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Law students and lawyers possess a unique ability to improve educational outcomes for all students. When discussing education law, students often wish to know what professional opportunities exist in the field. Education law may involve representing children to ensure that they receive access to education, or it may involve focusing on the narrower field of special education law.  Alternately, lawyers may work for school districts and deal with issues such as school governance, student records, collective bargaining, and student discipline. Lawyers at non-profits and advocacy groups may also focus on broader policy issues relating to educational reform via legislative and advocacy work. Finally, lawyers may work in the educational field not as lawyers per se but as individuals who seek to change education using their legal skills in school governance or reform initiatives.

This Guide will provide answers to some of your questions about Education Law and serve as a roadmap for your career in education law. Some lawyers work in traditional legal environments while others utilize their legal training in non-traditional settings. This Guide provides practical information on practice settings, content areas, and finding a job, including Fellowships. In addition, it contains personal narratives intended to offer windows into the lives of lawyers in the field. Readers may also use this guide in conjunction with the Harvard Law School Specialty Guide to Children’s Rights.

Practice Settings

When working in education law, you may practice in a variety of settings. This section describes and provides general information on three distinct practice settings.

Non-Profit Organizations

These organizations may provide individual case representation, while others may use impact litigation and legislative advocacy to effect changes in education policy. In a non-profit organization, attorneys may have any of the following responsibilities: educating community groups about their rights, coordinating grassroots community organizing, facilitating the passage of legislation, supervising paralegals in case preparation, giving technical assistance to clients via phone conversations, or representing clients in administrative and court hearings. There are often excellent opportunities to work directly with clients on a variety of education law issues ranging from discipline to special education to student and teacher legal rights. Working as members of legal teams or coalitions is generally a part of a non-profit attorney’s work in the education field.

These organizations rely on a combination of government funding, foundation support via grants, or fee for service. There is generally a core team of attorneys who manage the organization and who may or may not handle caseloads or direct legislative activity. In addition to the core group, funding allows for specific initiatives via the hiring of attorneys to initiate or direct new projects relating to education law such as education reform, juvenile justice and education linkage, or examining the relationship between minority status and special education.

The advantages of working in a non-profit organization are that you will be able to work directly with clients in many organizations. In addition, you may be provided more immediate responsibility to handle your own cases and initiatives. Finally, you will be surrounded by attorneys who are deeply committed to education law, and you can receive the full benefit of their depth of knowledge. The disadvantages are that you will likely earn a lower salary than a private firm or a government agency, and, due to the sometimes fluctuating funding for non-profits, such positions may initially be project driven.


At the federal, state, and local levels, opportunities exist for lawyers to work in education law. Attorneys in the United States Department of Education’s General Counsel’s Office provide guidance to agency employees, draft statutes and regulations, and consult with state departments of education and schools on diverse issues relating to education. In addition, at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), attorneys investigate allegations of discrimination based on race, gender, disability, etc. in schools. In addition, OCR provides information, resources, and technical assistance to its constituents on laws relating to education and discrimination. Attorneys in Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division litigate cases involving education law in the context of enforcing civil rights issues relating to discrimination, Title IX, or special education.

At the state level, attorneys serve in general counsels’ offices at state departments of education, where they perform work similar to their counterparts at the federal level. However, attorneys at the state level tend to provide more technical assistance directly to school districts and district employees. In addition, the general counsels’ offices may serve more directly as in-house counsels for agency staff, with a focus on both education law issues as well as matters relating to school district and department personnel, contracts, etc. Education issues at the state level may include topics such as education reform legislation, educational policy initiation and implementation, collective bargaining, teacher licensure, and special education.

In addition, attorneys may serve as mediators and administrative law judges at the state level. For example, special education matters often require dispute resolution mechanisms to adjudicate disputes between parents and school districts. Due to the number of these disputes that arise in each state, the federal special education statute requires each state to maintain a system of mediators and administrative law judges, many of whom are attorneys. Attorneys may also serve as arbitrators and administrative law judges in the context of collective bargaining disputes relating to discipline of teachers.

At the local level, attorneys may work in a school district’s general counsel’s office. In these offices, attorneys provide direct guidance to district personnel around a variety of issues ranging from student and teacher rights to contract negotiations to constitutional law issues to the implementation of both federal and state statutes.

The advantages of government agency employment include generally excellent supervision and training which allows attorneys the opportunity to learn the law in a supportive environment. In addition, agency positions offer a likelihood of job security as well as a competitive salary and benefits.

Private Firms

Private firms involved in education law range from small firms with a handful of attorneys to larger corporate firms with an education law practice group. These firms may represent students and parents or may work with school districts, independent schools, and institutions of higher education. The type of work done by a private firm varies depending on the relationship of the firm to the client. Firms that represent students and parents may litigate against school districts on issues relating to school discipline or entitlement to special education services.

Conversely, firms that represent districts may defend cases brought by parents both individually and collectively. Some firms also function like an outside in-house counsel for districts and provide staff training and technical assistance on a range of topics such as contracts, student discipline cases, and personnel matters. Finally, firms representing educational institutions help their clients navigate regulatory requirements that relate to monitoring by government agencies or accreditation issues.

The advantages of private firm work include direct client contact, a potentially superior salary, an efficient office environment with appropriate support services, and generally good supervision and training. The disadvantages of firm work may include the need to determine whether to represent a client based on the client’s ability to pay for the services as well as the need to track billable hours.

Issue Areas

Education law offers a variety of opportunities to work with issues that overlap with areas such as children’s law, administrative law, health law, and employment law. This section is designed to provide you with a brief overview of some of the primary issues that education law attorneys work within the context of their practice setting. As with any legal issue involving children, recognize that all of these issues may tend to overlap for those who practice education law.

Student Safety and Discipline

Whether working on behalf of students and parents or representing a school district, an issue that arises frequently is maintaining safe school environments. In light of deaths, threats and serious incidents in schools, school authorities are increasingly vigilant about safety. As a result, attorneys are involved in writing and interpreting provisions relating to discipline in school handbooks.

Based on handbook language and applicable state law, school personnel may suspend or expel a student. With zero tolerance statutes in most states, an expulsion can mean lifetime exclusion from education. Attorneys must, therefore, carefully examine due process protections to ensure that proper procedures are followed. Attorneys representing students may need to gather evidence, coordinate evaluations, attend administrative hearings, negotiate settlements, or appeal to state court for relief. In addition, there may be overlaps with special education law which adds another layer of complexity to any disciplinary proceeding.

In the arena of policy work, attorneys may lobby at the federal or state level for increased refinement, expansion, or restriction of disciplinary language in statutes and policies. Finally, attorneys may be involved in studying and tracking school discipline data to help better inform any reform efforts relating to discipline. For example, data analysis relating to the “school to prison pipeline” helps to reveal systemic gaps and drive legislative reform where school discipline policies, such as zero-tolerance, lead to criminalization, instead of education, of students.

Civil Rights

Civil rights of both students and teachers are a frequent topic for attorneys in education law. Attorneys must be familiar with, and provide advice about, issues as diverse as free speech in a school setting, freedom of religion, or testing for substance abuse. Searches of student backpacks, lockers, vehicles etc. also involve interpretation of constitutional law.

Another civil rights issue that arises in the education law arena is discrimination. Discrimination may occur at any level of educational programming ranging from elementary school through graduate school. Discrimination may be based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, or sexual orientation. For example, students may require accommodations for a learning disability or may be the subject of harassment based on their minority status or gender.

For attorneys, these cases can involve interpreting both federal and state law. Attorneys may provide basic advice to their institutional clients or to individual clients who believe they have been subject to discrimination or another civil rights violation. Often, attorneys can negotiate settlements to remedy the situation, but attorneys may also need to initiate administrative or court proceedings to achieve fair treatment. Attorneys who work for government agencies may be involved in drafting policies and regulations and may also coordinate investigations into alleged civil rights violations.

Education Reform

Many law students and lawyers are interested in education reform. Education reform is a policy driven initiative where attorneys help shape legislation and policy designed to improve public education in the United States.

Often, the forces used to drive school reform are litigation, legislation and policy. Attorneys pursue class action lawsuits in an effort to spur action, and this litigation often results in reallocation of financial resources so that state funding is more equitably distributed among districts in a state. Attorneys also draft legislation at the state and federal level in response to litigation or in an effort to redefine educational standards, graduation requirements, or teacher licensure. Attorneys who work in federal and state offices of education may, in turn, interpret legislation to develop policies and implement legislative reform goals.

One of the common issues in education reform is the emphasis on national and statewide assessments to measure progress and to determine if children will earn a high school diploma or if individual public schools are providing an appropriate quality of education. In this context, attorneys may serve as advocates for children to ensure that tests are fair in both content and administration or attorneys may work on behalf of districts or the government to ensure that appropriate protocols are developed and followed. Another current example of education reform relates to issues around bullying and harassment, whether in person or via technology. In response to increasingly violent incidents and outcomes, lawyers may represent children who are subjected to bullying and harassment, or they may represent a school district defending itself from charges of allowing bullying and harassment to occur.  In addition, attorneys may draft legislation to curb bullying and harassment, or they may help districts draft policies to address bullying and harassment within a district.

Another issue in education reform is the development of alternatives to traditional public schools. As such, attorneys may become involved in the formation of charter schools, magnet schools, or pilot schools. Attorneys may serve in non-traditional legal capacities as they lead the development of these schools, or they may serve as counsel for these alternative programs. Finally, attorneys may craft legislation or policies to both develop and govern the charter school movement as well as policies relating to the use of school vouchers.

School Governance

Attorneys who represent school districts, independent schools, or institutions of higher education may deal with issues of school governance. In this context, attorneys provide advice and guidance on issues such as employment, finance, liability, or student records. In the employment arena, attorneys may need to draft or interpret collective bargaining agreements, handle discrimination claims, represent the institution in teacher discipline cases, or negotiate settlement agreements. School finance may require a unique set of legal skills relating to interpretation of financial reporting and accounting requirements or analysis of tax codes.

Traditional principles of liability may also arise for attorneys involved in school governance. Attorneys may need to provide advice to prevent liability or represent institutional clients when allegations arise in the operations of school activities. Finally, issues relating to school records arise frequently when involved in school governance. Attorneys will be expected to understand, interpret, and provide clear advice on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Health Information Privacy & Protection Act, and applicable state laws. For example, questions arise around student access to records, a divorced parent’s access to records, the interface between medical and school records, or third party access to records.

Special Education

Special education represents a complex and constantly evolving issue for attorneys involved in education law. In some instances, attorneys occasionally handle special education matters while other attorneys and firms focus solely on special education representation for either students or on behalf of school districts. Attorneys must know the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments. In addition, each state has its own unique statutes and policies relating to special education.

