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Clinical Policies

Basic Questions | Connection to Courses | Adding and Dropping | Placements | Confidentiality and Professional Conduct
Clinical Credits and Work Schedule | HLS Written Work Requirement | Clinical Email System Policy

1. Basic Questions

What counts as clinical work?

Clinical work must be legal, and involve the application or interpretation of law, the formulation of legal policy, the drafting of legislation or regulations, or legal advocacy or representation. It should not be clerical in nature. All work must be supervised by a licensed attorney or a law professor. Work on political campaigns does not count for clinical credit, but may count for the pro bono requirement if the work is legal.

Who can take clinical placements?

Students must complete their first year of law school before participating in a clinical at HLS. Due to Massachusetts rules on representing clients in criminal proceedings, two clinics require students be in their 3L year: the Criminal Justice Institute and the Criminal Prosecution Clinic (District Attorney's Office). Some clinics have additional restrictions and course pre-requisites.  All clinics must have a class component (either co- or pre-requisite); check clinic descriptions in the course catalog.

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2. Connection to Courses

Do I have to take a class in order to do a clinical?

All clinics must be taken in connection to a class, which will provide the substantive background to your clinical work. When you enroll for a clinic, carefully review the clinic description to find out what the eligible class components are for the clinic.  In many instances, clinic enrollment is bundled with a particular class where the class and clinic are always added and dropped together.  Otherwise, you will need to sign up separately for the class. In a few situations, there are class seats reserved specifically for clinic students to ensure that students are able to take the pre/co-requisite, but this is not always the case. The clinic description will indicate which course(s) you must take and whether enrollment is bundled, separate, or if it's separate but there are class seats reserved for clinic students. 

I’m in a class that has a clinical option. How do I sign up for the clinical?

Clinic enrollment is separate from course enrollment, unless the class and clinic are bundled. You can search for clinics in the course catalog within Helios, and find out if the clinic is open or has a waitlist.

Are there any prerequisites for clinicals?

Few clinicals have prerequisites, but if you are looking to do a clinical that includes court practice then Evidence or Trial Advocacy Workshop is most likely a pre-requisite or co-requisite. The clinic description will list pre-requisites and co-requisites.

Can I continue working on my clinical cases/projects in a subsequent semester?

Yes, students who complete the original course and clinical can arrange to continue clinical work in a subsequent semester (even into another year) by applying for a continuing clinical. Approval of the clinical supervisor and the clinic’s faculty director is required (regular clinical credit minimums/maximums apply).

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3. Adding and Dropping

How do I add a clinical?

Please see our Clinical Registration page.

If I drop a clinical, can I stay in the class?

If you enrolled in the class as a direct result of your clinic enrollment (i.e. the clinic was bundled with the class, or you received priority into the class as a clinic student), then if you must also drop the class.

Are all clinicals in clinical registration?

Some courses are by permission and cannot be added through clinical registration or during Add/Drop on Helios. These courses are noted as “By Permission" in the clinical curriculum and the course description. Enrollment instructions for By Permission clinicals are explained in the clinic descriptions. Independent clinicals and continuing clinicals require applications.

What if I drop after the clinical add/drop deadline?

Clinics line up clients, cases, and projects well before the semester begins, and depend on their enrollment numbers to determine how many cases to take.  Thus, clinicals have add/drop deadlines that are always earlier than the regular course add/drop deadline.  Dropping after the clinical add/drop deadline results in a "Withdrawal" notation on your transcript.  If you drop a clinical, you are dropped from both the class and clinical. 

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4. Placements

If I already went through the security clearance process for the U.S. Attorney's Office, do I have to do it again?

Yes. Typically security clearances for the U.S. Attorney's Office last for 3 months.

Can I receive transportation assistance to get to my clinical placement?

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs does not offer transportation assistance. However, you can sign up for discounted T passes through the Dean of Students Office before the semester begins.

Does transportation time count towards my clinical hours?

Travel time does not count for clinical hours.

I heard I can be certified to appear in court - how does that work?

Under the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Student Practice Rule 3:03, JD students in their second and third year may appear in court in legal matters if certain criteria are met. In general, students must work under the direct supervision of a Massachusetts licensed attorney, be involved in a clinical program, and enrolled full time and in good standing with the law school. 2L students can only appear in court in civil matters; 3L students may appear in civil or criminal matters. If court appearances are required for your clinical work, contact the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to determine if you are eligible for student certification (in-house clinics that involve court practice often arrange certification for all eligible students in the clinic). If you are eligible, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs will arrange for your certification. You cannot and should not appear in court until you have received a copy of your certification letter. Please send inquiries to clinical@law.harvard.edu approximately 2-3 weeks before any court appearance. Certification for non-clinical placements must be requested through the Registrar's Office

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5. Confidentiality & Professional Conduct

What kind of guidelines do I follow as a student attorney?

In order for students to practice law, they must be practicing under the auspices of an existing clinic. You must not identify yourself as an attorney or give the impression to clients that you are an attorney, even though you have all the responsibilities and obligations of an attorney. Always advise clients and others that you are a law student. If someone mistakenly refers to you as an attorney or otherwise indicates that they think you are an attorney, you must clarify that you are a student. The Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct or the rules or codes of the particular jurisdiction of your placement apply to you. Please make sure that you are familiar with these rules and can access them during the semester. When questions or problems arise, there are many resources available to you, including your supervising attorney and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. Learn more at the Dean of Students page.

