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Purpose: Harvard Law School seeks to ensure that students are given ample opportunities to gain hands-on, practical legal experience during their time at HLS. HLS offers the largest in-house clinics and externship programs in the country. In addition, HLS also provides in-house supervision for a broad range of Student Practice Organizations (SPO’s). Students may also design independent clinical projects and pro bono projects.

1. HLS 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.

Here are the ways in which you can practice through the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs:

  • Working within an approved Harvard Law School student practice organization (“SPO”). Student Practice organizations are student-run with supervising attorneys on HLS staff to assist and guide students.

In addition to these methods (through the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs) stated above, students can:

  • Earn academic credit – to fulfill the independent written work option for the writing requirement – 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. Writing at HLS.
  • Students may also gain practice experience by volunteering individually on a non-credit basis for outside attorneys, under the supervision of those attorneys, but shall not in any way hold themselves out as doing so as part of an HLS student group or under the HLS name.

2. HLS 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.
  • Students who are not in approved SPOs and clinics shall not form student organizations with the intent of engaging in law practice.
  • 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, ensure data security and client confidentiality, etc. 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 must be weighed against on-going requests to support existing clinics and SPOs. Please contact Assistant Dean Lisa Dealy to find out more about the institutional review process for proposed clinics or SPO’s.
  • Even students approved for clinical work or working with an SPO should recognize and work within the limits of their competence; ask for help from a clinical supervisor when necessary; accurately represent their role as a student attorney; and ensure they are supervised appropriately for any clinical task they perform.

3. Standards of professional behavior for law students.

As future practicing lawyers, law students have standards of professional behavior and responsibilities expected of them. 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).;

HLS 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.