Veronika Polakova '16

Veronika Polakova ’16

This summer, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP) will be publishing profiles of HLS alumni who participated in clinics and student practice organizations. This is the second in the series. 

OCP: What can you tell us about where you grew up and what interested you the most in coming to Harvard Law?

VP: I grew up in Prague, Czech Republic, but my family moved to the DC area when I was 15. In college, I studied economics at the University of Virginia and then worked for two years doing tax policy research at a public policy think tank in DC. Law school had long been at the back of my mind, but my tax policy work after college really cemented my decision to come to HLS and to focus on tax law.

OCP: What stands out from your time at HLS? What were the journals, clinics or related student practice organizations you participated in?

VP: My time at HLS was full of highlights, but to give some examples, I loved my J-term classes. As a 2L I took the Negotiation Workshop and as a 3L I cross-registered for Persuasion at HKS. In both classes, I was completely immersed in one topic for a short period of time and had many opportunities to practice the new skills I was learning, which I found really rewarding.

And yes, I was involved with all three! I was an editor of the Harvard Business Law Review as a 1L and became the Executive Operations Chair in my 2L year, a role that focused on event planning and operations, which was a refreshing change of pace to sub-citing. As a 2L, I participated in the Transactional Law Clinics and in the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program as a 3L. And lastly, I worked with Harvard TaxHelp throughout law school.

OCP: What was your experience in the clinics/SPOs? Are there any memorable moments that stand out the most?

VP: My experience in my two clinics and in my SPO was very different. In the Transactional Law Clinics, I was the point of contact for four clients over the course of the semester, who needed help with small business and nonprofit formation questions, so I got to know them well and had a chance to think about their problems in depth. In the Harvard Mediation Program, I regularly mediated or observed mediations in small claims court with new parties bringing new cases every week. And in TaxHelp, I helped students and low-income members of the community file their state and federal taxes every spring. But the one unifying feature of all three experiences was how rewarding it felt to help real people with their real-life problems—whether by filling out their 1040, drafting a mediated settlement agreement, or incorporating their new business.

OCP: What new skills and/or knowledge did you gain from these experiences?

VP: I definitely feel like I learned a lot! Mediation gave me a toolkit for approaching disputes—questions to ask and things to consider when trying to resolve a conflict. In the Transactional Law Clinics, I put into practice the theory I learned in my Corporations class—drafting a certificate of incorporation or issuing stock certificates. And thanks to TaxHelp, I definitely better appreciate the complexity of the tax code and feel more confident doing my own taxes.

OCP: What advice would you give to students who will be starting clinical work in the fall or considering a clinic in the future?

VP: I think clinics can be somewhat daunting since they are so different from the 1L required classes. But for me they were definitely some of the most rewarding experiences at HLS because they allowed me to work on real issues, however small. So for those considering clinics, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and give them a try. HLS has so many different clinics that you can definitely find a good fit.

For those starting clinics in the fall, don’t be discouraged when you’re not sure what to do next and the right answer is not in a casebook. Those moments can be frustrating, but they pass, and the ability to ultimately find and present a solution to your clients’ problems makes them worth it.

Filed in: Alumni Profiles

Contact Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs