By Olivia Klein
This January, Maureen McDonagh, managing attorney of the Legal Services Center (LSC) and director of the Housing Law Clinic and lecturer on law, celebrates 25 years at LSC. Since joining LSC, McDonagh has modeled dedicated advocacy and outstanding mentorship for hundreds of clinical students, while securing housing justice for thousands of tenants in the Boston area.
“Throughout Maureen’s impressive tenure at LSC, she has relentlessly pursued justice for Boston tenants and successfully prevented eviction and homelessness for thousands of households,” says Julia Devanthéry, fellow attorney at the Housing Law Clinic and lecturer on law. “She has been an incredible mentor to me, innumerable other attorneys, and hundreds of law students. She is generous with her colleagues and a source of strength for her clients. She is a leader among tenant advocates and a respected colleague to all in the Boston landlord-tenant bar. It is a pleasure and an honor to learn from her, and to teach alongside her.”
McDonagh joined LSC in 1998, after ten years as an attorney specializing in the representation of indigent individuals in criminal defense and child abuse and neglect cases. At LSC, McDonagh represents individuals facing eviction. Under her leadership, the Housing Law Clinic has also taken on impact litigation, advocated on the local, state, and federal levels for greater tenant protections, and worked with community partners to provide trainings for pro se tenants and bring public awareness to housing issues facing the community. Clinical student Alfredo Rosales ‘24 jokes that McDonagh is something of a “local legend.”
“There is, however, much truth to that,” he continues. “A product of Dorchester, Professor McDonagh has given back to the community where she was raised.”
McDonagh is described as a pillar of LSC by her peers. “I am proud to have worked alongside Maureen in her 25 years here at the Center,” says Roger Bertling, director of the Consumer Protection Clinic and lecturer on law. “To call her invaluable to the functioning of the Center would be to understate her importance. She epitomizes the concept of the knowledgeable and zealous advocate for her clients and hardworking student supervisor that Gary [Bellow] and Jeanne [Charn] envisioned when they created the Center.
“As important, Mo has served as a moral, ethical and practical touchstone for many of us here at LSC,” Bertling adds. “I can’t count the times that I have gone to her to bat around a thorny issue concerning a case, and she is always willing to patiently listen and dispense commonsense advice. Over all these years, she has yet to steer me wrong. To have a trusted colleague like her is truly priceless.”
As a clinical supervisor, McDonagh has taught many classes of students the ropes of housing law, in both the classroom and the courtroom. Students praise her extensive knowledge of housing law and helpful insights on complex cases, and cite her support and encouragement while facilitating their growth as independent lawyers. “Students who learn from Maureen leave the clinic with a deeper understanding of how the justice system works (and where it breaks down), a greater empathy for people facing housing instability, and a stronger commitment to using their legal skills to increase access to justice for people with limited means,” says Devanthéry.
Her students echo this sentiment: “Maureen is incredible, patient, and willing to teach. She explained concepts clearly and allowed me to lead the projects I was on. I wish there were more Maureens in the world to supervise clinical students,” says Sudheer Poluru ‘23.
“I could not have imagined a better mentor than Professor McDonagh as I embarked on my journey at the Housing Clinic,” says Rosales. “From the first second you walk into the room, you realize she is not just another professor on campus. She has a larger-than-life personality, a keen intellect, and an even bigger heart. What sets her apart is her ability to be direct without being unpleasant, and she is practical. She has a high degree of emotional intelligence to go along with her vast knowledge of housing law. My short time in the housing clinic under the tutelage of such an amazing individual has been one of the best experiences of my life.”
As a lawyer, teacher, and leader, McDonagh is “beloved,” says Daniel Nagin, faculty director of LSC and director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “A genuinely kind-hearted soul who combines an encyclopedic knowledge of housing law with a deep commitment to building communities of trust and respect, Maureen is an indispensable citizen of the Legal Services Center, Harvard Law School, and the tenants’ bar. Her contributions as a lawyer, teacher, and leader are truly enduring.
“We are so honored to count Maureen as our colleague and so grateful for all the ways she has modeled what it means—and what it takes—to pursue justice with urgency and integrity.”