Attorneys representing students or school districts will often become involved in a case when parents and the school district simply can no longer work together effectively, and a fundamental dispute arises. In this context, the attorney must evaluate a case, arrange for or assess educational testing, and begin negotiations with the other party. Federal and state law provides elaborate dispute resolution options ranging from team meetings to mediation to prehearing conferences to administrative hearings. Consequently, an attorney must use an array of legal skills, including negotiation, drafting, and litigation skills. Attorneys must also be prepared to litigate a case into the state or federal appellate levels and to assess the impact of federal attorney fees legislation as a case unfolds. Issues that commonly arise in special education include disputes about discipline of special education students, discrimination under Section 504 or the ADAA, eligibility for services, the level of services necessary, or the placement options necessary for a student to receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive setting.

Finding a Job

As research for this guide, more than twenty leading attorneys working in both legal and non-legal capacities in the education world were interviewed. Each was asked, “What advice would you give to law students contemplating a career in education law” and “What characteristics are important when screening applicants for internships or jobs?” The following advice distills their suggestions.

Make Your Law School Experience Relevant

Take full advantage of your law school options to show an interest in education law. Take education law classes, children’s law classes, family law classes, or education classes at other Harvard programs. Enroll in clinical programs that provide exposure and experience in children’s law, special education law, or education law. Choose your internships wisely in order to obtain key experience, references, and building blocks for a long-term career in education law. Join extracurricular activities that display an interest in children, schools, or education in general. Conduct research on education law for a professor to show an in-depth understanding of specific issues relating to education law. Consider a joint degree program that combines your interest in law and education. Any combination of the above suggestions signal to an employer that you are serious about a career in education law.

Display a Commitment to Public Interest Work in General

As with other public interest issues, employers in the education law field look for a commitment to performing broad based public interest work. Employers will look beyond just involvement in education law issues or positions to whether you have displayed interest and initiative in other public interest arenas. In addition, employers want to know if you will be in public interest for the “long haul” as opposed to just dabbling in the area for a short period of time. Remember, education law employers are investing time and effort when they hire and train you. As a result, a demonstrated commitment to the public interest world in general can be a key variable.

Assess Your Background in Education

A common question asked by law students is “Do I need to have an education background” to secure an education law position. The concise answer is that it certainly helps to have some background in the field. A common theme among employers is that it can be important for a lawyer to understand the educator’s point of view when representing clients or pursuing education reform. As a result, experience as a teacher or work in educational policy can be an asset when seeking an education law position. However, the lack of an education background can be offset by other variables such as a broad public interest background in other issues or strong legal and interpersonal skills.

Prepare for an Interview

Before discussing an internship or position with an employer, you must do your homework. This advice holds true for any position in any field, but it seems to carry particular significance for education law employers. As a result, view websites, read other students’ evaluations, and dig a little deeper to learn about the organization’s or firm’s work in specific education law arenas or cases. Due diligence, or a lack of due diligence, can make a significant impression on an employer.

Highlight Your Intangibles

Beyond pure academic and legal experience, employers look for key variables such as the ability to work well with others and to use interpersonal skills to achieve goals. Education law invariably involves intense interaction with constituents such as students, teachers, administrators, parents, and perhaps members of the legislature. As a result, employers need to know if you can work successfully with others to find solutions. Demonstrate your ability through strong references from past employers or from professors who have observed you working with other students on projects. In addition, be passionate about your interest in education law. Demonstrate your passion by highlighting your background, your course selection, or your internships.

Practical Thoughts from HLS Graduates

As noted earlier, over twenty HLS Alumni provided personal insights for this Guide. Their following specific comments are offered to enhance your understanding of education law and the mechanics of seeking a position.

  • “I found clinics and summer public interest opportunities very helpful, particularly those where there was one on one client interaction. This helped me understand the reality of the clients I would be working with and the challenges that they were facing.”
  • “Join education organizations undergrad and in law school and look for summer opportunities that allow you to build your resume in the education area.”
  • “The best way to prepare is to educate yourself around the edges – learn about the criminal justice system and how it works, learn about the regulatory structure of education, learn about different models of lawyering – think deeply about what kind of lawyer you want to be and who you want to work with.”
  • “The best way into [education law] is through public interest fellowship opportunities, so students should be considering these opportunities early in law school. One really significant advantage of being at HLS is that there is a wealth of support for students seeking public interest fellowships.”
  • “Try to stay connected to national organizations that are working on education reform, either by signing up for their listservs or by setting a calendar reminder to check their websites for new information and resources on a regular basis.”
  • “Ask contacts in the field what kinds of experiences helped prepare them to be an effective attorney or advocate early on in their career.”
  • “One thing that people in law school often overlook is that they can find jobs representing school districts, either as in-house counsel (in big cities like Boston) or through small, private firms.”
  • “As much as you may want to dive right into policy work, most employers will look for a candidate who has direct service or on-the-ground experience before considering an applicant. If policy work is your goal and you do not have such experience, think about the kinds of jobs you can take after law school to fill in that gap.”
  • “If you don’t have an education background but are interested in education reform work, don’t be discouraged. Show how your background relates to education work and that you are a quick study.”
  • “Finding mentors is really important. Harvard alumni who are doing this work are a great resource.”

Personal Narratives

These narratives were collected over the course of a number of years and reflect the work of the attorney at the time of their narrative. As a result, some of the attorneys below have changed positions since the publication of their narrative.

  • Joe Ableidinger, HLS & KSG ’05
    Senior Director of Policy and Programs, Public School Forum of North Carolina

    I entered Harvard’s MPA/JD program driven by a deep desire to help improve educational outcomes for members of traditionally disadvantaged groups. This motivation took shape during the first two years of my undergraduate studies at Northwestern University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders department. I was captivated by my initial exposure to the neuroscience of learning and came to understand the profound challenges faced by students with disabilities and their families through client work at Northwestern’s Learning Disabilities Clinic and as a respite worker and camp counselor for teens with autism and pervasive developmental disorders.

    After two years at Northwestern, I transferred to Duke University and shifted my academic focus to public policy. At Duke, I engaged with the social and political structures in place to address the consequences of the medical conditions I had previously sought to understand. I maintained my concentration on students with disabilities, interning with AHRC New York City between my junior and senior years and completing my thesis on discipline provisions in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I also broadened my academic focus to examine education policy related to students facing other economic and social challenges.

    Two post-graduate experiences further honed my career trajectory before I arrived at HLS. I worked for a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, founding a family resource center at the lowest-performing elementary school in Durham, North Carolina. I then spent 18 months with the Fulbright Program in Korea, teaching English and studying school leadership in the Korean education system. These experiences exposed me to dramatically different education systems and their responses to the myriad challenges of educating all students, at the school level and at different levels of government.

    My four years at Harvard were a dizzying collection of experiences that had me constantly bouncing among three schools—HLS, the Kennedy School, and the Graduate School of Education (HGSE). My elective coursework was nearly equally divided among the schools. Outside the classroom, I co-chaired the HLS student organization Advocates for Education, worked as a student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, mentored high school students through the Kennedy School’s College Opportunities and Career Help (COACH) program, and served as a Teaching Fellow for the Schools and the Law course at HGSE.

    Following two clerkships (Eastern District of North Carolina and the Fourth Circuit), I found my way back to education policy as a consultant at Public Impact, an education policy and management consulting organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Our team advised clients, including private foundations, state and federal policymakers, national think tanks, innovative districts, charter management organizations, and child advocacy and education-focused nonprofits, on strategies for improving student learning in K-12 education. I led project teams and managed complex projects in areas including online and blended learning, teacher and leader policy, charter schools, and school turnarounds. Many of the “products” of this work were public-facing: detailed reports, white papers, case studies, policy briefs, and other publications drafted to influence policymaking and practice. Other deliverables were behind-the-scenes: strategic planning documents, strategy briefs, and other memoranda and presentations that helped clients evaluate existing programs, set internal direction, and approach prospective funders and partners.

    My consulting work enabled me to work closely with state and national education leaders. Sample projects included:

    • Assisting the director of a national network of city-based education reform organizations in developing multi-year project plans
    • Contributing to major national publications on blended learning
    • Leading projects focused on developing and implementing new school models to reach more students with excellent teaching through teacher role redesign and strategic uses of education technology
    • Working closely with the staff of a major international foundation to chart its strategic direction related to students with learning differences
    • Conducting a study for the U.S. Department of Education on virtual school accountability including leading a full-day technical working group meeting in Washington attended by over 50 national experts and practitioners

    After five years at Public Impact, I applied for and received a Next-Generation Learning Challenges Planning Grant. The grant allowed me to bring together an amazing team of excellent teachers and experts in different subject matter areas to design a new “breakthrough school model” for implementation in a charter or innovative district school. In 2013, I founded a new nonprofit organization, World Class Schools NC, to move the project forward, and our work is ongoing.

    I also signed on as the Senior Director of Policy and Programs at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonprofit partnership of business leaders, education leaders, and government leaders that operates programs for education professionals and advises state and local leaders on education policymaking. The Public School Forum’s programs include an institute for education policymakers, a teacher prep program for aspiring North Carolina educators, a policy fellowship for mid-career education professionals, and the statewide Center for Afterschool Programs.

    The common thread running through my academic work and job experience is an awareness of the power of education to improve education and life outcomes for members of traditionally disadvantaged groups. This awareness has only grown stronger in the first part of my career, as I have built up my knowledge base and developed tools to influence policymaking and practice. I expect this drive will only deepen as I continue leading projects, teams, and organizations that align well with my personal passions to improve education policy and practice for those most in need.

  • Dan Heffernan, HLS ’87
    Kotin, Crabtree and Strong, Boston MA

    My route to an education law career was somewhat circuitous. I entered law school in 1984 after three years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (“JVC”). Through the JVC, I worked for an agency in Philadelphia that advocated on behalf of residents of boarding homes who had been abruptly dumped into the community during the hasty and poorly executed deinstitutionalization of Pennsylvania’s large state hospitals in the 1970s. Our office was located within a Community Legal Services office. We often worked with legal services attorneys to push for legislation, licensing and proper oversight of the boarding homes. From this experience, I came to law school with a well founded interest in poverty law.

    At HLS, I happily found a community of like minded classmates and school organizations that afforded me an opportunity to develop my interest in poverty law more deeply. During law school, I worked with Prison Legal Assistance Program, Human Rights Program and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. I also spent my 1L summer as a Clyde Ferguson Human Rights Fellow with human rights groups in The Philippines. After working for two years with a terrific corporate law firm in Boston, I became a staff attorney with Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts (“LACCM”). At LACCM, I worked on my first education case, as co-lead counsel on a class action civil rights suit against the Worcester Public Schools for their disparate treatment of African-American and Hispanic students in disciplinary matters.

    My next major event in my education law career came when my first child, Brian, was born in 2000. Brian came into our lives with a little something extra: a forty-seventh chromosome resulting in his Down syndrome. I spent the next few years in a litigation firm but became more deeply involved in the disability community, including joining and becoming president of the board of directors of the Federation for Children with Special Needs. Following my work in litigation, I joined a start-up firm that concentrated in personal injury, civil rights and product liability work, I took over and ran a civil rights suit against the Worcester schools and city. The lawsuit arose from three years of abuse by a teacher of several students with significant special needs. During the district attorney’s investigation and ultimate prosecution of the teacher, aides disclosed that their reports of the teacher hitting students had gone unaddressed. I devoted much of my practice to this case which settled in the middle of the trial in federal court.

