Student Perspectives

Student Reflections on Working at LSC

In two recent posts on the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs’ Blog, former Estate Planning clinic students Stephanie Jimenez and Travis Leverett discuss their experiences working on estate planning issues. Read both Stephanie’s post, “Empowering clients through the Estate Planning Project” and Travis’ post, “A reflection on my semester with the Estate Planning Project“.

In addition, former  Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic  students Suria Bahadue and Alison Burton share their experiences with family and domestic violence issues in the following posts: “Out of the classroom and into the courtroom” by Suria Bahadue and “A sense of community and a chance to represent clients in court” by Alison Burton.

LSC Student Reflects on Advocacy on Behalf of Veterans

In a recent post on the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs’ Blog, a former student from the Veterans Legal Clinic reflected on her experiences advocating on behalf of veterans.  Part of her post focused on the advocacy the Clinic is doing related to the problem of military sexual trauma:

I spent half of my semester working on an appeal brief to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims challenging a denial of VA disability benefits for post-traumatic stress as a result of military sexual trauma. One in three military women is sexually assaulted, and one in five women veterans will develop post-traumatic stress (PTS) as a result of military sexual trauma and other traumatic experiences while in service. Few of these women can successfully access the VA healthcare system, disability benefits, or educational loans to receive the assistance they so desperately need to rebuild their lives post-service. This leads tens of thousands of women veterans into poverty and homelessness—many are single mothers, and suicide rates are staggering. . . . After decades of neglect by an unfair system, with our help, our client finally attained a measure of justice—and an opportunity for income assistance—she so needs and deserves. It was unquestionably my most meaningful experience in law school.

Read the complete post here: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/clinicalprobono/2015/05/22/clinic-student-finds-a-meaningful-experience-in-representing-veterans/

Students Reflect on LSC’s Role in their Pursuit of Public Interest Careers

In a recent post on the HLS Admissions Blog, two students of the Project on Predatory Student Lending wrote about Building a Public Interest Career at HLS.  They name four building blocks for a career in public interest law, including clinical work.  Of their experience at LSC, they write:

Clinics are a key part of the law school experience for public interest students because they give us a chance to learn important lawyering skills while gaining experience working on issues that we care about.  We are both enrolled in the Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Clinic at HLS’s Legal Services Center.  As part of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, we directly represent low-income borrowers who have received predatory student loans.  We’re experiencing firsthand what it is like to be a lawyer: conducting client meetings, filing motions in court, and making strategic decisions about cases.  We are closely supervised by a smart and energetic attorney who makes sure that we constantly improve our skills while offering top-notch services to our clients.

http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/admissions/2015/03/16/building-a-public-interest-career-at-hls/ 

Student Lawyers Making an Impact on Family and Domestic Violence Cases

Students in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic manage all aspects of their cases. Under the supervision of Associate Director and Senior Clinical Instructor Nnena Odim, they conduct intake, provide advice, and represent clients in both Family and District Court in Massachusetts. They also draft pleadings, analyze discovery, negotiate with opposing counsel, and work with complex financial issues. These students are more than lawyers. They support clients through difficult and stressful experiences, and make a real impact on their lives.

This past academic year, four students – Alyssa Greenberg, J.D. ’15, Kathryn Mullen, J.D. ’15, Kate Aizpuru, J.D. ’14, and Lana Birbrair, J.D. ’15 – did just that.

Alyssa signed up for the clinic to get substantive litigation experience. “I was not disappointed,” she said. “I drafted complaints for divorce, motions for temporary orders, and discovery requests; I prepared to take depositions, led a negotiation, and represented my client at a hearing in Probate and Family court; I spoke to my clients regularly, counseling them and working with them to determine what course their case should take.” Alyssa’s work has helped women who were married to abusive husbands get the closure and financial support they needed.

For Kathryn, representing clients “has been deeply rewarding”. Kathryn represented a husband seeking a divorce. “This case was not only an excellent learning opportunity, but a good reminder that anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse,” she said. Kathryn’s client experienced great psychological distress, suffered serious health problems and was also in dire financial straits. Yet, despite the difficult circumstances, he did not want anything except a divorce on grounds of cruel and abusive treatment. This “meant he would have to testify about his wife’s behavior,” said Kathryn. “It was important to him to tell his story on the record.” The experience contributed to and shaped her desire to become a public interest lawyer.

