Via LSC Blog
By Alfredo Rosales ’24

Life has a funny way of coming full circle. I was born in Tepic, Nayarit, a little-known Mexican city along the Pacific coast. Tepic is one of the poorest capitals of any state in Mexico and has historically been plagued with high levels of violence, crime, and corruption. In pursuit of a better life, my parents decided to relocate our family to San Antonio, Texas, a few days shy of my tenth birthday. Growing up, my family faced many of the same problems afflicting millions of immigrants in this country – work instability, housing insecurity, and difficulty adapting to a new language and culture. As a young boy, I could’ve never imagined that one day I’d be advocating for people facing similar challenges. As a student attorney at the Legal Services Center, I’ve been able to do exactly that, all while sharpening my legal skills. 

In the Fall of 2022, I represented tenants facing eviction proceedings as part of the Housing Law Clinic under the supervision of Clinical Instructors Maureen McDonaghJulia Devanthéry, and Samir Hanna. Housing issues have had a profound effect on many facets of my life.  

When my family moved to Texas, my father assumed the financial helm of our family. My father was undeniably brilliant but lacked discipline. Refusing to take a regular job, my father became a serial entrepreneur, frequently coming up with innovative but impractical business ideas that failed to generate a steady income stream. My mother, a successful dermatologist, assumed the role of homemaker after we moved to San Antonio. Looking back, our family would have been much better off financially had my parents’ roles been reversed. For years, our family moved from one apartment to the next as the overdue letters and eviction notices mounted at an alarming rate. Ultimately, my father was able to convince the leasing manager at a student housing complex near the University of Texas at San Antonio to allow our family to rent an apartment. Our family became well-known in a complex otherwise inhabited by college students. This unorthodox arrangement resulted in the most stable stretch of housing in my early years.  

Professionally, I spent my first few years out of college working at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, the country’s largest home mortgage servicer and originator. I joined the bank to assist in remediation efforts in the aftermath of the housing crisis. In this role, I helped hundreds of struggling homeowners retain their homes through government-subsidized loan modifications. Unfortunately, in many instances, a modification wasn’t viable, so I reluctantly recommended foreclosing on countless others. Ironically, my work in banking, which wrecked the economic foundation of hundreds of families, provided my family with the financial cushion to never again have to worry about basic necessities. 

I often say, jokingly, that I joined the Housing Clinic to make amends for my time in banking. My time in the clinic was life–changing. I had the privilege of working directly with Instructor Maureen McDonagh. Maureen is a bit of a local celebrity and a pillar of Harvard’s Legal Services Center. I could not have imagined a better mentor for this clinical journey. Maureen has an incredibly high emotional intelligence and a vast knowledge of housing law. She leads the clinic’s partnership with City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots community organization helping people going through eviction proceedings. Once a week throughout the semester, student attorneys working under Maureen joined a standing virtual session with City Life/Vida Urbana, at which local residents dealing with housing issues would consult with student attorneys. As the only Spanish speaker in the clinic, I got to spend an extra day a week counseling people who only spoke my native language. In many of these people I saw my parents, and I felt privileged to be able to assist them in issues all too familiar to me.  

This past semester, I participated in the Family Justice Clinic, representing clients in a variety of family law matters, including divorce, paternity, restraining orders, and for the first time in the clinic’s history, in administrative proceedings before the Department of Children and Families. Clinical Instructors Marianna Yang and Rebecca Greening forged a very cohesive culture. Given the breadth of cases and competing academic obligations, student attorneys routinely had to lean on each other throughout the semester. It was not unusual, however, to see students second-chairing cases, offering a helpful hand based on their relative expertise, and even traveling to various local courts on their days off to support classmates who had scheduled hearings. I have not experienced this level of camaraderie at any other class or clinic in my time at HLS. That is a testament to Marianna and Rebecca’s ability to create a collegial learning environment.   

Throughout the semester, I primarily worked under Rebecca’s supervision. From the first week of clinic, students are encouraged to assume a leading role in their assigned cases. As Rebecca often says, in family law, litigants often “choose their own adventure.” That is certainly true given the seemingly endless possible strategies for resolving family law matters. The unrestrictive legal standards underpinning many family law matters allow lawyers to think creatively in advancing their client’s interests. A student’s day-to-day experience in the clinic also resembles this “choose your own adventure” approach. Rebecca and Marianna empower students to carve their own path. The breadth of cases is so extensive that one semester will inevitably feel vastly insufficient. In just one semester at the clinic, I was able to craft a separation agreement involving considerable foreign real estate holdings, reach an agreement on a parenting case, co-create a digital resource for pro se litigants facing administrative appeals, produce a legal memo on parents’ ability to record interactions with DCF, and even create the new logo for the clinic. In addition, in one of my most memorable experiences this semester, I was able to represent a client in a 10-day restraining order hearing less than twenty-four hours after intake. My time in the Family Justice Clinic undoubtedly accelerated my growth as an aspiring attorney. 

My clinical experiences have made my time at HLS much more meaningful. My clinical instructors have had a more profound impact on my personal and professional development than any professor. Practicing attorneys bring to the table a level of credibility and expertise that is vital in students’ development. Learning directly from clinical instructors that put people at the center of what they do is nothing short of inspiring. As one of the wisest people to ever walk these halls (Sudheer Poluru ’23) once said, “I wish there were more Maureens in the world.” I would agree, but also add that I wish there were more Julias, Samirs, Mariannas, and Rebeccas in this world as well. Clinical instructors are the unsung heroes of this law school. They make students better attorneys, but most importantly, they make future attorneys better people. 

*Client’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices

Tags: Class of 2024, Family Law and Domestic Violence Clinic, Housing Law Clinic

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