    I began taking on other civil rights cases involving students with special needs and had a growing interest in representing families with children with special needs in education matters. I began exploring starting my own firm with a colleague from LACCM but ultimately brought my practice to Kotin, Crabtree & Strong (“KCS”) in 2003. KCS was founded by Bob Crabtree and Lawrence Kotin, who were instrumental in the drafting and passage of “Chapter 766”, the groundbreaking special education law in Massachusetts.

    Currently, I advise and assist parents and students at every stage of the special education process, from determination of a child’s eligibility for special education, to obtaining an appropriate in-district program, to securing public funding for a private school placement. We represent students with all types of disabilities. My clients consist of the very poor who we represent pro bono, working class, and upper income families. With every client, we strive to provide the highest quality representation while being mindful of their resources and the cost of the advocacy. This variety of clients also provides a depth and range to our practice.

    Unlike virtually all special education attorneys who practice solo, I work with a group of seven other attorneys. We continuously consult on our cases and issues in the special education field and I believe that our combined experience and skill enable us to provide the best representation possible in special education cases. Additionally, the firm’s collaborative environment allows us to support each other professionally and personally. I cherish the collegiality and sense of common purpose in my firm. I also greatly enjoy working with others who have equal or greater experience than I do, as well as mentoring less experienced lawyers who have joined our practice.

    As my children are now in college, I reflect on my hopes for their careers. I hope that they will be able to find a similar professional home, where they do very challenging and stimulating work, work with extremely skilled people who support each other, make a real difference in the lives of others, and are able to make a living doing it.

  • Marina Cofield, HLS ’99
    Senior Executive Director, Office of Leadership, Division of Teaching & Learning, New York City Department of Education

    I arrived at HLS from the Mississippi Delta, where I spent two years as a Teach for America corps member teaching reading to middle school students with disabilities. The experience opened my eyes to the huge inequities of opportunity that exist for our nation’s children, and I left committed to a career in pursuit of universal access to high quality public education. I saw lawyers as society’s change agents, and I planned to become an education reform lawyer.

    During law school, I explored a variety of different types of public interest legal work. Discovering that I really enjoyed having a direct relationship with clients, I applied for a Skadden Fellowship to work at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. I learned a lot about myself as during my two years at Legal Aid. I loved the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives, but I didn’t actually find the law and legal process especially compelling in their own right. I also recommitted myself to education reform. I kept returning to the idea that only education empowers people to change their lives and their communities in a lasting way. I also believed that one of the biggest problems in our public school systems is their failure to attract and retain the strongest talent, and that the best way to impact schools positively is from within. While I was in law school, Dean Minow recommended Debbie Meyer’s The Power of Their Ideas, and I was inspired by the author’s story of starting her own school and creating an environment where every child was valued, believed in, and given rich, rigorous opportunities to learn.

    A turning point for me came when I was invited to a dinner for Teach for America alumni to learn about a new organization called KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), which was recruiting people to train to open college preparatory charter middle schools across the country. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg captured my imagination with his message of a fundamentally different kind of public school that would prove that high expectations, hard work, and character-building could yield high levels of achievement for all of our children. I applied for the KIPP School Leadership Program, and when I was accepted a few months later, I didn’t think twice about jumping ship from the legal profession and embarking a new career as a school founder and principal.

    After a year of training, I opened my school, KIPP South Fulton Academy. Over the next four years, the school would grow to serve about 300 students in grades 5-8 in one of the most socioeconomically depressed parts of Atlanta. The five years I spent as the founding principal of my school were by far the most challenging of my career. I quickly learned just how much I didn’t know about developing curriculum, supporting high quality instruction, managing student behavior, and creating a safe, inclusive school environment. It was my first experience managing adults, and leading teachers and building positive relationships with parents was often much more challenging that managing the children. As a charter school principal I also had to learn a wide array of business skills – everything from developing budget and cash flow projections, to assembling a benefits package for my staff, to overseeing the facilities, food services, and transportation services for my school.

    At the same time, being a founding principal was also my most rewarding professional experience to date. I came to know my students well and care deeply about them, and every day I had the opportunity to watch them develop personal and academic skills that no one had previously thought were possible for them. By our third year, my students were scoring higher than any other school in South Fulton County on all five subjects of the Georgia state test. By the end of our fourth year, we were sending our students to top high schools across the city, state, and nation.

    After five years as principal, I made the difficult decision to leave my school and move to New York City. This transition created another opportunity for me to take stock of my career and my role in public education reform. As much as I had loved and believed in my school in Atlanta, one nagging issue always bothered me. No matter how successful we were in educating our 300 students, there would always be many hundreds more in the neighborhood who were stuck going to underperforming public schools. They might never receive the kinds of educational and life opportunities that they deserved. I came to believe that although charter schools can play an important and positive role in creating high quality public education options for children, they themselves will not lead us to the end goal of ensuring that every child has access to an excellent public school. I therefore joined the New York City Department of Education in order to learn about and contribute to system- wide public education reform in the nation’s largest school system.

    I have now been at the DOE for six years, worked under four different chancellors, and held a variety of positions. In my current role, I lead the office responsible for creating a pipeline for leadership positions at all levels of the system. We identify and train qualified candidates for approximately 200 principal positions each year, and we support the development of strong teacher leaders, assistant principals, and system-level leaders. Addressing complex issues that meet the needs of a system encompassing 1,650 schools and 1.1 million children is a tremendous challenge, as is navigating the politics of a huge bureaucracy. But each evening, I come home knowing that I’ve spent my day advocating for and helping implement solutions to the problems I care most deeply about, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

  • Beth Tossell, HLS ’07
    Children’s Law Center, Washington D.C.

    I decided to go to law school because I saw the law as a powerful tool for social justice. My bedrock belief that each human life is equally valuable has led me to work on behalf of people whom mainstream society rejects or ignores. Before and during law school, I explored many different areas of public interest work, ranging from workers’ rights to access to health care to housing conditions litigation to LGBTQ+ advocacy. The internships I had during my two law school summers ultimately put me on the path to focusing on education law.

    I spent the summer after my 1L year in Louisiana at a nonprofit that represented death row inmates. I assisted with mitigation investigations, which meant extensive research into the personal histories of the men (and a few women) we represented in an effort to find out facts that would convince a jury not to impose the death penalty. In our research, we very often found evidence of unaddressed disabilities. During my 2L summer, I worked at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where I represented teenagers incarcerated at DC’s juvenile prison. I again found that many of the teens had never received the help they needed to address their disabilities. I vividly remember one 16-year-old who would ask me to write letters home for him because he could not write complete sentences.

    During law school, I found my clinical work at the Legal Services Center extremely helpful in preparing me to work with clients and appear in court. I did my 3L year as a visiting student at Georgetown, and while I was there I took courses in disability law, literacy and the law, and the impact of education on class mobility.

    As I came to the end of my 2L year, I decided to apply for post-law school fellowships. After exploring a number of nonprofits in the DC area, I decided to work with Children’s Law Center as my fellowship sponsor. In partnership with CLC, I developed a project that focused on special education advocacy for teenagers living in foster care group homes. Because of the structure of the federal special education law, these teenagers had no ability to advocate for better special education services. With my Equal Justice Works fellowship, I represented a number of these teenagers directly and also partnered with DC’s Office of the State Superintendent for Education to create a program to recruit and train educational surrogate parents.

    Once my fellowship ended, I stayed on at Children’s Law Center as a special education attorney. I advocated primarily on behalf of children in foster care who had disabilities. Depending on their circumstances, I represented their biological parents, foster parents, educational surrogate parents, or the students themselves when they were over 18. I found the work rewarding in large part because I was able to have a great deal of contact with the students and their parents. In a typical week, I would meet with clients at their homes, speak to their therapists and doctors, observe them in the classroom, and advocate for improvements to their special education programs in meetings with their schools. I was usually able to obtain good results through negotiation, but my work did sometimes include litigation in administrative due process hearings. Because my clients were in foster care, I also appeared regularly in Family Court to update their judges on their educational progress.

    During the four years that I focused on representing families directly, I also volunteered to take on a number of policy assignments. I wrote comments on the DC school system’s new discipline regulations and wrote testimony for the DC Council’s budget and oversight hearings. When a position opened on the policy team, I transitioned to doing policy full-time. It has been gratifying to use the knowledge I gained on the ground about DC’s school system to advocate for systemic reform. On a daily basis, I spend about half of my time on research and writing and half on interacting with allies and government officials. My favorite part of the work is developing creative systemic reform proposals. Since our work is so closely tied to our clients’ experiences, we are presented constantly with new problems that require innovative solutions.

    The most gratifying part of my policy work so far actually occurred this year, when I had the opportunity to develop an extensive package of special education reform legislation at the request of a member of the DC Council. To develop the legislation, I worked closely with the council member’s staff and pulled together a coalition of about 25 advocacy groups, parents, and school personnel. I also lobbied council members, wrote extensive testimony, and helped develop a media strategy. The legislation was passed unanimously out of committee and looks poised to pass the full council. If it passes, future DC students will receive better services more quickly, putting them on a path to independence and success as adults.

    My favorite part of working in education law is that there is so much hope. The children I represent have immense potential. There are certainly times when it is hard to maintain hope in the face of my clients’ difficult circumstances, but over the last seven years I have had the incredible privilege of seeing many children make remarkable progress. That’s what keeps me in this field, and it’s hard for me to imagine anything more inspiring.

  • Deborah Gordon, HLS ’04
    Staff Attorney. Education Law Center of Pennsylvania

    “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity…is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
    – Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

    Fifty-five years after Brown, equal opportunity is still a distant dream for many children. At the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, we work on behalf of these children and their families. Each year, we help thousands of children to gain access to the best possible public education. Some are students with disabilities, children in foster care, or children facing unfair discipline. I have the job I went to law school to get!

    I had focused on urban education policy in college and knew I wanted to practice education law—even if I was not 100% sure what that meant. My college summers were spent working at the Children’s Defense Fund and the Education Trust (two other great organizations you should check out)! After college, I sought classroom experience, to have a better sense of the classroom challenges from a teacher’s perspective. Teaching kindergarten and first grade was definitely harder than being a 1L. But I learned a lot about education in a way that a Princeton classroom could not teach me (not to mention learning efficient ways to tie 40 shoelaces quickly). I was and am continually struck by the additional challenges children living in poverty face in school.

    When I got to Harvard Law, I worked on a project with Dean Martha Minow, researching state, district and school special education practices that would allow all students access to the general curriculum. I also did some clinical work, representing a student in a special education case. These experiences greatly enriched my law school experience and I highly recommend clinical work to all law students. Spending my 1L summer as an intern in the Department of Justice’s Educational Opportunities Section in the Civil Rights Division working on desegregation cases and a Title IX case, was also a great experience. The following summer I split my time, working at a large New York law firm for part of the summer, but also interning at the Vera Institute of Justice. Summer internships are a fabulous way to gain exposure to organizations doing innovative work while applying what you’ve learned in a classroom to the real world. These summer jobs helped me figure out what I wanted (and did not want) to do after law school.