Kate Aizpuru signed up for the clinic to translate her interests in gender issues into practical experience. “I wanted to spend some time learning the types of skills I wouldn’t be able to get in a classroom: working with clients, drafting legal documents, and appearing in court,” she said. She represented a client who had suffered domestic violence. “At first, I felt nervous—I had only appeared in court on motions, never for a full trial,” said Kate. But the more she thought about the skills she had acquired throughout her two semesters at the clinic, the more confident she felt, and took charge of the entire case. “It was an incredible experience,” she said. Kate delivered the opening statement at trial, answered questions about the case’s procedural history, objected to inadmissible evidence, and cross-examined her client’s husband. Several weeks later, she received a favorable judgment for her client.

Lana took on a divorce case involving domestic violence and custody. “By the end of the semester there was a  6 inch case file with 8 pounds of paper representing 10 weeks of investigation and research,” she said. By her second week at the clinic, Lana was in court seeking a custody order. She met with her client regularly, culled through medical records, tax filings, negotiated with opposing counsel, and subpoenaed records from various banks. She even examined deeds to real estate, written in French. “After a semester, I appreciate the days when we can get a “good” or “great” result for a client we can genuinely help,” she said.

Family Law Clinic Student Advocates for Survivor of Domestic Violence

Akhila Kolisetty

Akhila Kolisetty

by Akhila Kolisetty, J.D. ’15, Harvard Law School

As I sat in the courtroom with my client, waiting for the judge to call us for a pre-trial hearing, we saw my client’s abusive husband enter the room. Immediately, she became nervous and tense. In that moment – as she started tearing up and remembering the past abuse he had put her through – I saw the impact that a lawyer and advocate can make in the lives of survivors of domestic violence. I listened to my client’s needs, reassured her that she would be safe, and that we would achieve the best possible outcome in her divorce case.

A few minutes after this conversation, I had the chance to present the key issues in the case before a family court judge. In my opening statement, I detailed the history of abuse my client had gone through. I explained why she deserved custody of her children, why she should reside in the marital home, and receive child support. Through discovery, I had gathered evidence of a substantial sum of money that my client should have received during the marriage, so I also argued why she deserved a portion of those assets. The judge was sympathetic to our requests and gave us more time to collect critical evidence needed before a trial. I left feeling that the case would have a positive outcome, and my client left feeling a sense of hope for the future.

The experience of representing low-income survivors of domestic violence was an incredible one. I had come to law school with a deep interest in improving my ability to advocate for survivors of domestic abuse. Prior to law school, I had volunteered as an advocate providing peer support to immigrant survivors of violence but often felt that I lacked the capacity to fully advocate for them. The Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic helped me pair empathy with crucial skills in negotiation, oral advocacy and legal writing, to be a much stronger advocate for clients. I not only learned to represent clients in pre-trial hearings, but also conducted discovery, helped clients file for divorce, and advised them on their options. Throughout this process, I received helpful feedback that concretely improved my skills.

Many survivors of domestic violence are immigrants and low-income; they have difficulty navigating the court system and lack the finances to hire a lawyer. Furthermore, abusers often appear confident in court, while survivors of abuse feel intimidated when required to speak in court alongside their abusive partners. Lawyers in family law cases can help survivors of abuse advocate for themselves and ensure that they obtain the financial resources and the independence they need in order to move forward and thrive. Lawyers can also simply listen to difficult stories, acknowledge past abuse, and serve as a support system.

The Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic helped me develop vital skills needed to become such a lawyer and advocate, while also providing a needed service to a vulnerable population. I cannot think of a better experience to have as a law student.

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This piece was originally posted on the Harvard Law School Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog.

Student Contributes to People’s Law School

Jewel Hand presenting to People's Law School participants.

Jewel Hand presenting to People’s Law School participants.

by Jewel Hand, J.D. ’15, Harvard Law School

Recently, I was able to contribute to the Legal Services Center’s second annual People’s Law School. It is a unique day-long community outreach program designed to teach people their basic rights as borrowers, tenants, disabled citizens, and veterans, among many other things. Workshops throughout the day informed and empowered approximately 100 local citizens, while one-on-one counseling allowed the staff and students to give more individualized legal advice. The day ended with intake interviews for individuals with legal issues that make them candidates for the Center’s services. As a student advocate at the Center, I was able to take part in the program at all levels: from planning and setup, to teaching a workshop, to individual counseling and conducting an intake interview. I feel fortunate to have contributed to a program that clearly helped so many individuals while also practicing valuable skills as a counselor and advocate. I hope the People’s Law School continues to grow and that I can contribute again next year!