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A woman standing in an ornate room in front of a panel with that reads International Court of Justice
Ennely Medina '23 inside the International Criminal Court during her winter independent clinical Credit: Courtesy of Ennely Medina

The Independent Clinical Program gives students who are interested in a specialized area of the law or field of practice that is not currently offered in the existing clinical curriculum an opportunity to design a custom placement that will meet their individualized learning goals. 

To participate in an independent clinical, students must secure a placement at an organization where they can work under the supervision of a licensed attorney.  Students must also secure an HLS faculty sponsor, who will review the student’s final writing product, supervisor evaluation at the end of the term, and submit the final grade.

To enroll, an application must be submitted to OCP; you can find instructions and sample project proposals below.

For fall and spring terms, students receive either 2 clinical credits for working 8 hours per week or 3 clinical credits for working 12 hours per week. Over winter term, students receive 2 clinical credits. Winter term students must be in residence working full-time at their placements, from the first day of winter term through the last day of winter term.

Application Process

Application Deadlines

Fall 2023 August 18, 2023
Winter 2024October 27, 2023
Spring 2024January 10, 2024
  • 1. Review the policies and determine your eligibility

    Independent clinicals:

    Overlap with Existing HLS Clinics: 

    Students interested in developing an independent clinical placement where there is an existing clinic must first discuss their proposal with an OCP advisor who will consider the following:

    Remote Work Policy: 

    The clinical program wants our students to pursue placement opportunities that provide robust educational experiences and professional development. We recognize that some of these opportunities fall within specialized areas of law or fields of practice that exist outside of the greater Boston area and want to facilitate students obtaining such opportunities. After several years of supporting students in remote placements, we have received student input indicating that a certain set of parameters is necessary to ensure a meaningful and educational remote clinical experience. 

    Students have consistently noted significant drawbacks to working remotely in placements where the permanent staff are primarily working in person. These drawbacks include increased barriers to communication and learning, missing important meetings or practice opportunities, fewer opportunities for mentorship, and difficulties in building their network. Conversely, students have indicated that placements where staff rely on remote practices as part of their ordinary course of business are better able to fully integrate remote students into the work, office culture, and team dynamics than placements who do not rely on remote practices. As such, remote independent clinical placements are only permitted in a certain set of circumstances that we have found lend themselves to successful remote placements.  

    Fall and Spring Term:

    Remote work is permitted in the fall and spring semesters only when the team with which a student will be working is located outside the greater Boston area and:  

    1. the team with which a student will be working is working remotely 2 days a week or more, or 
    2. the student has already worked with the organization, in-person, for at least three weeks (e.g., during a summer internship or winter term.)  

    These restrictions apply even if the organization advertises remote student positions. 

    Working remotely means working from home versus working in the office or engaging in in-person legal practice off-site (e.g., representing a client at the courthouse). Students must demonstrate, in their independent clinic application, how the remote independent clinical will be a successful academic, skill building, and mentorship experience. This includes detailing the specific technological and mentoring practices in place to ensure all legal professional responsibilities are met. 

    Winter Term:  

    During winter term, students must work in-person, 5 days a week, for the entirety of the winter term. In addition, the team with which a student will be working must be working on-site 3 days a week or more with the student’s supervising attorney(s) working on-site at least 3 days a week and at least 1 team member working on-site each business day of the winter term. The supervising attorney must attest to their team’s specific hybrid schedule as part of the student’s independent clinic application package. 

    OCP will consider remote independent clinical work during the winter term if the organization is 100% virtual and does not have a physical workspace. Remote independent clinical work must be completed from Cambridge to satisfy the HLS residency requirements. Please see section I.J.2.c. of the Harvard Law School Handbook of Academic Policies for more information on the Upper-Level J.D. Residency Requirements. HLS does not provide winter term independent clinic domestic travel funding for remote placements. 

    Applications for remote independent clinics: 

    As part of the application process, both the student and the supervising attorney must:  

    1. Attest to the organization’s specific remote or hybrid work schedule. 
    2. Attest to the student’s anticipated work schedule. 
    3. Demonstrate how the remote independent clinical will be a successful academic, skill building, and mentorship experience. This includes detailing the specific technological and mentoring practices in place to ensure all legal professional responsibilities are met.  