    After clerking for a federal judge, I wanted to take my 20+ years of education and finally make my education path available and accessible to all children. I found my dream job at the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. Four years later, I am now a staff attorney, having been hired at ELC when my fellowship there ended.

    At the Education Law Center, I focus on school discipline law and the education of children emerging from the juvenile justice system, though as an office, our scope is much larger. Our goal is to improve the school experience for all children. Specifically, we focus on many of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable students: children in poverty, children of color, kids with disabilities, English-language learners, children in foster homes and institutions, and others. Here are some examples of our work:

    • Joseph was accused of taking part in a fight at school. A judge heard the evidence and decided that Joseph had been an innocent bystander – but his school refused to accept the decision and assigned Joseph to an alternative school for disruptive youth. ELC intervened and Joseph was able to return to his own school.
    • Domestic violence forced Sarah and her mother to leave their home. Sarah wanted to stay in her school even though she had temporarily moved in with relatives in another school ELC persuaded the school district that as a “homeless child,” Sarah had that right. School is now an important source of stability in Sarah’s otherwise uncertain young life.
    • Georgia was born with cerebral palsy. When she celebrated her third birthday, the “early intervention” agency proposed to cut her services. With ELC’s help, Georgia’s family persuaded the federal court that the agency’s actions violated special education law. Georgia’s case has made it easier for other young children to receive the services to which they are entitled.

    What I love about my job is that I can work on individual cases as well as impact litigation and policy work. Often we need all of these strategies to effect change. One problem that children in Pennsylvania face is being sent to “alternative schools for disruptive youth.” Pennsylvania sends thousands of children to these programs, which operate for fewer hours than regular schools, provide fewer classes and generally offer no sports or extra-curricular activities. Many kids drop out or fail out, and we see that these programs often serve as one stop on the school-to-prison pipeline. Children are sent to these schools for all sorts of reasons—many under Pennsylvania’s zero tolerance prohibition of weapons, which is often misapplied.

    For example, a child who picked up a smashed pencil sharpener on the playground because it was interfering with his kickball game and gave it to his teacher was recommended to be sent to an alternative school for possession of a weapon! Cases like this one are not an anomaly and while we were sometimes able to help a child on an individual level (I was able to get the child “caught” with a pencil sharpener back into school), there were many more cases than we could handle individually. We filed a case to challenge school districts’ practice of transferring children to these alternative schools but denying an appeal in state court. I argued this case in appellate court in the first few months of my ELC fellowship.

    When the litigation strategy did not work (and it often does not in reform work), we decided to try to change both the way a child is sent to alternative school and the quality of the alternative schools themselves. So far we have succeeded in working with certain school districts to (1) introduce prevention programs and support strategies into the school district, decreasing the number of referrals to alternative education and (2) improve the quality of education in the alternative programs, including making sure that the curricula align, so that a child can return to the regular school and not be behind academically. We have also worked closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Education as they have issued new and improved guidelines to districts and alternative education providers governing and creating an accountability system where none had previously existed.

    There are other ways in which we leverage the expertise of our relatively small office to make a larger impact statewide. In addition to litigation and policy work, we provide information and trainings for parents and child advocates. One of my responsibilities is to travel around the state, training juvenile probation officers on the educational rights of children when they return from delinquency placements. Empowered with knowledge of the laws, the juvenile probation officers can become better advocates for children and help ensure that every child in our state receives a quality education.

    As a civil rights attorney at ELC, I am working to move children one step closer to Justice Warren’s notion of an equal opportunity. As you get ready to launch your career as an attorney, I urge you to consider public interest law. You can make an appreciable difference, impacting public policy and people’s lives—including your own.

  • Dan Losen, J.D. Georgetown Law School ’99
    Visiting student at HLS ‘98-’99
    Staff Attorney, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles

    My decision to get a law degree began with my desire to fight racial injustice. This goal, influenced by my observations growing up in the 1960s, was strongly reinforced by a trip to Auschwitz the summer before I began college. This goal guided my decision to become a classroom teacher, as well as to eventually leave the classroom, seek a J.D. and begin my career at the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at UCLA (formerly at Harvard).

    During law school I arranged my schedule around the one education law course offered; spent one summer with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights; and another with the NAACP, Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF); and had the great fortune of assisting Professor Martha Minow, now Dean of HLS, with her education law course. The mentor relationships I entered into while in law school with leaders in the field, especially with Dean Martha Minow and Gary Orfield, proved critically important throughout my law and policy career.

    CRP was conceived by Professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., as a research think tank that could document the benefits of diversity in education as a way to bolster affirmative action policies against legal attacks. From this initial work, the core mission of CRP evolved into becoming a source of intellectual capital for the civil rights movement. In my work there, I am engaged in bringing together scholars and leaders from all parts of the country to address issues related to equal educational opportunity. While my work goals are consistent in their focus, their substance is remarkably diverse.

    For example, over the course of the last 10 years I have advised civil rights organizations on impact litigation strategies to end the school to prison pipeline; coauthored and edited a book of research on racial inequity in special education; helped write and produce a video for grassroots advocates about No Child Left Behind; and worked closely with a member of Maryland’s state legislature to create model legislation on reporting accurate graduation rates for minority youth. I have also had the opportunity to conduct and publish empirical research in areas such as racial disparities in school discipline, the graduation rates of Black and Latino students, and the impact of restrictive language policy on English language learners.

    Working at CRP opened great opportunities to collaborate closely with some of the best scholars, lawyers, and policy-makers in the country. Because the work I do also has an academic component, I have served as a lecturer on law and clinical supervisor to both law and graduate school interns who signed up to work with CRP. CRP’s advocacy mission also puts me in position to do a fair amount of public speaking beyond academia, including testimony before Congress, speeches to leading civil rights organizations, as well as to federal and state education agencies.

    My daily work is likewise varied. I make my own schedule and keep my own hours (and I now work mostly from home). Here’s an example of work I conducted over the last few weeks for CRP: A good deal of time was spent re-drafting a chapter I wrote that is “in press” about challenges to restrictive language policies. The chapter, which combines original empirical analysis of achievement scores in 50 states with legal analysis, had to be updated to add commentary on the recent Supreme Court decision in Horne v. Flores. Late last week, I returned to the office I once interned in and delivered a keynote speech on racial over and under representation in special education at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Next, I edited a new set of guidance materials being developed by the National PTA on state laws regarding family engagement. Most recently, I joined an administrator from the U.S. Department of Education and a colleague at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School to discuss possible changes to the federal collection of data on school discipline and school arrest data for students with and without disabilities disaggregated by race and gender. If approved, the changes could substantially improve the knowledge base about incarcerated youth.

    Although working for the public interest is lower paying, less secure, and often involves long hours, I find the work to be tremendously fulfilling. While the impact of my work on children is very difficult to measure, I know that my work with CRP has led to important changes in education policy at the federal and state level that can be expected to improve educational outcomes. One of the greatest pleasures is that I get to work with equally passionate scholars, policymakers and advocates. Increasingly, I collaborate with former students I have supervised, who now hold leadership positions in the field, which is really wonderful!

  • Rhoda Schneider, J.D. Boston University Law School
    General Counsel and Senior Associate Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

    For about thirty years I’ve been chief legal advisor to the commissioner, state board, and staff of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. I’ve worked closely with six successive commissioners and I myself served twice as acting commissioner. I lead a great team of eight lawyers, a manager of investigations, two administrative specialists, and volunteer legal interns. We work with educators and policymakers throughout the agency and with local school officials, advocates, and many other constituents in the education community.

    Issues that we address include implementation of state and federal education reform laws, school finance and governance, civil rights, charter schools, student assessment, special education, school and district accountability, and educator licensure. Our practice of administrative law involves legal research and writing; negotiation; public speaking and training; drafting regulations, legislation, and advisory opinions; presenting at and conducting administrative adjudicatory hearings; drafting and reviewing contracts and interagency agreements; handling employment law matters; and collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office on litigation. The work is varied, challenging, collaborative, and meaningful. The issues and people I work with keep me energized every day.

    I went to Boston University Law School in the 1970s, eager to gain professional skills that I could use for the public good. Back then, students interested in public sector internships had to forge their own path. Fortunately, an assistant dean who had become general counsel at the state executive office of human services was receptive to my interning with him part- time during my third year. He was an important mentor to me and the internship was pivotal in honing my legal skills and convincing me that one could do vital, high quality legal work in state government.

    I graduated from law school without a job offer and uncertain about my future. About six months later, encouraged by the lawyer with whom I’d interned, I applied and was hired for a staff attorney position in the state education department. I learned a huge amount about lawyering and judgment from the general counsel who hired me (she’s now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit), and about education policy and leadership from the commissioner who later promoted me to general counsel, his successors, and other terrific colleagues within and outside the department.

    What would I advise law students who are interested in working in education law?

    • Develop strong analytical and legal research and writing skills. For positions in our office, some knowledge of education law and policy is helpful, but excellent legal skills are essential.
    • Do internships and clinical work. You’ll acquire knowledge and skills that you don’t necessarily get in class, you’ll make connections (issues and organizations as well as people), you’ll learn about yourself (what kinds of work turn you off or on), and you’ll graduate with work experience that may interest future employers.
    • Seek out lawyers and others who will mentor you. I lucked into some wonderful mentors. Don’t rely on luck; you can be strategic about For example, in deciding between two internships or job offers, find out which supervisor takes mentoring seriously and would be a good mentor for you.
    • Learn as much as you can about various organizations. Internet research and talking to people can inform you about the varieties of education law And never show up for an interview without having done some homework about that organization!

    There are many ways to serve the public interest through legal practice. For me, practicing education law at the state level has been very gratifying. While times are tough and competition is stiff, many government agencies, school districts, and nonprofit organizations need and will be looking for law students and lawyers who are highly skilled and committed to education and public service. Good luck in your quest.

  • Dan Gordon, HLS ’99
    Manager for Course Offerings & Academic Policy, District of Columbia Public Schools, Office of Secondary School Transformation

    I didn’t know for sure that I wanted to study law until I went back to fifth grade. As an AmeriCorps volunteer working at College Park Elementary School outside of Atlanta, I finally landed upon an actual answer to “Why law school?” that went beyond “A JD opens a lot of doors” or “I like to argue.” The structural obstacles and systemic racism that stood in opposition to my students’ future success inspired me to do something to help and, finally, I saw clearly how a law degree could help me accomplish my goals.

    In my three years at HLS, I managed to keep my focus on that initial inspiration – most notably through a summer internship at the US Department of Justice, in the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section – but I also intentionally explored the “opens a lot of doors” theory I mentioned earlier: journal work to taste academia, moot court and a criminal defense clinical to sample litigation, and a summer at a law firm to understand private practice. Through it all, though, I remained committed to my dream of leveling the educational (and thus societal) playing field.

