1Ls interested in representing clients: SPOs at HLS bring you into the real world of law practice

SPO Panel

SPO students describe their legal practice experiences

Watch a video of the SPO panel

It was standing-room-only Monday night in Austin North as 1Ls listened to students from seven Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) describe their work representing clients in real cases, and the value that this practical experience adds to their HLS education.

“I want to be a litigator, so this is great training,” said Ravi Shankar ’10, recruiting and events coordinator of the Prison Legal Assistance Project, in which students represent inmates charged with disciplinary infractions in Massachusetts prisons. And, he added, “What you do really matters. You have inmates who really depend on you because the outcome of the case is the difference between being sequestered in solitary confinement for one month versus two months.” 

Students from the other SPOs echoed his comments. “I really like the real-world experience of resolving conflicts, and you learn skills you can apply in the rest of your life,” said Jennifer Yu ’10, president of the Harvard Mediation Program, through which students mediate landlord-tenant, small claims, and other conflicts. “And there is a real sense of community among the students.” 

Although students cannot appear in court to represent clients as student attorneys until their 2L year, SPOs allow 1Ls to represent clients in other venues such as administrative hearings and housing authorities, providing real-world experience that enhances the coursework at HLS. All of the SPOs host mandatory training sessions that focus on client interaction as well as on the relevant substantive and procedural law, offer strong mentorship from upperclassmen and supervising attorneys, and provide a sense of community, with social events, speakers’ series, and other activities. Most SPOs give students a head-start on trial advocacy as well. 

SPOs offer students the opportunity to immediately begin earning credits toward the Public Service Initiative (PSI) http://www.law.harvard.edu//current/sfs// , and, beginning in the spring, to earn pro bono credit for the work they do (HLS requires all students to perform at least 40 hours of pro bono work before graduating). 

The SPOs represented Monday night were: 

  • HLS Advocates for Human Rights: Students work with the International Human Rights Clinic and the Harvard Human Rights Program to represent clients domestically and internationally on a variety of human rights issues. There is no set time commitment for this SPO; about 80 to 100 students participate each year. Training: Sept. 26. 
  • Harvard Defenders: Students represent low-income criminal defendants in show-cause hearings in Massachusetts criminal courts. This SPO offers the opportunity to begin courtroom representation immediately following the mandatory training session. Students work in groups of 8 to 10, discussing pending cases and strategy. Requires two hours a week of office work, doing client intakes and team meetings. About 75 to 80 students are involved each year. 
  • Harvard Mediation Program:  Students provide mediation services in landlord-tenant, small claims, and other cases, helping parties resolve conflicts and drafting documents that memorialize the parties’ agreements. Cases typically last half an hour to two hours. There is strong culture of feedback, where students, who work in teams with upperclassmen, are critiqued after each mediation session. (Students work with experience court liaisons. There is no attorney supervision as students are not technically practicing law, although they are certified mediators after training.) Includes approximately 100 students each year. Sept. 27 at noon: Student applications due. Mandatory 32-hour training program over two weekends. Training: Oct. 3, 4, 17, 18, from 9 am to 5 pm each day. 
  • Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP): Students represent prisoners charged with disciplinary infractions in Massachusetts prisons. This SPO offers immediate experience in direct and cross-examination, investigation, and other trial skills. In addition to case work, students must contribute 1 hour of office time per week (typically taking prisoner phone calls and answering correspondence). The typical case takes about 15 hours over several weeks, although this varies depending on the type of case. Approximately 40 to 70 students participate each year. Interested students must fill out a clearance form this month, even if they don’t intend to take cases until the spring. Training: Oct. 4, 1 – 4 p.m. 
  • The Recording Artists Project (RAP): Students represent musicians and others with issues related to entertainment law, intellectual property, and transactional matters. Students work in teams, guided by upperclassmen, under the supervision of Brian Price, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Transactional Law Clinics at HLS. Typical projects include negotiating record contracts or advising a client on copyright issues related to a music website; time commitment depends on each project. About 40 to 50 students participate each year. Training: Oct. 3. 
  • Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP): Students represent low- and moderate-income tenants facing eviction or denied admission to public housing. Students work in pairs and begin taking assignments immediately after the mandatory training session. Required office time of 2 hours a week doing intake work and team meetings; beyond that, time commitment depends on the case. About 45 students are involved each year. Training: Oct. 3. 
  • Harvard Legal Aid Bureau:  Now in its 96th year, HLAB is a student-run legal services center on campus open to 2Ls and 3Ls through a competitive process. Students get significant trial experience handling legal issues related to housing, domestic violence, unemployment benefits, and other matters. Students make a two-year commitment of at least 20 hours per week, for which they receive 4 classroom credits per semester. About 47 students are involved each year. Although HLAB is not open to 1Ls, many of its members worked as 1Ls in other SPOs and often continue their involvement there. 

And a new SPO also made a presentation Monday night. The Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS), which was launched this year, offers students a host of international development projects throughout the world, many in conjunction with the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School.

If you missed the SPO panel, you can view a video of the event. For more information on any of the SPOs, please contact Lee Branson.

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