    Please refer to HLS best practices for remote independent work for additional information [insert link once update best practices] 

    Please note: International students on F-1 visas may have additional restrictions. Please refer to the International JD Student Information page. 

  • 2. Research organizations

    Note: If you are considering a placement in the federal government, please be in contact with an OCP advisor ASAP.

    What qualifies as an independent clinical placement?

    Both domestic and international placements must involve legal work supervised by a licensed attorney and may include direct client services as well as broad based advocacy.

    Students may work at:

    • legal services organizations
    • public interest and other nonprofit organizations
    • criminal defense agencies, or
    • governmental agencies

    To set up your independent clinical placement, you must first secure an organization where you will be working during fall, winter, or spring semester. We encourage you to research organizations that match your individualized learning goals. If you are unsure about which organization you’d like to work with, you can search Helios for information about organizations or do a broader search by subject matter.

    Restrictions

    • Group projects (students going to the same placement with the same project) involving more than 3 students are not permitted. Group projects involving 3 or fewer students must be extremely strong to be approved. Each student must submit a separate proposal indicating their specific plans and how their individual participation is essential to the project.
    • Work on political campaigns is not eligible for clinical credit but may count towards the Pro Bono Graduation Requirement if it meets certain criteria.
    • Approval for projects in the private sector is extremely limited and is determined on a case-by-case basis. Private sector projects must be done on a pro bono basis and focus solely on matters related to the public interest. Students may not receive compensation for any work that results in clinical credit.
  • 3. Make an OCP advising appointment

    You must attend an advising appointment with a member of the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to discuss your ideas about placement settings, supervising attorneys, faculty sponsors, and the details of the work you will be proposing. You should schedule this appointment as early as possible in the semester.

    Domestic Placements: Dana Pierce
    International Placements: Jill Crockett
    L.L.M. Students: Sheryl Dickey

  • 4. Secure organization and supervising attorney

    After you meet with an OCP advisor, students must secure a placement organization with a Supervising Attorney who will be responsible for directly supervising their work. You should send the supervising attorney the Supervising Attorney Form to review and sign.  You will then submit the signed form with your application.

    It is essential that students develop their project proposals in collaboration with their prospective supervisor. This will help ensure that students propose work that is realistic, focused, and in line with the mission of the placement organization.

    Students are required to meet regularly with their supervisors for feedback throughout the semester and to initiate an exit interview at the end of the semester to discuss the final evaluation.

    Supervising Attorney must: 

    • Be an appropriately licensed attorney;
    • Be employed by the Placement Organization and on-site during the placement;
    • Submit a Mid-Semester Evaluation of the student’s work (Spring and Fall semester only);
    • Submit a Final Evaluation of the student’s work at the end of the semester, together with a recommendation regarding whether the student should receive a Credit or Fail grade for the placement; and
    • Not be the same person as the Faculty Sponsor.

    If the placement is remote or hybrid, your supervisor will be asked the following:

    1. To attest whether the primary method of operation for their organization is a remote or hybrid working environment;
    2. to describe what strategies/processes you will put in place to ensure a successful remote supervision experience for the student.(For example, using multiple means of communication; scheduling shorter meetings of greater frequency; using a shared assignment tracker; facilitating relationship building through assigning mentors; meeting with future students in advance of starting work; inviting students to attend on-line team educational workshops and/or involving them in internal strategy calls);
    3. to describe the technology the organization will employ to ensure effective remote supervision, communication, and workflow. (For example, the organization has video conference call technology; secure file transfer; and the technical means for the student to remotely access the organization’s files);
    4. to describe how the project(s) the student will be working on is conducive to remote work. (For example, the student’s projects will be research, policy, or strategy-based projects vs. direct in-person client services with significant court appearances).

    OCP will email supervisors a handbook setting forth the requirements for defining work expectations and goals, conducting regular meetings with students, and evaluating performance.

  • 5. Secure faculty sponsor & develop a paper topic

    Students must find a faculty to sponsor who will monitor their reflection essays and final reflection/academic paper. They are required to meet with their faculty sponsor ahead of time to discuss their proposed placements, work, and paper.

    You should send the faculty sponsor the Faculty Sponsor Form to review and sign.  You will then submit the signed form with your application.