    After a year of clerking in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, I had the great fortune of returning to the DOJ office for which I had interned. For 5 years, I worked to enforce federal civil rights statutes in educational institutions around the country. The bulk of my work involved overseeing school districts’ compliance with the ongoing desegregation orders and helping usher districts that had eliminated the vestiges of the former dual system toward an eventual termination of federal oversight. I desegregated faculties and student bodies, ended race-based Homecoming elections, and reformed language acquisition programs. I trained South Dakotan high school athletic directors on Title IX compliance and interviewed female cadets at The Citadel. I was hailed as a hero by local NAACP chapters and condemned as an “evil man” on a church sign in protest of the closing of a historically white high school. The work was interesting and meaningful, and as with most government jobs, I was given a great deal of responsibility and autonomy early in my career.

    Although I achieved progress in many cases, I was frustrated by the limits of operating at the systemic level. Too often I found that the most pressing problems facing the struggling schools and students with whom I worked were not problems that a lawsuit could solve. As a lawyer, I could not help a student read at her grade level nor help a school district retain its best and most experienced teachers at its highest-need schools. There was simply too great of a distance between my work providing equal educational opportunities and the students trying to take advantage of those opportunities.

    After a yearlong detour to Nicaragua (that’s another story altogether), I decided to get closer to the front lines and teach in the DC public schools. As a teacher, I was able to work on the aforementioned issues directly. For three years, I taught English to 12th graders. In an essay this short, I can’t do justice to the breadth and depth, the wonder, joy and frustration of my experiences in the classroom, but I will highlight some ways that my legal training and experience helped make me a better teacher: (1) as a lawyer, I learned to value organization and preparation; (2) having mapped out and then executed legal strategies, I was prepared to design and implement effective curriculum; (3) through court appearances and negotiations, I developed some of the public speaking and presentation skills necessary to conduct an engaging class; and (4) the work I did with community groups, church leaders, and parents convinced me how important it is to seek buy-in from all relevant stakeholders. More directly, I advised teachers trying to understand special education laws, explained No Child Left Behind Act requirements to administrators, and occasionally helped students navigate the various legal institutions and processes at play in their lives.

    Despite my love for teaching, after three exhilarating and exhausting years, I have decided to leave the classroom to instead do policy work for the school district’s central office. When I began teaching, I was focused on reforming education one student at a time. But I quickly realized how essential systems are, whether in the classroom, across the school, or throughout the district. Well-structured, intentional, assessable, flexible systems provide the space and stability necessary for good teaching to take place and for sustained learning to flourish. Under the leadership of Michelle Rhee, DCPS has become a national leader in school reform, and I am thrilled to have joined that effort as the manager of academic policy and course offerings for DC’s secondary schools. I will miss the day-to-day dynamism of the classroom, but I am now able to leverage both my teaching and legal backgrounds to improve educational opportunities across Washington without sacrificing the local connection that was missing from my federal government service.

    My JD has indeed opened doors, but not necessarily the ones I expected when I started as a first-year. By staying focused on a big picture goal of improving the public education system, I have instead pursued a variety of opportunities, carrying with me the invaluable skills, knowledge and perspective drawn from my legal education and career. Non- traditional? Yes. But as career adjectives go, I’ll take “fulfilling,” “challenging,” and “engaging” over “traditional” every time.

Education Law at HLS

Clinics at HLS

  • Child Advocacy Clinic

    The Child Advocacy Clinic, which is part of HLS’s Child Advocacy Program, is designed to educate students about a range of social change strategies and to encourage critical thinking about the pros and cons of different approaches. Each CAP Clinic student is placed at a different organization/agency serving children, with a focus on three substantive areas: child welfare, education, and juvenile justice.

  • Education Law Clinic

    The Education Law Clinic is part of a program called the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a nationally recognized collaboration between Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC). Students in the Clinic provide direct representation to parents/guardians whose children have been affected by family violence or other adverse experiences and who are not getting the special education services they need. The clinic focuses on different education law strategies during the fall and spring semesters.

Cross Registration at HLS

As an HLS student, one of the unrivaled benefits is the access you have to courses and faculty members in the other Harvard Schools. Students interested in Education Law have the opportunity to cross-register for credits at the Harvard Graduate School of Education or Kennedy School of Government. Both Harvard schools have classes related to education law, education policy, and more.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities can be an excellent way to meet others who are interested in education and education law while gaining practical experience in the field. Here is a listing of the legal and non-legal education organizations at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Additionally, students at Harvard Law School have the opportunity to volunteer at a number of community organizations (listed below) throughout the academic year.

  • Advocates for Education (HLS)

    Advocates for Education (A4E) is an HLS organization that brings together educators, policymakers, scholars, and advocates to raise awareness about, and contribute to the greater understanding of issues in, public education law and policy. The organization provides litigation support to non-profit organizations working on education law cases and visits innovative schools in the Boston area to meet with principals to discuss successful education models. A4E also organizes a brown-bag speaker series and informal career advising opportunities for participants.

  • Program on Negotiation (HLS)

    The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School is an applied research center committed to improving the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution. The Program works to change the way people, organizations, and nations resolve their disputes. Projects include attempting to design, implement and develop conflict resolution practices and the promotion of public awareness about conflict resolution efforts.

  • Rediscovery House

    Rediscovery House facilitates the transitions to adulthood for homeless high school students and teenagers in foster care. The organization works to ensure children in these circumstances receive proper support from their schools and their communities. Through various forms of academic support, including supplemental tutoring and career preparation, the organization helps students complete high school requirements. Rediscovery House’s Alternative Education Program works to improve the educational outcomes of low-income teenagers by addressing barriers to educational attainment they may encounter.

  • Special Education Surrogate Parent Program

    The Special Education Surrogate Parent Program provides legal representation for children with special needs. Volunteers involved with the program work to defend the educational rights of children in state custody. Without parents or guardians to act on their behalf, these children lack the representation they need to receive appropriate education services. By advocating on behalf of these children, volunteers work to improve education outcomes for children in Massachusetts.

  • Youth Advocacy & Policy Lab

    The Youth Advocacy and Policy Lab, commonly referred to as Y-Lab, advocates for the creation of child-serving systems that are antiracist, trauma-sensitive, and healing-centered, enabling all children to learn and thrive.

For more information on student organizations and volunteer opportunities, please visit: HLS Office of Community Engagement, Equity, and Belonging and GSE Office of Student Affairs.

Selected Fellowships

Following graduation, many students interested in pursuing public interest law complete a fellowship. For more information about the fellowship process, please consult the Insider’s Guide to Writing a Successful Fellowship Application. The list below contains a number of fellowships relevant to students interested in education law.

Fellowship Spotlights

  • Ashoka Fellowship

    The Ashoka Fellowship provides financial resources and professional development to budding entrepreneurs across the world. By providing recipients with start-up funding and a living stipend, the fellowship enables recipients to pursue social projects without financial constraints. The program seeks to address societal problems associated with educational access, early childhood development, and education reform, among other issues. Ashoka seeks to foster connections between different entrepreneurs and partnerships with private organizations in order to meet its goal of large scale societal change.

  • Broad Residency in Urban Education

    The Broad Residency selects individuals to step into managerial positions in urban school districts, charter management organizations, and federal/state departments of education. The two-year program enables fellows to develop their professional capacity by proving them with direct, full-time experience in urban communities. Additionally, the fellowship seeks to cultivate educational leadership by providing residents with professional development. Residents also work to improve educational outcomes by implementing large-scale projects, including school and budgetary reform.

  • DC Teaching Fellowship

    The New Teacher Project helps cultivate educational leadership in cities across the nation through its Teaching Fellowship. The program prepares recent graduates to work in the Washington Public School District. The New Teacher Project specifically seeks to recruit new teachers in the field of special education. The fellowship provides an opportunity for graduates interested in education law to learn more about the issues children with special needs face in the classroom. Participating teachers have the opportunity to help shape school reform by teaching in one of the nation’s largest school districts.

  • Educators Entrepreneur Fellowship

    The Educators Entrepreneur Fellowship works to improve access to high quality education by enabling entrepreneurs to pursue public education projects in Indianapolis. During the fellowship, participants will receive a startup stipend in addition to an annual salary and health benefits. The fellowship seeks to improve education outcomes by expanding the opportunities available to low-income and foster children. The Mind Trust will provide fellows with professional and monetary support as fellows work to launch their individual projects.

  • John Gibbons Fellowship

    Fellows undertake projects related to public interest and constitutional law as part of the John Gibbons Fellowship. Participating fellows handle requests from both the private and public sectors, including those from legal service offices, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Fellows from the program have brought class action cases involving education before federal and district courts. Most recently, fellows challenged testing and placement procedures for children receiving special education services. Fellows pursue a variety of issues related to education through both litigation and advocacy.

  • MALDEF Fried Frank Fellowship

    Recipients of the MALDEF Fried Frank Fellowship serve two years as litigators at Fried Frank and two years as staff attorneys at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). The fellowship provides participants with experience in both corporate and civil rights litigation. MALDEF works to ensure that every child receives access to a quality education regardless of their cultural, linguistic, or socioeconomic background. Fellows will provide litigation, community education, and advocacy services to individuals and communities lacking legal representation.

  • Polikoff-Gautreaux Fellowship

    Impact for Equity (formerly Business and Professional People for the Public Interest), a non-profit law and policy center, sponsors one recent law or policy school graduate each year through the Polikoff-Gautreaux Fellowship. Impact for Equity seeks to address issues related to social justice and access to opportunity in Chicago. The fellowship spans one year, with the opportunity to renew the fellowship for a second year. Fellows will assist the organization with legal matters related to segregation, school reform, and government accountability.

  • Ruth Chance Fellowship

    The Ruth Chance Fellowship provides recipients with the opportunity to work on issues related to women’s rights at Equal Rights Advocates. The fellowship lasts for one year, with the opportunity to renew the award for an additional year. Equal Rights Advocates works to prevent gender discrimination in schools and ensure equal opportunities for young women in the classroom. The fellow will serve as a staff attorney at the organization, providing assistance on matters related to litigation and community education.

  • Skadden Fellowship

    The Skadden Fellowship provides two-year fellowships to recent law school graduates to pursue public interest law on a full-time basis. To fulfill its guiding principle to improve legal services for the poor and to promote economic independence, the Skadden Fellowship provides fellows with access to legal resources, networking opportunities, loan assistance, and salaries to support graduating students in their public interest work. To learn more about previous Skadden fellows, or learn what fellows have worked in Education Law, visit the Skadden Fellows page on the Skadden Fellowship website.

  • Zubrow Fellowship

    The Zubrow Fellowship, offered through the Juvenile Law Center, provides recent graduates with an opportunity to effect change in the Philadelphia juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Law Center works to ensure that children receive equitable treatment in the juvenile justice system and have access to quality education following incarceration. Fellows spent two years at the organization, during which they work on projects related to litigation, community education, and administrative advocacy. Additionally, recipients work with both local and national organizations to shape policy related to juvenile justice.

