility has been pretty well-documented,” Erikson said, and was the topic of a meeting between the clergy association and Board of Selectmen in May, at which people at the meeting shared their concerns.

Thanks to the past experience of several members with Harvard’s program, the association also decided to invite some of the program’s mediators to develop a way to get to the root of the problems.

“I’ve found them to be very non-confrontational, and to have just a very nice approach to connecting people who are anxious about each other at the least, if not feeling animosity,” Erikson said of the Mediation Clinical Program.

“HNMCP is deeply honored to have been invited by the Sudbury Clergy Association to provide counsel and advice based on our experience in negotiation and conflict management,” professor Robert Bordone, the program’s director, said in a statement. “Whenever communities of care seek our assistance, we approach the work with humility, curiosity, listening, and deep empathy for all stakeholders. We hope our engagement will identify ways that community members can better engage their differences with respect and civility.”

The idea to bring in Harvard’s mediators was also welcomed by selectmen, who discussed the initiative with Erikson briefly at a meeting last week. Board member Bob Haarde, who has found himself at odds with other selectmen on many subjects over the years, called the association’s efforts “courageous.”

Food Recovery Leaders Send Sign-On Letter to U.S. Senators, Led by Food Law and Policy Clinic and Professor from University of Arkansas School of Law

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

As part of its on-going work to promote policies that reduce food waste, the Food Law and Policy Clinic partnered this fall with Professor Nicole Civita, Director of the Food Recovery Project at University of Arkansas School of Law, to analyze federal bill H.R. 4719, the “America Gives More Act.” This bill, among other provisions, would allow all businesses to benefit from enhanced tax deductions for food donations. While currently only C-corporations (often the largest companies) receive this benefit, expanding the enhanced tax deduction would incentivize smaller businesses to donate food rather than letting it go to waste.

Based on their research, the team wrote a sign-on letter and collected signatures from 30 food recovery organizations and leaders from around the country to ask the members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and Senate Hunger Caucus to support H.R. 4719’s permanent tax provision.

Americans waste an astounding 160 billion pounds of food each year, in homes, fields, manufacturing plants, markets, schools, and restaurants. At the same time, almost 15 percent of U.S. households struggle with food insecurity. To encourage more food businesses to donate safe, wholesome food to organizations that serve those in need, the federal government should offer enhanced tax deductions for food donations not just to the largest corporations, but to farms, small businesses, independent restaurants, and other food businesses that have excess food.

Without the guarantee of a tax deduction, many businesses find it more cost-effective to simply throw out excess food rather than expend the time, money, and resources to store, transport, and distribute the food on a regular basis. Indeed, leading hunger-relief organizations, including Feeding America, confirm that uncertainty regarding the tax code prevents food sector businesses from developing regular donation programs with hunger-relief organizations.

By passing the food donation-related provisions of the America Gives More Act, the Senate can stand with socially-responsible food businesses of all types and sizes, food-insecure Americans, and the heroic charities and volunteers who fight hunger.

See the sign-on letter here.