    Faculty sponsor must: 

    • Be a permanent HLS Faculty member or a Lecturer on Law (LOL) who is part of the Clinical Program and is teaching in the semester in which the student will be earning independent clinical credits. For winter term students, the faculty sponsor may be appointed to teach in spring term, only, because the independent clinical paper is due on the last day of spring term.  The winter term independent credit/fail grade will be submitted after spring term concludes. Faculty sponsors cannot be a non-clinical Lecturer on Law or a Visiting Professor of Law;
    • Have expertise in the area of law pertaining to the independent clinical placement;
    • Have no personal or professional conflicts in taking on the role of sponsor;
    • Assist students in developing the topic for their reflection/academic paper;
    • Review the reflection/academic paper at the end of the placement;
    • Advise on and review weekly reflection emails from the student providing general (but not confidential) information about their work and reflecting on their experience;
    • Review the Supervising Attorney’s evaluation of the student, weekly reflections, and final paper to determine the appropriate grade; and
    • Submit the credit/fail grade to the Registrar’s Office once the paper has been received and reviewed. If an extension is granted, it is essential to submit the grade as “EXT” and inform OCP of the extension.
  • 5. Write project proposal

    The Independent Clinical Project Proposal should be detailed, focused, and realistic (i.e., for a winter term project, it must be work that can be completed in three weeks).  This project proposal should be developed through discussions with your Supervising Attorney, OCP, and your HLS Faculty Sponsor.

    View sample project proposals:

    A project proposal should include the following:

    Project Description

    • Describe your placement organization and its mission.
    • Outline your proposed project including your anticipated responsibilities and activities.
    • If you are proposing a group project with 1 or 2 other students, please describe how your individual participation is essential to the project and what your proposed individual contribution will be to the project.  NOTE: A group project with more than 3 students is not permitted.
    • If you worked with the organization before, please note when and in what capacity you worked with the organization and indicate how you will build on your previous experience with the organization.

    Statement of Interest

    • Explain how your proposed independent clinical project is different from practice opportunities available at HLS in the clinical program.
    • Explain your interest in this subject area.
    • Describe how your proposed independent clinical will advance your academic and professional goals.

    Final Academic/Reflection Paper (see Student Responsibilities for full description of final writing product options)

    • Explain why you chose your faculty sponsor and how the faculty member’s area of expertise will assist you with your project.
    • Provide a description of your proposed 15 page academic paper topic that relates to some aspect of the work of the placement organization or the field of practice OR the 8-10 page final reflection paper on your experience. In the reflection paper option, students should reflect on what occurred in their placement experience, the lessons they learned from those experiences, and how those lessons will inform their practice moving forward.
      NOTE: The academic paper cannot be work product the student produces during the placement, and must involve some original research and analysis of policy or practice.

    Remote and/or Hybrid Work: If the placement is remote or hybrid, you should also include the following information in your Project Proposal:

    1. Identify in your project proposal if your placement organization’s primary method of working includes remote or hybrid work;
    2. State if you plan to work remotely or plan to have a hybrid (in-person and remote) schedule. If you plan to work remotely, describe how you plan to work with your supervisor to get appropriate supervision in a remote environment. If your work plan is hybrid, please describe your proposed schedule for in-person v. remote work;
    3. Describe your plan for creating an adequate work environment to ensure you can meet your professional and ethical responsibilities. This plan can include your plan for keeping confidential documents secure; your plan for disposing of confidential printed documents from the placement at the end of your placement (note: secure data shredder documents are available in the clinical wing of WCC); your plan for securing a private place for Zoom meetings or phone calls where confidential information will be discussed; and any other important elements of how you plan to successfully engage in your remote/hybrid work.
  • 6. Gather your forms

    Incomplete applications will not be considered until all of the necessary forms are submitted. Projects submitted after the deadline will also not be considered.

    You will need to attach the following to the online application.

    1. Faculty Sponsor Form (digitally signed by faculty member)
    2. Supervising Attorney Form (digitally signed by supervising attorney)
    3. Project description and paper topic
    4. Resume (not require for pre-approved independent clinicals)
    5. HLS Unofficial Transcript (not require for pre-approved independent clinicals)
    6. Assumption of Risk and General Release Form

    Domestic: Assumption of Risk and General Release Form – If work is done is within the U.S. but outside of the Greater Boston area (outside of 495)

    International: Assumption of Risk and General Release Form – If work is done abroad

  • 6b. Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

    If you are an HLAB student you must also submit the HLAB Supplemental Approval Form.