Selected Organizations

Organization descriptions feature excerpts from each organization’s website.

  • Federal Government
  • State Government

    Alabama Department of Education
    Montgomery, AL

    Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
    Juneau, AK

    Arizona Department of Education
    Phoenix, AZ

    Arkansas Department of Education
    Little Rock, AR

    California Department of Education
    Sacramento, CA

    Colorado Department of Education
    Denver, CO

    Connecticut Department of Education
    Hartford, CT

    Delaware Department of Education
    Dover, DE

    District of Columbia Public Schools
    Washington, DC

    Florida Department of Education
    Tallahassee, FL

    Georgia Department of Education
    Atlanta, GA

    Hawaii Department of Education
    Honolulu, HI

    Idaho State Board of Education
    Boise, ID

    Illinois State Board of Education
    Springfield, IL

    Indiana Department of Education
    Indianapolis, IN

    Iowa Department of Education
    Des Moines, IA

    Kansas Department of Education
    Topeka, KS

    Kentucky Department of Education
    Frankfort, KY

    Louisiana Department of Education
    Baton Rouge, LA

    Maine Department of Education
    Augusta, ME

    Maryland State Department of Education
    Baltimore, MD

    Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
    Malden, MA

    Michigan Department of Education
    Lansing, MI

    Minnesota Department of Education
    Roseville, MN

    Mississippi Department of Education
    Jackson, MS

    Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
    Jefferson City, MO

    Montana Office of Public Instruction
    Helena, MT

    Nebraska Department of Education
    Lincoln, NE

    Nevada Department of Education
    Carson City, NV

    New Hampshire Department of Education
    Concord, NH

    New Jersey Department of Education
    Trenton, NJ

    New Mexico Public Education Department
    Santa Fe, NM

    New York State Education Department
    Albany, NY

    North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
    Raleigh, NC

    North Dakota Department of Public Instruction
    Bismarck, ND

    Ohio Department of Education
    Columbus, OH

    Oklahoma State Department of Education
    Oklahoma City, OK

    Oregon Department of Education
    Salem, OR

    Pennsylvania Department of Education
    Harrisburg, PA

    Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
    Providence, RI

    South Carolina Department of Education
    Columbia, SC

    South Dakota Department of Education
    Pierre, SD

    Tennessee State Department of Education
    Nashville, TN

    Texas Education Agency
    Austin, TX

    Utah State Office of Education
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Vermont Department of Education
    Montpelier, VT

    Virginia Department of Education
    Richmond, VA

    Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Washington)
    Olympia, WA

    West Virginia Department of Education
    Charleston, WV

    Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
    Madison, WI

    Wyoming Department of Education (Cheyenne Office)
    Cheyenne, WY

  • Selected School Districts
  • Non-Profit & Advocacy

    Advancement Project
    Washington, DC; Los Angeles, CA
    The Advancement Project is a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice. The organization works to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on legal analysis and public education campaigns. It is a multi-issue organization, but education reform is a major focus.

    Advocates for Children of New York
    New York, NY
    Advocates for Children is dedicated to protecting every child’s right to an education, focusing on students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling in school or experiencing school discrimination of any kind. The organization provides free legal and advocacy services, and teaches families what they need to know to stand up for their children’s educational rights. AFC also works to change education policy so that the public school system serves all children of New York City effectively.

    Advocates for Children of New Jersey
    Newark, NJ
    Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) works with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. The organization seeks to identify children’s needs through research, policy and legal analysis and strategic communications, raise awareness of those needs and work with elected officials and other decision-makers to enact effective responses.

    Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE)
    Washington, DC
    AJE works to educate parents, youth and the community about the laws governing public education, specifically for children with special needs. Through a variety of programs and events, it seeks to motivate and empower youth and parents to be effective advocates for quality education. In cases in which a third party is necessary to ensure that appropriate services are being made available to a family in need, AJE may provide families with direct representation.

    Alliance for Children’s Rights
    Los Angeles, CA
    The Alliance for Children’s Rights protects the rights of impoverished, abused and neglected children and youth. By providing free legal services and advocacy, the Alliance ensures children have safe, stable homes, healthcare and the education they need to thrive. The organization’s staff and extensive network of pro bono attorneys advocate directly for individual children, in addition to working for broader policy reform.

    American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
    Washington, DC
    The AAUP is a national organization of faculty, researchers, administrators, graduate students and members of the general public that works to promote academic freedom and tenure.

    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
    New York, NY; all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC
    The ACLU works in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend individual rights and liberties. A significant part of its work is related to the preservation of students’ constitutional rights in schools. The ACLU employs more than 200 attorneys and thousands of volunteer attorneys.

    Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF)
    New York, NY
    The AALDEF is a national organization that protects and promotes the rights of Asian Americans. It is a multi-issue organization, but emphasizes educational equity in its work. It provides legal assistance to parents and students asserting their right to equal education opportunities.

    Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE)
    New York, NY
    The CFE is a non-profit corporation that seeks to ensure adequate resources and opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The organization filed and won the landmark “CFE v. State of New York” case, in which it successfully argued that the state’s school finance system under-funded NYC public schools and denied their students their constitutional right to a sound basic education. CFE works to secure full funding and implementation of school finance and accountability reforms in New York.

    Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP)
    Washington, DC
    Through the “Removing Barriers to Education Project, Virginia,” CCLP, the Youth Law Center, and JustChildren (a project of the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia) work to reduce barriers to education for youth in and returning from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

    Center for Law and Education (CLE)
    Washington, DC; Boston, MA
    CLE works to make all students right to a quality education a reality and to enable communities to address their own public education problems effectively. CLE has helped shape legislation and policy at the national level and has provided assistance to students, parents and educators struggling with their implementation at the state and local levels, through both school capacity-building and outside advocacy.

    Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
    Washington, DC
    CLASP is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to improving the lives of low-income people. The organization has many goals, among which are the aim to make early educational opportunities available for all children and to help young people acquire the training required to obtain stable, well-paid jobs.

    Center for Public Representation (CPR)
    Northampton, MA; Newton, MA
    CPR is a non-profit public interest law firm providing mental health law and disability law services. In addition to advocating for positive change in the systems that serve individuals with disabilities, including public school systems, the organization provides litigation and consulting services and produces and disseminates informational publications. The HLS Child Advocacy Project has placed students at the organization to do work on special education law.

    Centro Legal de la Raza
    Oakland, CA
    Centro Legal de la Raza provides free or low-cost, bilingual, culturally-sensitive legal aid, community education and advocacy for low-income residents of the Bay Area, including monolingual Spanish speaking immigrants. By combining quality legal services with know-your-rights education and youth development, the organization promotes access to justice for thousands of individuals and families each year throughout the East Bay region of Northern California.

    Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
    Lynn, MA; Boston, MA
    Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts seeks to promote and secure equal justice and to maximize opportunity for low-income children and youth by providing quality advocacy and legal services. Children’s Law Center attorneys provide comprehensive litigation services to students with disabilities and also advocates for non-disabled students in school discipline cases. Education advocacy is conducted at the school, administrative (Bureau of Special Education Appeals) and court levels.

    Children’s Law Center of Washington, DC
    Washington, DC
    Children’s Law Center provides legal services to at-risk children and their families and uses the knowledge gained from representing individual clients to advocate for changes in the law and its implementation. Its practice focuses on children who face instability as a result of abuse, neglect or extreme parental conflict, as well as children with special education or health needs.

    Civil Rights Project / Proyecto Derechos Civiles (At UCLA)
    Los Angeles, CA
    The Civil Rights Project conducts research and produces reports on a variety of civil rights issues. Although its concerns are not restricted to education, it has published hundreds reports on education reform. The organization works to forge stronger links between national civil rights organizations, lawyers, academics and policymakers.

    Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)
    Towson, MD
    COPAA is an independent, non-profit organization of attorneys, special education advocates and parents. Its primary goal is to secure high quality educational services for children with disabilities. The organization does not provide direct services to children with disabilities.

    Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
    Berkeley, CA
    The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities. The organization seeks to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development. DREDF works with the core principles of equality of opportunity, disability accommodation, accessibility, and inclusion.

    Education Law Association (ELA)
    Dayton, OH
    The ELA, formerly the National Organization on Legal Problems of Education, is a national, non-profit, non-advocacy member association that promotes interest in and understanding of the legal framework of education and the rights of students, parents, school boards, and school employees. The organization brings together educational and legal scholars and practitioners to inform and advance educational policy and practice through the law.

    Education Law Center of New Jersey
    Newark, NJ
    The Education Law Center advocates on behalf of public school children for access to an equal and adequate education under state and federal laws. It focuses on improving public education for disadvantaged children, and children with disabilities and other special needs. The organization employs a number of strategies, including public education, policy initiatives, research and publications, communications and, as a last resort, legal action.

    Education Law Center of Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA
    The Education Law Center is a non-profit organization that works to make a good public education a reality for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable children—poor children, children of color, children with disabilities, English language learners, children in foster homes and institutions, and others.

    Equip for Equality
    Chicago, IL
    Equip for Equality works to advance the human and civil rights of children and adults with disabilities. The organization promotes self-advocacy and serves as a legal advocate for people with disabilities and handles individual cases and systems-change litigation to achieve broad-based societal reforms. Equip for Equality also advocates through public policy and legislative activities to give people greater choices in their lives and ensure their independence and inclusion in all aspects of community living.

    Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)
    Purcellville, VA
    The HSLDA is a non-profit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedom.

    Immigrant Legal Resource Center
    San Francisco, CA
    The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national non-profit resource center that provides legal trainings, educational materials, and advocacy to advance immigrant rights. The mission of the ILRC is to work with and educate immigrants, community organizations, and the legal sector to continue to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. ILRC assists immigrant groups in understanding the democratic process in the United States, enabling them to advocate for better policies in immigration law and other issues that affect their communities.

    Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance
    Houston, TX
    The Institute conducts research in higher education law and governance issues. Since 1982, Institute staff and affiliated scholars have produced a dozen books, nearly 90 journal and law review articles, and numerous other publications. The Institute is based at the University of Houston Law Center.

    Institute on Education Law and Policy (Rutgers School of Law)
    Newark, NJ
    The Institute on Education Law and Policy is an education reform organization, based at Rutgers Law School– Newark, that focuses primarily on education problems in urban New Jersey, but does so with an eye toward their broader significance. The Institute’s work includes applied research by legal scholars and social scientists; reports and other publications; invitational meetings and conferences; analysis of education law and policy issues for the benefit of policy makers and the public.

    Just Children, Legal Aid Justice Center
    Charlottesville, VA
    The JustChildren Program is Virginia’s largest children’s law program. From its Charlottesville, Richmond, and Petersburg offices, the organization provides free legal representation to low-income children who have unmet needs in the education, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. Its strategies include individual representation, community education and organizing, and statewide advocacy. Through coalition building, policy advocacy, and litigation, the organization makes lasting improvements for all children in Virginia.

