By Varsha Bhattacharya LL.M. ’18
I am a tax lawyer, hailing from India. I did my first law degree in India and worked there for four years with a law firm prior to coming to Harvard. While many factors went in to my decision to do my LL.M. this year, the primary one was to gain a different experience by placing myself in unfamiliar situations. Consequently while beginning my LL.M. year this August, one of my main aims while choosing courses was to pick as wide a variety as possible. This led me to apply for a clinical course, which Harvard alumni had strongly recommended to me.
Coming into the Federal Tax Clinic, I was not sure what to expect. At my law firm back in India, I dealt mostly with corporate clients. However, I represented some individuals in their tax cases and also undertook some pro bono work in conjunction with a non-profit organization, and I remembered those as being some of my most memorable assignments because of the personal connection they involved. I wondered if working at the clinic would feel similar.
During my first few days at the clinic, I was a little overwhelmed because the entire system was new to me. Not only the body of tax law, but also the manner in which courts and administrative proceedings work in the United States is different. However, after initial hiccups, things were smoother and rewarding.
I have found the environment at the clinic to be quite encouraging. The attorneys heading the clinic are extremely supportive, and are helpful irrespective of the sort of questions posed to them. Their welcoming attitude to discussions has helped clarify a lot of fundamental issues I had, as have been the discussions we have had in the lunch sessions talking about our cases. Hailing from a different jurisdiction and culture has felt less of a hurdle, and more of an attribute, because it helped bring in a different perspective to issues such as interpretation of provisions etc.
Additionally, and very significantly, I realized that a lot about getting the work right lies in caring about the client. The moment I call a client, hear their story, and feel a direct connection with them; as their representative I feel a greater responsibility to give them the best chance in their cases. While not every endeavor on behalf of a client is successful, and it can be disheartening when you cannot make headway, it pays off when there is a positive result for even one client.
I would whole-heartedly recommend taking a clinical course to anybody studying at HLS. It has been a valuable learning experience. I sincerely believe that I will leave HLS with a practical experience that a lot of my peers may not gain. While the structure of the clinic comes with certain challenges (mostly lack of continuity in cases as students keep changing every term), I feel that the benefits far outweigh any issues that may arise.