By: D Dangaran, JD’20

Not every law school allows its students to represent clients in their first year, and I chose HLS to prioritize direct service through its myriad clinical offerings. I’m interested in the intersection of health, human rights, and queer communities. Early on, I met with Vice Dean for Experiential and Clinical Education, Dan Nagin, and the Assistant Dean for Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, Lisa Dealy, to think through my options for working for the communities I care about most. They told me that while HLS may not have a LGBTQ clinic, there were a number of Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) and clinics that would have LGBTQ clients, and encouraged me to think about developing skills that I could apply to my topical interests later in my career.  I heeded their advice and applied to two SPOs during my 1L Fall: the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) and the Prison Legal Assistant Project (PLAP).

In TAP, I worked on three different cases in which the client was denied a housing subsidy based on their criminal offense record. I learned Reasonable Accommodation law and developed legal strategies for combatting the denials. Combing through the case files and preparing my opening and closing statements and direct- and cross-examinations allowed me to use my analytical and speaking skills for people in need. I wrote legal memos that were sent to various housing authorities, which felt like a real-world final exam for my Legal Research and Writing (LRW) class. The late nights I spent in the TAP office preparing for hearings emblematized the energy and effort I believe every client deserves.

In PLAP, during the Spring semester, I worked with a transgender client who requested assistance with a commutation petition based on her gender identity and lack of access to medical treatment in prison. I conducted legal research to help to show her case fit into the Governor’s executive clemency guidelines. Though we only completed a draft by the end of my time, my client gained some peace of mind knowing that a transgender student attorney was assisting her with getting started on this step of her self-advocacy. Meanwhile, I felt extremely fortunate to have been able to work on an LGBTQ-related case in my 1L year.

TAP and PLAP prepared me more than most of my courses for my summer internship in impact litigation in South Africa, because of the amount of time I spent applying Massachusetts law in real cases. During my internship, I wrote a legal research memo based on our clients’ experience of a search and seizure that my supervising attorney believed was unlawful. I used my training from TAP, PLAP, and LRW to present a memo that took each detail into account.

This fall, I will be participating in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic in the Legal Services Center. I plan to build on my experiences in TAP and PLAP in this setting, and in my future work with domestic LGBTQ direct services and impact litigation.

TAP and PLAP pushed me to think about the issues I’m most passionate about intersectionally; though I wasn’t bringing “LGBT rights” cases to an appellate court, I worked intensely on health and queer issues in housing and prisons. Anyone who wants to dig into legal services short-term or long-term, or use the legal tools we’re gaining here for the benefit of society while we’re being enriched by this elite university, would gain a tremendous amount of humbling experience at TAP,  PLAP, or another SPO.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices

Tags: Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, PLAP, Prison Legal Assistance Project, TAP

Contact Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs