By Olivia Klein
Liz Butterworth ’22 is the recipient of the 2022 Gants Access to Justice Award. Butterworth is honored for her zealous advocacy for housing justice as a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP), and Project No One Leaves (PNOL). Butterworth’s nominators laud the extraordinary dedication, empathy, and humility that she brings to her client-centered work.
The Gants Access to Justice Award was established last year to honor the late Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice, Ralph D. Gants ‘80. The award recognizes a student who is dedicated to advancing access to justice and racial equity and has demonstrated leadership in helping to eliminate systemic barriers to justice.
“Chief Justice Gants had that same combination of empathy, intellect, and stamina that I have seen in Liz,” says Esme Caramello ’99, clinical professor and faculty director of HLAB. “What he did with those gifts was to make an enormous difference as a lawyer, a judge, a system leader, a coalition builder, and a friend, colleague, and role model. Liz has this in her, and I can’t wait to see where she takes it.”
“I was honored to learn that I received this award,” Butterworth says. “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with organizers and tenants at City Life/Vida Urbana as they fight displacement — for me, this has been by far the most meaningful part of the past three years. And TAP, PNOL, and HLAB have been my sources of community on campus since 1L year.”
Butterworth has contributed more than 2,000 pro bono hours during her time at Harvard Law School, beginning as a 1L, when she joined the Tenant Advocacy Project and Project No One Leaves student practice organizations (SPOs). Each year, Butterworth accepted new leadership positions within the SPOs, becoming a trusted mentor that fellow members looked to as a model of professionalism and thoughtfulness.
As a member of TAP, an SPO that provides advocacy for current and prospective public housing tenants and mobile voucher holders in the greater Boston area, Butterworth spent two years on the intake committee and served as a team leader this year. “In addition to working as an individual contributor, Liz has taken significant roles in TAP’s operations each year, and has always been a mentor,” says Gary Allen, Clinical Instructor and Supervising Attorney at TAP. “Liz excels in whatever role she is executing, and that excellence flows not merely from inner talent, but from her depth and commitment to advocating for housing justice.”
Project No One Leaves (PNOL) is a canvassing group that partners with community organizers to connect low-income and oppressed communities to resources that build community power and provide opportunities to protect and assert residents’ rights. As a member of PNOL and HLAB and in partnership with the local tenants’ rights group City Life/Vida Urbana, Butterworth gave legal advice at weekly meetings, working side-by-side with local residents in their fights against eviction.
The SPOs gave Butterworth a space to foster her keen interest in fighting for justice on individual and systemic levels. “I’ve learned so much from my instructors, and especially from my classmates, about how to use my legal training to support movements that center the leadership and power of communities most impacted by injustice,” Butterworth reflects. And she hopes that Harvard Law School will continue “to devote resources to support the many clinics and SPOs working to address the harms that this system has caused right here in greater Boston.”
As a 2L, Butterworth joined HLAB, where she has spent the last two years taking her dedication to housing justice to new heights. As a member of the housing unit, Butterworth provided exemplary service to clients of all backgrounds and ability levels, embodying the role of community lawyer.
“It is possible that Liz arrived at law school this talented, but it is also possible she got this good because of the sheer volume of client work she has volunteered to do,” says Caramello, citing Butterworth’s “patience, emotional maturity, and respect for the client’s agency.”
“She was one of the busiest student attorneys at HLAB, while also serving on its board. She volunteered consistently as a limited assistance attorney at both weekly City Life/Vida Urbana meetings and the Attorney for the Day table at the Eastern Housing Court. She would also frequently be the person to step in to cover others’ housing cases or take a new case for which no one had volunteered.”
Butterworth displayed outstanding care for her clients during her work with HLAB, where she patiently worked to build trust in each and every client relationship. Whether canvassing neighborhoods on the weekends or offering legal advice at City Life/Vida Urbana meetings, Butterworth helped to build the movement for justice through a combination of fierce advocacy and unconditional client loyalty.
In addition to her compassionate work with clients, Butterworth is an understated force in the courtroom. “She has that elusive thing called poise,” Caramello says. “She is courageous and strategic both in and out of court.”
After graduation, Butterworth will work at the AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, fighting to preserve safe and affordable housing for low-income older adults in Washington D.C. She looks forward to what’s to come, feeling prepared for the next fight thanks to her clinical experiences: “Next year, I will carry the lessons learned in HLAB, TAP, and PNOL with me to my work representing older adult tenants.”