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1. Overview

Clinics offer students the opportunity to use the analytical, negotiation, and problem-solving skills they have learned in the classroom to assist clients and/or to develop policy while receiving academic credit under the supervision of experienced attorneys in a wide variety of settings. Most students enroll for clinical credit at the many Law School “in-house” clinics that are permanently staffed by Law School attorneys, who are experienced in teaching and supervising students. Students can also be placed in approved externship placements where they work for an outside agency or organization. Students interested in a special area of the law not offered through existing clinics may propose a new clinical placement through the Independent Clinical Program, which requires pre-approval by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, supervision by a licensed attorney, and sponsorship by a Harvard Law School faculty member. With the permission of a specific clinic and the Office if Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, students may continue work on a clinic in subsequent semesters and earn Advanced Clinical credits.

Clinical work is a serious commitment that requires the dedication of a significant amount of time including substantial hours during the work week. Students should consult with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to find out more about clinical programs or a specific clinic.

Participation in most clinics will satisfy the Pro Bono Requirement.  For more information about the Pro Bono Requirement, see Section I(L).

2. Requirements for Clinical Credits

a) Any student seeking to receive academic clinical credit for legal practice work or a legal externship must do so in coordination with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

b) Clinical work must be legal work and involve direct legal advocacy or representation, application or interpretation of law, formulation of legal policy, or drafting of legislation or regulations.  Clinical work should not be clerical.

c) All clinical work must be supervised by an attorney licensed in the relevant jurisdiction.

d) Clinic students are required to adhere to rules of ethics and professional responsibility as set by individual clinics, and follow technology policies set by clinics in conjunction with ITS.

e) All clinics must have a classroom component with the exception of Independent Clinical projects and Advanced Clinical credits.  Independent Clinicals and Advanced Clinicals do not satisfy the J.D. experiential learning requirement (see Section I(F)).

f) Work on political campaigns is not eligible for clinical credit, but may count toward the pro bono requirement if it meets certain criteria (see Section I(L), Section I(M), and Section III(B)(5) below).

g) Students must have successfully completed their first year of law school to enroll in a clinic.

h) Independent clinical work is graded Credit/Fail and capped at two clinical credits for the winter term, and three clinical credits for the fall or spring terms.

i) A student may not receive academic credit for any clinical work for which he or she also receives compensation.

j) Credits awarded for in-house and externship clinics will count toward the experiential learning requirement. Credits awarded for clinical courses that are limited to students enrolled in the corresponding clinic may also be counted toward the experiential learning requirement. Independent clinicals, advanced clinicals, and seminars with only some students enrolled in the corresponding clinic do not count towards the experiential learning requirement. See Section I(F).

k) Credits awarded for clinical courses that satisfy the experiential learning requirement (see Section I(F)), the professional responsibility requirement (see Section I(G)), and the written work requirement (see Section I(K)) may be counted towards toward one but not more than one of these requirements.

Please refer to the website of the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for more detailed information about receiving clinical credits.

3. Enrollment and Credits

Table 3: Clinical Credits

Term Clinical Credits Hours per Week Hours per Term
Fall or  Spring 2 8 96
   3 12 144
   4 16 192
   5 20 240
Winter* 2 Full-Time 96

*Winter term clinical work concludes on the last day of final winter exams and excludes the MLK holiday, unless the clinical placement is open on the holiday. Full-time hours are determined by the placement organization.

a) Students may enroll in only one clinic per term. Students may earn a maximum of five clinical credits for their work in a clinic during the Fall or Spring term and a maximum of 2 clinical credits for their work in a clinic during the Winter Term. Students may enroll in a maximum of 16 clinical credits in total during their 2L and 3L years. See Section I(D)(2)(d).

b) Students seeking to enroll in the same clinic for a subsequent semester of advanced clinical work may do so with the permission of the clinic and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.

c) Students earn classroom credits for the classroom component of their clinics and clinical credits for the practice component. Students with questions about these policies should contact the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. (LL.M. students also should consult with the Graduate Program Office for additional clinical credit policies.)

4. International J.D. Students in Clinics

International J.D. students should consult with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for information on which clinical opportunities are available to them.

International J.D. students on F-1 visas are eligible to participate in all in-house clinics. Externship clinics require Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Students are required to work with the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs and the Harvard International Office to secure CPT authorization. F-1 students are not eligible to participate in domestic independent clinical projects or advanced clinicals with externship placements, because these opportunities are not eligible for CPT authorization.