    Juvenile Law Center (JLC)
    Philadelphia, PA
    JLC is one of the oldest multi-issue public issue law firms for children in the United States. The organization maintains a national litigation practice that includes appellate and amicus work. It promotes juvenile justice and child welfare reform in Pennsylvania and nationwide through policy initiatives and public education forums.

    Legal Aid of North Carolina: Advocates for Children’s Services
    Durham, NC
    Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina that focuses on serving children in the public education system. Its cases involve: short-term suspension; long-term suspension; expulsion; involuntary transfers to alternative school; denial of enrollment; discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, or disability; mistreatment by school security personnel; special education; bullying; and academic failure.

    Legal Aid Society Education Advocacy Project
    New York, NY
    Pro bono counsel in the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project represents New York’s foster children to secure social and educational resources that can be critical for their healthy development and educational success. Volunteer counsel engages in multiple levels of legal advocacy to document needed services, negotiate an appropriate service plan, monitor its lawful implementation, and represent the child’s interests at an administrative hearing.

    Learning Rights Law Center
    Los Angeles, CA
    The Learning Rights Law Center is a non-profit organization that works to ensure that students have equitable access to the public education system. The organization focuses its advocacy efforts on low-income students in the K-12 system who are at risk of or involved in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems; have learning disabilities and/or learning difficulties; or who are not accessing the public school system because of language, disability, sexual orientation, homelessness, or inadequate facilities.

    Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF)
    Los Angeles, CA; San Antonio, TX; Chicago, IL; Atlanta, GA; Washington, DC
    MALDEF promotes equality and justice for Latinos through litigation, advocacy, public policy and community education in the areas of employment, immigrants’ rights, voting rights, education, and language rights. In regard to education, MALDEF works to safeguard equal access to education opportunities regardless of income, nationality, or language skills.

    Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC)
    Boston, MA
    MAC began in 1969 as the Task Force on Children out of School, devoted to exposing the systematic exclusion of children from the Boston Public Schools. The organization continues to be engaged in statewide advocacy efforts to protect the rights of children in urban education reform, special education, and other critical areas. MAC works on behalf of those children who face the greatest barriers to education success, due to disability, race/ethnicity, language and/or poverty.

    Michigan Education Law Center (ELC)
    Brighton, MI
    ELC does not provide direct legal services, but offers information about school law to parents, school staff, and non-profit organizations.

    Mississippi Center for Justice
    Jackson, MS
    The Mississippi Center for Justice is a non-profit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. The organization carries out its mission through a community lawyering approach that advances social justice campaigns with national and local organizations and community leaders. The organization has a division focused on education reform that works with advocates, organizers and families to secure special education services for students with special needs and produces and disseminates literature on the education reform issues.

    NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
    New York, NY
    The LDF was founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall and describes itself as “America’s legal counsel on issues of race.” Through advocacy and litigation, the organizations works to achieve inclusive, integrated, high quality schools for all America’s children.

    National Association of College and University Attorneys
    Washington, DC
    An organization to assist higher education attorneys in representing and advising their client institutions.

    National Association of the Deaf, Law and Advocacy Center
    Silver Spring, MD
    The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is a civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The Law and Advocacy Center advocates for legislative and public policy issues of concern to the deaf and hard of hearing community, particularly at the national level and often in collaboration with other national organizations. Staff attorneys represent deaf and hard of hearing individuals in disability discrimination civil rights cases that are carefully selected to establish powerful legal principles of equality and equal access.

    National Center for Youth Law
    Oakland, CA
    The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) is a non-profit organization that uses the law to ensure that low-income children have the resources, support, and opportunities they need for a fair start in life. The organization works to ensure that public agencies created to protect and care for children do so effectively. NCYL creates lasting change for children in need.

    National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)
    Washington, DC
    NDRN is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Programs for individuals with disabilities. The organization works to create a society in which people with disabilities are afforded equality of opportunity and are able to fully participate by exercising choice and self-determination. Special education advocacy is a major focus.

    Schools Legal Service
    Bakersfield, CA
    Schools Legal Service is a legal services consortium serving public schools and community college districts and county offices in California. The service is administered by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and is based in Bakersfield, but provides legal and collective bargaining services to agency members throughout the state.

    Special Ed Advocacy Center (SEAC)
    Palatine, IL
    The SEAC is a non-profit organization, staffed by lawyers who provide free legal services to parents and caregivers to help them understand and obtain education services that their children are legally entitled to. SEAC relies heavily on the assistance of volunteers and student interns who produce education brochures on a variety of topics related to special education law; translate brochures into Spanish, Polish and additional languages; provide basic technical support such as updating and redesigning the organization website; research legal issues; and assist fundraising.

    Team Child
    Seattle, WA
    TeamChild upholds the legal rights of youth to ensure that they have opportunities to succeed. TeamChild works with youth, generally between the ages of 12-18, who come from low-income families and are involved, or at risk of involvement, in the juvenile justice system. TeamChild staff attorneys provide legal representation and advice to help youth assert their right to services that meet their basic needs. The organization’s attorneys work directly with youth to identify their goals and create a plan to achieve those goals.

    The Door
    New York, NY
    The Door’s mission is to empower young people to reach their potential by providing comprehensive youth development services in a diverse and caring environment. The Door helps a diverse and rapidly growing population of disconnected youth in New York City gain the tools they need to become successful, in school, work and in life. The Door’s Legal Services Center provides youth with legal counsel and assistance.

    Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Education Justice
    Washington, DC
    The Public Education Project is the District of Columbia’s major link between the DC Public Schools and the legal community. The lawyers at the Public Education Project work to accomplish the goals of parents, children and schools. The organization runs two primary projects: the Public Education Reform Project, in which Project staff participates in formulating and developing the plans and legislation under which the DCPS works, and the DC Public School Partnerships Project, which seeks to bring lawyers into public education by creating partnerships between volunteer law firms and individual DC public schools. The organization takes part in school reform initiatives, provides technical assistance for reform initiatives led by others, and periodically pursues litigation to improve public education services in the District.

    Youth Advocacy Foundation
    Boston, MA
    The Youth Advocacy Foundation (YAF) helps to fund legal pro bono and other forms of community support to vigorously defend the rights and promote the well-being of court-involved children, and helps them grow into healthy and productive members of our society. The Foundation defends the rights and promotes the well-being of court-involved children, and helps them grow into health and productive members of our society by ensuring that every child has access to zealous legal representation, essential and vibrant community-based services, and a quality education.

    Youth and Education Law Project (At Stanford University)
    Stanford, CA
    The Youth and Education Law Project, a clinic at Stanford Law School, works with disadvantaged youth and their communities to ensure that they have equal access to excellent educational opportunities. Participants represent youth and families in special education and school discipline matters, community outreach and education, school reform litigation, policy research, and advocacy. The Project has conducted original policy research and briefing, drafted model legislation and policies, provided testimony to local school boards and California State Assembly, and provided comments to regulatory agencies.

    Youth Law Center
    San Francisco, CA
    The Youth Law Center (YLC) works to eliminate abuse and neglect of children, to reduce out of home placements and incarceration, and to assure that those who are removed are held in safe, humane conditions. YLC takes action to ensure that the legal rights of vulnerable children are protected, and that they receive the support and services they need to become healthy and productive adults. Lawyers at YLC advocate for education, medical and mental health, legal support, and transition services needed to assure children’s success in care and in the community.

    Youth Represent
    New York, NY
    Youth Represent is a youth defense and advocacy non-profit organization. Its mission is to ensure that young people affected by the criminal or juvenile justice system are afforded every opportunity to reclaim lives of dignity, self-fulfillment, and engagement in their communities. The organization provides legal representation, community support, education, and policy advocacy. Youth Represent partners with social service programs to provide the necessary legal representation and advice for young people.

  • Selected Private Law Firms

    Franczek Radelet
    Chicago, IL
    Franczek Radelet has the largest team of education lawyers in Illinois. It represents some of the biggest—as well as some of the smallest—educational institutions in the state, in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The firm represents and counsels school districts, community colleges, universities, and other educational institutions.

    Hogan Lovells
    Washington, DC
    The firm’s education group represents public school districts, independent schools, public and independent colleges and universities, education associations, education focused businesses and investment groups, education institutions formed and operating in other countries, foundations and institutes in the education field, and other organizations involved with the teaching, research, and public service missions of education.

    Holland & Knight
    Boston, MA
    Holland & Knight’s Education Team is one of the largest and preeminent practices in the country. It represents public and private universities, private colleges, public elementary and high schools, independent schools and other educational institutions.

    Kotin, Crabtree & Strong
    Boston, MA
    The firm’s education law practice deals with both special education law and general education law. It represents private schools, colleges, universities, education research and services organizations, students and employees at the pre-school, elementary, secondary, and higher education levels.

    Murphy Hesse Toomey & Lehane LLP
    Boston, MA
    The firm has one of the most extensive education law practices in New England. It represents over 80 school committees, public school districts, colleges and universities and private schools. Its diverse clientele ranges from large cities and towns to smaller communities and educational collaboratives.

    Thomeczek & Brink
    St. Louis, MO
    Though the firm is most well-known for its representation of school districts in special education cases, it also represents school districts in disciplinary, student privacy, and First Amendment proceedings.

  • Education Reform Organizations (Non-Legal)

    21st Century School Fund (21CSF)
    Washington, DC
    21CSF’s mission is to build the public will and capacity to improve urban public school facilities. To this end, it provides technical assistance and policy advice to the District of Columbia Public Schools and other districts and nonprofit organizations. It works collaboratively with local and national education leaders to advance its mission.

    Achieve, Inc.
    Washington, DC
    Achieve is an independent, bi-partisan, non-profit education reform organization that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability.

    The Advocacy Institute
    Marshall, VA
    The Advocacy Institute is a non-profit organization that produces informational resources about the rights of individuals with disabilities and provides consultative services to educators, counselors, service providers, government entities and others. The organization does not offer direct advocacy services to parents.

    Afterschool Alliance
    Washington, DC
    The Afterschool Alliance works to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. To this end, the Alliance works with policymakers and advocates across the country. It has more than 25,000 afterschool program partners and produces publications on its work that reach 65,000 individuals every month.

    Alliance for Excellent Education
    Washington, DC
    The Alliance for Excellent Education is a national policy and advocacy organization that works to make every child a high school graduate prepared for college, work, and to be a contributing member of society. The Alliance works with educators, researchers, business leaders, citizen groups and decision makers at the local, state and national levels to develop federal policy recommendations. It works to encourage public awareness and action that support secondary school reform by making presentations at conferences and by producing and disseminating reports, briefs, a bi-weekly newsletter and other publications.

    Alliance for School Choice
    Washington, DC
    The organization believes the best way to improve education is put parents in charge, by allowing them the option to use their tax dollars and choose the best schools for the children. The Alliance for School Choice works to improve K-12 education by advocating for systemic and sustainable public policy that empowers parents, particularly those in low-income families, to choose the education they determine is best for their children.

