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 $2,000,000 to the law school to purchase and renovate a permanent home for the Center. Equally important, this gift marked the beginning of collaboration in which, every year, associates and partners at the firm donate hundreds of hours to the clients and educational program of the Center. Hale and Dorr attorneys and paralegals provided the expertise to develop the Center’s practice capacity in estate planning, small business, intellectual property, and housing development and regularly consult or co-counsel with staff and students on a wide range of cases. They also model for our students the ways in which attorneys in the most prestigious and highly-paid sectors of the bar can contribute to the public good by making legal services more widely available.