Chrysonthia Horne ‘20, spent three semesters as a clinical student in the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center. Horne was recently honored with the Clinical and Pro Bono Outstanding Student Award for, among other things, her “her zealous advocacy for extremely vulnerable veteran clients…and her deep commitment to clinical education and pro bono service.” Here, Horne reflects on her time at a student at LSC, and how the coronavirus pandemic changed the shape of her clinical legal education.
By Chrysonthia Horne
To be a clinical student is to have the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better, fix broken systems, and work at all times with people that are truly inspiring (supervisors, staff, clients, students). It can be hard work, but it is empowering, and it really made my law school experience feel worthwhile. In my time as a clinical student in the Veterans Clinic, I’ve had the privilege to work with the amazing supervising attorneys and staff at LSC. I’ve also had the privilege to serve clients in whom I’ve observed truly awe-inspiring strength and integrity in the face of unimaginably challenging hardships and life circumstances.
Starting as a clinical student is kind of like trying to hop on a train while it is moving. It’s not like other law school classes that start from zero and end with a final exam. You are jumping into active cases, with deadlines, and working with clients who have real lives beyond the legal issue(s) you are helping them with. If you don’t commit to that ‘jump’ at the outset, you’re going to miss your mark and not learn much of anything. But if you do commit to it, by realizing that you are responsible for your clients’ cases and your work product/legal research, then you are more likely to stick the landing. Realize too that you are not making this jump alone. Your supervisors are already on the train, reaching to help you up and in.
The COVID-19 crisis began in my final semester of law school and my third semester at LSC. As has been well documented elsewhere, COVID-19 has substantially changed the way we learn at Harvard. All of our classes have gone online and grading has been converted to pass/fail. As a clinical student, I can no longer go to the LSC office in Jamaica Plain or have in-person meetings with clients or supervisors. Candidly, in my regular lecture-based classes at the law school, these changes have been fairly demotivating (especially as a second-semester 3L). However, COVID-19 has not hampered my legal education as a clinical student; if anything, it has enhanced it.
My clients’ own strength has inspired me for the past three semesters to always bring my A-game in serving them, and this crisis has only increased my motivation to work hard on their behalf as they now face new challenges posed by COVID-19, such as increasingly unstable housing and health care access. I also draw motivation from seeing the way my clinical supervisors and fellow clinical students have responded to the crisis. Although I can no longer physically go to the LSC office and feel the energy of dozens of attorneys and students working in the same space, I know that everyone is still zealously advocating for their clients. I’ve seen the way my supervisors have taken on the challenge of adapting to the ever-changing COVID-19 world, being flexible and diligent in ensuring LSC is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. On top of all this, my supervisors have not wavered in their willingness to provide guidance to me as a student by answering all of my questions and checking in with me on a regular basis; I have felt as supported by my supervisors now as I did before the crisis.
In short, while it feels like so much of the world has been put on hold during this pandemic, the engine that is LSC has been going full steam ahead. COVID-19 has made a lot of things more difficult, but it has also presented an opportunity for clinical students to learn and grow as young professionals. As I enter the “real world” as a graduating 3L, I feel empowered to take on any challenges that I may face in my future employment. To me, that is what I wanted to get out of my legal education all along, and I got it by working at LSC even during these uncertain times. I am so thankful to have had the privilege to work at LSC for three semesters. My only regret is that I did not start working there earlier in my law school career!