    American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
    Washington, DC
    AEI is a private, nonprofit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics, and social welfare. The Institute is committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. Its education division researchers study and write about a variety of education reform issues.

    Annenberg Institute for School Reform (at Brown University)
    Providence, RI
    The Annenberg Institute works to with school system central offices and community constituencies to explore and refine the concept of “smart education systems,” networks of schools, community organizations and services that promote high-quality student learning and development inside and outside of schools. It also hosts meetings to bring together district leaders, researchers, educators, community leaders, foundation officers and youths and produces a range of publications, including a quarterly journal, books and electronic newsletters.

    Beginning with Children
    New York, NY
    The Beginning with Children Foundation (BwC) advocates for high academic standards and accountability in public education to ensure that low- income and historically underserved children receive the quality education they deserve. The organization gives every child an equal chance to be well-educated in a free public school with excellent resources, from kindergarten through college. BwC creates and supports liberal-arts based academically rigorous schools and programs with exposure to the rich resources of NYC and beyond.

    Redwood City, CA
    BUILD’s mission is to use entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success. Serving disadvantaged youth has been at the heart of BUILD’s efforts since its founding. The organization’s four-year experiential learning program addresses the dropout epidemic head-on by drawing connections for young people between academics and career success. Today, BUILD operates programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and Boston.

    Building Excellent Schools
    Boston, MA
    Building Excellent Schools is committed to improving academic achievement in our nation’s urban centers. BES supports entrepreneurs to design, found, lead, and sustain excellent charter schools in underserved communities nationwide. BES starts and supports high- performing urban charter schools, closing the achievement gap and providing children in underserved communities the opportunity to excel in school, in college, and in life.

    Campaign for Educational Equity (Columbia University)
    New York, NY
    The Campaign for Educational Equity is a nonprofit research and policy center at Teachers College, Columbia University. The organization champions the right of all children to meaningful educational opportunity. The Campaign for Educational Equity promotes a comprehensive approach to educational opportunity that provides disadvantaged students the full spectrum of resources, services, and supports most critical for school success.

    Cato Institute
    Washington, DC
    The Cato Institute is a non-profit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington, DC. The mission of the organization is to advocate and increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty and peace. The Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom works to shift the terms of the public debate about education in the favor of parents over the state and toward a future when state-run schools give way to an independent system of schools competing to meet the needs of American children.

    Center for American Progress
    Washington, DC
    The Center for American Progress is a progressive think tank that works on many issues. Its education initiative is devoted to school reform and redressing the achievement gap for minority and low-income students.

    Center for Cities and Schools (at U.C. Berkeley)
    Berkeley, CA
    The organization works at the nexus of urban policy and public education to help create equitable and sustainable cities and schools for all. Its approach involves a combination of three strategies: education, collaborative practice, and research. The Center educates future and current leaders on how to improve both cities and schools through professional work; it provides direct service through activities such as professional development workshops for public school teachers, district officials, and elected officials; and it conducts scholarly research and disseminates publications.

    Center for Education Reform
    Washington, DC
    The Center for Education Reform advocates for school choice and the charter school movement. The organization produces and disseminates reports on a variety of school reform issues.

    Center on Education Policy (CEP)
    Washington, DC
    The CEP is a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective schools. It produces and disseminates publications on a variety of school reform issues. The organization also convenes people with differing points of view about public education to foster a reasoned debate on school reform, and works with states and school districts to improve the academic quality of public education.

    Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
    Arlington, VA
    CEC is an international community of educators who advocate for special and gifted education. The organization is committed to improving the quality of life for individuals with exceptionalities and their families by advocating on their behalf. CEC staff members publish extensively on teaching children with special learning needs.

    DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
    Washington, DC
    DC Appleseed is a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving public policy problems facing the Washington, DC metropolitan area. To advance its mission, DC Appleseed organizes volunteers who work in teams to analyze and develop solutions to problems facing the region. The organization is currently working with DC Public Schools to reduce parents’ and schools’ reliance on litigation.

    Mountain View, CA
    EdSource is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to clarify complex education issues and to promote thoughtful policy decisions about California’s public education system. The organization produces and disseminates a wide range of publications, hosts annual education forums, collaborates with other organizations to conduct research on California education issues, and presents at statewide meetings.

    Education Pioneers
    Oakland, CA; San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY
    Education Pioneers is a human capital organization focused on attracting and developing leaders capable of transforming K-12 urban education. To this end, it recruits top graduate students in a variety of disciplines for high-impact education reform projects in marketing, policy research, strategic planning, fundraising, instructional materials, and legal research. The organization’s mission is to increase capacity in and improve educational outcomes of urban schools and to build a national network of education leaders through its summer fellowship program.

    Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC)
    Harrisburg, PA
    The EPLC is an independent, non-profit research organization that focuses its work on education policy, education leadership, and education advocacy. Its mission is to encourage and support the use of more effective state-level education policies to improve student learning in grades PK-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

    The Education Trust
    Washington, DC; Oakland, CA
    Established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education as a project to encourage colleges and university to support K-12 reform efforts, the Education Trust has since developed into an independent non-profit organization to make schools and colleges work for all of the young people they serve. The organization works for the high achievement of students at all levels and closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth.

    The Heritage Foundation
    Washington, DC
    The Heritage Foundation is a public policy research institute that formulates and promotes conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. In regard to public education, the organization works to return the authority to the states and to empower parents to choose schools for their children.

    Knowledge Is Power Program [KIPP] Foundation
    San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; New York, NY
    The KIPP Foundation is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and life. There are currently 82 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia serving around 20,000 students. The KIPP Foundation focuses its efforts on recruiting, training, and supporting outstanding leaders to open new, locally run KIPP schools in high-need communities. The KIPP Foundation does not manage KIPP schools, but is responsible for supporting and monitoring school quality across the network. Each KIPP school is run independently by a KIPP-trained school leader and local board of directors. HLS alums have both worked for the Foundation and started KIPP schools.

    KnowledgeWorks Foundation
    Cincinnati, OH
    The KnowledgeWorks Foundation strives to solve national education problems innovatively and collaboratively. Its motto is “Fund, Facilitate, and Do.” By funding initiatives, the Foundation channels resources into priority areas; by facilitating initiatives, the Foundation brings together stakeholders who might not traditionally work collaborative to discuss issues and explore solutions; by doing some of the work itself, the Foundation is able to fill temporary gaps in education reform not currently being handled by other groups.

    The Mind Trust
    Indianapolis, IN
    The Mind Trust seeks to improve public education for underserved students in Indianapolis by empowering education entrepreneurs to develop or expand education initiatives. Through its Education Entrepreneur Fellowship, the program provides individuals with great ideas about education reform and a plan to implement them with the financial support, network and connections necessary to do so.

    National Access Network
    New York, NY
    The National Access Network is dedicated to promoting meaningful educational opportunities for all children, especially low-income and minority children. The organization provides technical assistance to litigators, advocates, policy-makers and others who are involved in education reform.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
    Washington, DC
    The NAEYC is an organization working on behalf of children under eight with nearly 90,000 members and a national network and over 300 local, state and regional affiliates. Primary attention is devoted to assuring the provision of high quality early education to young children.

    National Education Association (NEA)
    Washington, DC
    An advocacy organization for education professionals devoted to building great public schools. The National Education Association is the largest professional organization and largest labor union in the United States.

    Nellie Mae Education Foundation
    Quincy, MA
    The Nellie Mae Foundation works to reshape public education across New England to be more equitable and more effective—so every student graduates from high school ready to succeed in college or the workplace—and contribute to their communities as informed citizens. Nellie Mae works with schools to implement the principles of student-centered learning. The organization helps schools substantially update and improve policies and practices that are outdated.

    New Schools Better Neighborhoods (NSBN)
    Los Angeles, CA
    NSBN was formed both to advocate a vision of public facilities, most especially schools, as vital community centers, and to assist families and neighborhoods in creating models of community- focused learning centers. The organization works with school districts to accomplish its goals on the ground and publishes and disseminates literature on community-focused schools.

    New Schools for New Orleans
    New Orleans, LA
    New Schools for New Orleans is a non-profit organization decided to building and fostering excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans. The organization is a leader in the public charter school movement and aspires to create “a system of schools” rather than a school system in New Orleans and encourages schools to determine their individual and collective needs and by supporting them in their growth.

    New Visions for Public Schools
    New York, NY
    New Visions for Public Schools is the largest education reform organization working to improve the quality of education students receive in New York City’s public schools. The organization works with both the public and private sectors to improve school leadership and teaching to raise the level of student achievement. It also creates and supports innovative small schools that combine personalized learning environments with rigorous educational programs. New Visions for Public Schools has an internship program for graduate students from a variety of disciplines, including law.

    Open Society Institute
    New York, NY
    The Open Society Institute works to build vibrant and tolerant democracies that are accountable to their citizens. To achieve its mission, OSI works to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. The Institute has an Early Childhood Program, which introduces child- centered teaching methods and supports community and family involvement in preschool and primary school, and an Education Support Program, launched to address the inequality and exclusion that migrant and other marginalized children face in education.

    Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
    Lexington, KY
    The committee was founded in 1980 as a government- appointed group designed to push improvement in Kentucky’s higher education system. In 1983, it reorganized itself as a private, non-profit advocacy group and extended its purview to all levels of public education. The organization’s goal is to put Kentucky’s schools in highest tier of public education in the nation.

    Project Tomorrow
    Irvine, CA
    Project Tomorrow is a national education nonprofit dedicated to advocating innovative uses of science, math and technology resources in K-12 schools and communities.

    Teach for America (TFA)
    New York, NY
    TFA is a corps of recent college graduates and professionals of all academic majors and career interests who commit two years to teach in urban and rural schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. There are currently more than 7,300 corps members who teach in 35 regions and more than 17,000 corps alumni. In addition to the teacher corps, the organization has close to 1,200 full-time staff members throughout the country. TFA’s General Counsel is an HLS alum.

    The New Teacher Project
    Brooklyn, NY
    The New Teacher Project is a national nonprofit committed to ending the injustice of educational inequality. TNTP works with schools, districts and states to provide excellent teachers to the students who need them most and advance policies and practices that ensure effective teaching in every classroom. The organization recruits and trains effective new teachers, builds better teacher evaluation systems, helps school leaders nurture and rewards excellent instruction, and advances smarter teacher-quality policies.

    Thomas B. Fordham Institute
    Washington, DC
    The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a Washington, DC-based non-profit think tank dedicated to advancing educational excellence in K-12 schools throughout the countries. It promotes policies that strengthen accountability and expand education options for parents and families. It publishes and disseminates reports that examine diverse education reform issues.

    San Francisco, CA
    WestEd is a nonprofit research, development, and service agency that works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youths, and adults.

Selected Resources


Written by: Dan Ahearn, Attorney Advisor & Tori Powers, Summer Fellow