Please contact the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs with any questions about this process.

5. Opportunities for Student Practice

Harvard Law School seeks to ensure that students are given ample opportunities to gain hands-on, practical legal experience during their time at Harvard Law School. Harvard Law School offers the largest number of in-house clinics and externship programs in the country. In addition, Harvard Law School also provides in-house supervision for a broad range of pro bono opportunities through the Student Practice Organizations (SPOs). Students who are not in approved SPOs and clinics shall not form student organizations with the intent of engaging in law practice.

Harvard Law School offers several carefully designed options for students to engage in legal practice, all of which train students to be competent, effective and ethical lawyers while providing the supervision necessary for effective pedagogy and compliance with relevant statutes and rules governing the practice of law.

a) Students can engage in legal work in the following ways:

  • Working within an established Harvard Law School clinic or externship. See Clinical Program.
  • Working within an approved Harvard Law School student practice organization (“SPO”). Student Practice organizations are student-run with supervising attorneys to assist and guide students. See Student Practice Organizations.
  • Working on an individual basis for Harvard Law School pro bono credit under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney at a law firm or legal organization or a Harvard Law School faculty member who is licensed to practice in the relevant jurisdiction. See For Attorneys and Supervisors.

In addition to the methods stated above, students can:

  • Earn writing credit for detailed legal research and policy analysis under the supervision of a faculty member. Independent written work projects take a wide range of forms, from law review articles to drafting proposed statutes to writing policy papers to advising public officials or private entities. Those projects may also include various sorts of public policy analysis, historical research, and empirical work so long as they include the completion of an appropriate written work product. See Section I(K). Written work for academic credit may not constitute the practice of law. Questions should be directed to the Assistant Dean of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs.
  • Students may also gain practice experience under the supervision of outside attorneys by volunteering individually on a non-credit basis for those attorneys, but shall not in any way hold themselves out as doing so as part of a Harvard Law School student group or under the Harvard Law School name.

b) Harvard Law School student organizations that are not approved SPOs shall not under any circumstances engage in the practice of law in any form. Disregard for this policy will subject the student organization to dissolution procedures.

  • Only approved SPOs and clinics (where an in-house attorney supervisor is provided through a clinic or a stand-alone SPO) may seek out or accept projects that constitute legal practice or otherwise practice law using the Harvard name.
  • Student organizations may present conferences, panels, and other events and bring in speakers.  Members of such organizations may of course talk generally with others about their practice experiences as long as they comply with professional rules governing client confidences.
  • Creating a new SPO or clinic requires an investment of resources to hire supervising attorney(s), provide space, and ensure data security and client confidentiality. Students are encouraged to work within existing clinics and SPOs. Funding to start an SPO or a new clinic comes from the Law School budget and not through the student funding board or the Dean of Students Office. Such requests are weighed against on-going requests to support existing clinics and SPOs. Please contact the Assistant Dean of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for more information.

c) Standards of professional behavior for law students.

As current (for some LL.M. students) and future practicing lawyers, law students have standards of professional behavior and responsibilities. Please be advised that every state, including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has statutes and rules that prohibit the “unauthorized practice of law.” (See, e.g., Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 221 §41; Mass. Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 5.5)

The practice of law is broadly defined and can include providing advice, in addition to direct representation. Just as one must get a license to practice medicine, one must be admitted to the bar in a particular state to be able to practice law. Law students are permitted to do legal work for clients as long as the student is working as an individual supervised by an attorney admitted to practice law in the relevant jurisdiction and that attorney takes responsibility for the legal work. Engaging in the unauthorized practice of law may result in criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. See Massachusetts Conveyancers Ass’n, Inc. v. Colonial Title & Escrow, Inc., 2001 WL 669280 (Mass.Super. 2001) (whether a particular activity constitutes the practice of law is fact specific); Matter of Shoe Manufacturers Protective Association, 295 Mass. 369, 372 (1936).

Harvard Law School students are required to comply with rules regarding the practice of law and the Law School’s policies regarding engagement in the practice of law while enrolled at the Law School.  These rules ensure proper supervision and compliance with applicable legal requirements. Violation of the rules on the unauthorized practice of law may result in disciplinary proceedings before the Administrative Board and may interfere with eligibility for admission to the bar.