Clinical Students Contribute to Massachusetts Judicial System

Massachusetts state courts have been struggling with budget cuts for years. One of the most drastic cuts has been to the law clerk programs, which once employed law graduates to assist judges.

Fortunately, the Judicial Process in Community Courts clinical program at HLS is helping to address this financial gap by placing students with individual judges at the Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, and Land Court Departments of the Massachusetts Trial Court. Students are also placed at the U.S. District Court. Students work alongside judges observing court proceedings, as well as researching and writing about various topics in many different areas of the law. The majority of the student projects involve research and drafting for pending motions in both civil and criminal cases.

During the 2013 spring semester, students produced over 500 hours of legal research and writing for their supervising judges in addition to the time they spent in court room observation and discussions. The Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.), Lecturer on Law and director of the program, sees this “as a major contribution at a time when funding for law clerks has been virtually eliminated”. Liz Solar, HLS Director of Externships, noted: “This clinic provides students with a unique opportunity to see firsthand the inner workings of a complex court system and how all the issues of contemporary society play out in the courts on a daily basis.”

In addition to researching and writing, students also worked on complex projects including a comparative look at the judicial evaluation process in other states, judicial conflicts of interest, and comparative sentencing practices. Several of the students’ final papers evaluated issues of immediate concern to the Massachusetts judiciary:

  • Jake Lieberman (JD ’14) and Jared Young (JD ’14) worked with the staff attorney for a committee of the Supreme Judicial Court studying changes to the 2003 Code of Judicial Conduct. Each drafted proposed language for conduct not presently covered in the ten year old version of the Code.
  • Mary Triick (JD ’13) and Jessica Gorman (LLM ’13) wrote about the new Harassment Prevention Statute (G.L. c 258E) and its impact on the community courts. Jessica evaluated how and why these orders differ from domestic violence restraining orders under G.L. c 209A and whether this statute already needs amendment. Mary evaluated the new initiative at the Harvard Mediation Program to offer mediation for some of these disputes in two local courts.
  • Karla Morey (JD ’13) wrote about the contemporary issue (part of which was argued at the SJC on May 9, 2013) regarding “The Case for Adopting a Categorical Approach in Response to the Annie Dookhan Scandal”.

Participating judges had high praise for the quality of work produced by their HLS student interns. The following are typical comments:

“[My HLS student] was GREAT! He has strong legal research skills and is an excellent writer. He is incredibly quick, very smart, and a really nice person.”
The Hon. Janet L. Sanders, Suffolk Superior Court

“[My HLS student] did excellent work for us on a number of projects. Her work was described by our judges as ‘excellent’, ‘quick study’, ‘she is great’, and ‘she gets it’. She’s a winner. Keep them coming.”
The Hon. Stephen M. Limon, Boston Juvenile Court

“I just wanted to let you know that it was wonderful having [an HLS student] as an intern. She did a great job, and tells me she enjoyed her experience here. Thanks again!”
The Hon. Robert B. Foster, Land Court

“[My HLS student] was terrific. She was very enthusiastic, very inquisitive. She clearly put a lot of thought into each assignment and was eager to follow up with any suggestions I made into new areas of research.”
The Hon. Robert N. Tochka, Boston Municipal Court

“[My HLS student] was great. Written work and research was terrific. I really enjoyed having her with me.”
The Hon. Rosalind H. Miller, Boston Municipal Court

“It was my pleasure to supervise [my HLS student]. She was a great intern. Her research and writing skills were excellent.”
The Hon. Ernest L. Sarason, Boston Municipal Court

“Please give [my HLS student] the highest possible grade for his work with me. Thank you for making it possible for him to work with me.”
The Hon. Mark L. Wolf, U.S. District Court

To learn more about the Judicial Process in Community Courts clinical program, visit the program website or contact Program Director Judge Cratsley at  jcratsley at law.harvard.edu.