  • 6c. Human Subjects Research

    If your independent clinical project involves human subject research please review the Guidelines from the Committee on the Use of Human Subjects. Research is broadly defined, and it is essential to determine the need for review by the Committee well in advance of the due date, as seeking necessary approvals can be very time consuming. The Law School liaison at the Committee can assist the student to determine whether the project requires review, and assist with the committee process. Meeting the requirements in these areas may involve submission of additional documents

  • 7. Submit application

    Once you have all of your forms, click here to submit your application.

  • 8. Apply for travel funding

    Independent Clinical travel funding is by application. Please visit our Clinical Travel Funding page for details and to apply.

OCP approves applications based on the strength of the proposed project and the appropriateness of the placement as an educational opportunity.  Students may be denied approval if their application is incomplete or the project is not deemed appropriate for academic credit.

Once You’re Enrolled

  • 1. Review ethical and professional responsibilities

    Ethical Rules

    You must comply with the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct in the jurisdiction in which you’re engaged in an independent clinical project.

    Respect Confidentiality

    You are obligated to preserve client confidentiality under the Rules of Professional Conduct. You must pay particular attention to client confidentiality when submitting weekly reflections to your faculty sponsor and OCP, final paper, and evaluation, and must make sure that you do not reveal client or organizational confidences, including any identifying information or case strategy.

    Check for Conflicts of Interest

    Before finalizing any placement, discuss any potential conflicts of interest with your supervisor, including any prior knowledge of the client or matter and any legal work you may have accomplished on behalf of an opposing or related party.

    Diligence

    You are expected to provide competent legal work and/or representation under the supervision of your supervising attorney. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the legal work and/or representation. If any personal or academic problems arise, you must be sure to coordinate with your supervisor to manage the problem and ensure the client’s matter is addressed appropriately with the highest level of professionalism.

    Respect Harvard Law School Independence

    When representing or communicating with individual clients or with outside organizations you must identify yourself as a law student/legal intern of your placement organization. While it may be appropriate to say that you attend Harvard Law School, it is not appropriate or accurate to suggest to a client that he or she is being represented by Harvard Law School or Harvard University. Students must understand that their work does not reflect the judgment or opinions of Harvard Law School and that Harvard Law School does not direct or supervise their project.

  • 2. Submit weekly reflections

    A basic premise of clinical legal education is that learning comes about through the self-conscious application of reflection to actual experience. There will be many opportunities for reflection during the implementation of the project. To learn experientially, you must be an active participant and observer of the concrete experiences at your placement and reflect on these observations and experiences. All students are required to submit the following:

    Students must submit weekly reflections via email to their Faculty Sponsor and to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs at clinical@law.harvard.edu. These reflections will not be shared with Supervising Attorneys. Emails should contain a discussion of the work performed (without revealing privileged or confidential information) together with a reflection about the experience. The weekly reflection essays, final writing product, and supervisor’s evaluation will determine the final grade as credit/fail. Weekly reflections are required for any term during which the student is enrolled (fall, winter, spring).

    Read Possible Reflections Topics

  • 3. Submit final academic product

    Option A: Students may agree to submit via email a 15-page academic paper. The paper must include original research and involve some type of policy and/or practice issue related to the placement, or some analysis of the organization.  Students could use this work product to fulfill half of Option 2 for the HLS Writing Requirement.

    Option B:

    Students may choose to write a 8-10 page reflection paper. This paper is an opportunity for students to give serious attention to what they have learned from their placement experience, not only about the law and legal practice, but also insights gained about themselves.  The paper should not be a recitation of the work performed at the placement.  

    These reflections can build upon reflections from the weekly submissions but must provide new or further developed insights. The reflection essay may not copy any of the weekly reflections verbatim. No confidential or privileged information should be shared. 