Are there any confidentiality issues I should know about? 

The majority of students enrolled in a clinical are working in a law office environment, practicing under a special court rule. Because of this, you are bound by the same “attorney/client” confidentiality rules as staff at each placement site. While most clinical placements will address confidentiality issues with you, please feel free to raise any questions or concerns you may have with your supervisor. 

We recommend the following as a starting point for dealing with client confidentiality:

  • At all times, assure the client that all matters discussed relating to his or her legal problem and all written materials relative to the client or case are confidential. This also applies to potential clients you interview who are seeking legal advice.
  • At the beginning of your clinical work, discuss any potential conflicts of interest with your supervisor, including any prior knowledge or legal work you may have accomplished on behalf of an opposing party.
  • Do not refer to a client by name, provide identifying information or talk about details of the case in common areas of the office (reception area, hallway, elevators) where other clients or visitors may overhear you. This same rule applies when you are outside of the office (e.g., at a local restaurant), or when you’re in a law school setting such as a class. Although we encourage the integration of clinical work into the classroom, you must never write a law school paper or exam, or provide your professor with case file documentation containing the client’s name or other identifying information about the case or client.
  • Handle case files carefully to avoid breaching client confidentiality. Whenever possible, case files and case-related documents should be kept in a filing cabinet, not on a desktop, where confidential information could be viewed by anyone walking by. Case files belong to the clinc and as such, all case/client related papers, files, emails, and electronic documents must be returned to the clinic by the end of the semester.

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6. Clinical Credits and Work Schedules

How do clinical credits work?

In a clinical, you earn academic credits for the work you complete. The majority of clinics allow you to elect 2, 3, or 4 clinical credits, although some clinics have a set number of clinical credits. Each clinical credit equals five hours of clinical work per week or 60 hours per semester.

 Terms availableClinical CreditsHours of work per weekHours of work per semester
 Winter only2 clinical credits40 hours/week120 hours
 Fall, Spring2 clinical credits10 hours/week120 hours
 Fall, Spring3 clinical credits15 hours/week180 hours
 Fall, Spring4 clinical credits20 hours/week240 hours

For the Winter term, credits are set at 2 and students must work full time (40 hours per week). This intensive schedule is necessary for students to attain an equivalent number of clinical hours that they would perform in the Fall or Spring semesters (a minimum of 120 hours).

How many clinicals can I take in a semester?

You can only take one clinical per semester.

What is the maximum number of clinical credits I can take?

In the Fall and Spring semesters, there is a limit of 4 clinical credits. In the Winter term, there is a limit of 2 clinical credits. J.D. students can only take up to 12 clinical credits, which is the maximum that can count towards the degree requirement for the JD degree (52 upper-level credits are needed to graduate). Students who have questions about this policy should contact the Assistant Dean for Clinical Programs, Lisa Dealy. Combining clinical, cross-registration, and written work credits, up to 16 credits can count towards the J.D. degree requirement. Review the HLS Academic Handbook for more information on degree requirements and credit limitations. LLM students should consult with the LLM program office for clinical credit restrictions.

How can I change my clinical credits?

You can change clinical credits by emailing Maggie Bay in the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs up until the following dates:

  • Fall 2014 – October 6
  • Winter 2015 – January 12
  • Spring 2015 – February 23

Please see the credit chart above to determine how clinic credits equate to work hours. After the above dates, all clinical credit changes must be requested by your direct clinical supervisor and submitted to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs or Maggie Bay.

Can I work from home?

You must fulfill all of your clinical work hours on-site at your clinical placement, if it is located on campus or in the Boston area. Any exceptions or deviations must be discussed in advance with your supervisor and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. Placements outside  the Boston area must have projects and work coordinated with your individual supervisor.

Do I have to make up holidays or vacation weeks?

You are responsible for consistently working the required number of hours each week throughout the semester, with exceptions for the December holidays and spring break week. During these excused absences, which you should coordinate in advance with your placement supervisor, you are required to ensure that all casework is covered and that clients are aware of your absence.  Any unplanned hours missed from your weekly schedule of clinical work must be made up within a reasonable period of time on a schedule developed in conjunction with your clinical supervisor. 

Do my clinical credits count towards my pro bono requirement?

Clinical work that is not for a for-profit entity will count for the pro bono requirement. Clinical credits are automatically converted into pro bono hours and placed on students' records at a set rate of 60 hours per clinical credit after grades are submitted. Please contact us if you have questions about your clinical qualifying for the pro bono requirement.

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7. HLS Written Work Requirement

Clinical writing and attorney work product from your clinical placement may satisfy option 2 of the HLS Written Work Requirement. Academic writing from the classroom course component tied to a clinic may also satisfy the HLS Written Work Requirement. See the Written Work Requirement for more information and forms.

Please note: The Assistant Dean for Clinical Programs must review your piece of clinical writing and sign the form. Your Clinical Faculty Director - or for externships, your Clinical Supervisor - must also sign the form.

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8. Clinical Email System Policy

Please visit the Clinical Email System Policy page for the complete policy.

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Last modified: September 10, 2014

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