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In recognition of her clinical work at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC), Michelle Kuo ‘09 has been tapped by the national Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) for its Outstanding Clinical Student Award.
At LSC's annual orientation for new students on Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, faculty presented Kuo with a certificate from CLEA, which noted her “excellence in clinical fieldwork based on the high quality of representation provided clients and for exceptionally thoughtful, self-reflective participation in an accompanying clinical seminar, as nominated by the clinical faculty of Harvard Law School.”
Each year, CLEA bestows the award on a student who has demonstrated a high level of distinction in his or her clinical practice. Award recipients must excel in both the practice and the classroom components of the clinical by showing diligence, thoughtfulness, and commitment to the needs of under-served clients. Kuo was selected for her work last year in the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) at LSC, in conjunction with the course, “Education Advocacy and System Change: Children at Risk,” taught by Clinical Instructor Susan Cole and Clinical Fellow Michael Gregory.
Embodying the multi-strategic approach of TLPI, Kuo engaged in both individual case advocacy and a systemic change project. In one case, she represented the family of a child adopted from a highly abusive orphanage in Guatemala. The 12-year-old student had a high IQ but was treated negatively by his school because he failed to turn in work and wrote at the second-grade level. Kuo delved into neurobiological research and helped educate the school about the “executive functioning” deficits with which the student had been diagnosed. She helped the school reevaluate this student’s true potential and got him the services he needed.
“Through her hard work, dogged investigation, and legal skills, Michelle literally turned around the lives of children who can now look forward to successful careers in school,” said Cole.
Kuo also developed and presented a training workshop to psychologists and psychology interns at a local mental health center to help them conform their evaluations of students to the legal standards of the special education laws. In so doing, she helped to address the systemic problem of evaluations that do not meet legal standards or appropriately factor the role of trauma into a child’s educational needs. “She identified the disconnect between the experts we use in our cases and the legal world,” said Cole, noting that the psychologists sometimes failed to address the points necessary to make a prima facie case within the law.
Kuo also wrote a highly regarded paper on her work in the clinic for her “Legal Profession: The Lawyering Process” class. Jeanne Charn, senior lecturer on law, who taught the course, called Michelle’s structural reflection on her clinical work “a model for novice lawyers on the complexities, nuances, and satisfactions of deploying skill and commitment on behalf of one’s clients.”
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