    Reflection Paper Assignment Details: 

    Learning through reflection . . . is an essential learning process for students to master to engage in future professional learning. . . . To engage in reflection, students need analytical skills . . . and the willingness and courage to closely examine work for successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses. They also must be able to use the products of their reflections to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to handle new situations.” – “Transforming the Education of Lawyers: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Pedagogy” 

    In order to transform the independent clinical experience from a legal assignment to an educational experience, students will reflect on what occurred in their placement experience, the lessons they learned from those experiences, and how those lessons will inform their practice moving forward. Please choose 2 prompts or more out of the following four areas:  

    • doctrinal/substantive issues;  
    • practice/skill issues; 
    • ethics/professional identity issues;  
    • personal growth/career issues to write about in your final reflection.  

    Doctrinal Issues 

    • How did this experience affect your thinking about the substantive areas of law in which you practiced? 
    • Were there ways in which the law operated or was interpreted that further entrench or eliminate historical or systemic inequities in the law? 
    • Were there areas of the law where you have identified areas for reform or change?  If so, why and what changes would you recommend? 

    Practice/Skills 

    • What skillsets did you develop during your independent clinical experience with your placement organization? Why were these skillsets critical to your work and how do you imagine you will use them in the future? What do you need to focus on to hone or further improve this skillset in the future? 
    • What skillsets or mindsets were critical to your (or others) success at the placement that surprised you? What was a skillset or mindset you did not appreciate as important to legal practice until you worked at this placement? What will this mean for your educational and professional journey moving forward? 
    • When did you or others at your placement experience a mistake or a failure? An outcome that didn’t go your way? A mistake in the appropriate approach? A missed deadline? What did you and/or the team learn from that mistake? How will it change your practice going forward? 
    • What did you learn and observe about the legal practice or legal field in which you were placed that you didn’t know before? Why was that learning novel and/or important during your time at the placement?  How does it change your thinking about this area of practice or the legal field going forward? 

    Personal Growth and Learning 

    • Were there any individuals you engaged with in the placement experience, at your workplace or in other interactions, who presented a model of lawyering and professional practice to which you aspire? What did you learn about how that individual works and practices? How do you want to institute similar or modified practices?   
    • How has this independent clinical experience changed or affected your own professional identity? Has your potential professional pathway changed? Has it remained the same, but evolved in a new way? 
    • Was there any point in your legal practice where you felt you had failed or struggled? How did you address that challenge? What did that experience teach you about yourself or your future practice? 
    •  Given what you have learned about this form of legal practice, is this a form of practice you would consider pursuing after law school? Why or why not? How does this experience impact your aspirations concerning future professional practice, identity, and trajectory? 

    Workplace Culture 

    • What was the workplace culture like at your independent clinical placement?  Did anything surprise you?  What about the culture did you like and what did you not?  How does this shape your view of the type of workplace culture you would like to find or build in your future workplaces? 
    • How did your organization prioritize work/life balance and supporting employees in managing their workload while also caring for their mental and physical health? Did you think this organization’s approach was successful?  What are your ideas for how these issues could be prioritized by an organization? 
    • Where did diversity, equity and/or inclusiveness fit in for your organization or institution?  Based on your observations, how did this influence the organization’s work and its interactions with outside clients and organizations?  How did this affect you personally? 

    Paper Submission Deadlines:

    Fall 2023: December 1 (midnight)
    Winter 2024: April 19 (midnight)
    Spring 2024: April 19 (midnight)

  • 4. Complete evaluation

    Students’ experiences and opinions are extremely important to the continuing efforts to improve the quality of clinical legal education at Harvard Law School and to determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of specific placements. At the end of the semester, students are required to complete a placement evaluation to assess the placement organization, the supervision received, and the value of the clinical experience. Please be as frank, specific, and constructive as possible.

    The clinical evaluations are completed online through Helios. Responses do not affect grading, as the information reported is not reviewed outside of OCP until after the semester’s grading process has been completed. The placement evaluations are for student use only. A student who completes the evaluation may choose not to have the student’s name revealed. The evaluation is not shared with the placement organization.

Selected Independent Clinical Opportunities

Below are selected organizations that have demonstrated interest in hosting HLS students.   Students are required to apply to the organizations, which may have their own separate application processes, with the understanding that OCP cannot guarantee acceptance by the organization.   When selected by the organization, students must promptly submit their independent clinical application. OCP will review and approve applications in accordance with the guidelines available on the OCP website.