Sara Tsai ’23
Peach crop top hoodies. The charming yellow building across from the law school. Michelle Obama. Those are just some of the words that come to my mind when I am asked to describe the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB).
HLAB is one of the three honors societies at Harvard Law School, alongside the Harvard Law Review and the Board of Student Advisers. As a two-year clinic, HLAB offers students the unparalleled opportunity to represent low-income clients as S.J.C. Rule 3:03 counsels in practice areas such as housing, family, and wage and hour. Under the guidance of a clinical instructor (CI), students directly represent clients in cases from beginning to end, from client counseling to writing briefs, negotiating with opposing counsel, and arguing motions in court. Students volunteer with community partners such as City Life/Vida Urbana and La Colaborativa to provide drop-in services and know-your-rights trainings. HLAB is also the oldest student-run legal services office in the United States, having been founded in 1913, and students learn how to manage the daily operations of a legal aid organization.
HLAB group photo in front of the Bureau building (ft. our peach crop top hoodies)
However, HLAB is more than a clinic. It is a truly irreplaceable home of zealous advocates who are always challenging our work and our service to the community as legal aid student attorneys. What can we do better? Are we aligned with our values of justice? What are our values as an organization, as individuals? What are the failures we’ve experienced and how can we avoid them in the future? There is a constant process of critical reflection among students as we discuss ways in which HLAB can improve and how we can contribute. Because HLAB is a two-year commitment, we can propose changes and actually see some of them implemented before we graduate.
HLAB students doing a site visit at City Life/Vida Urbana’s office
I applied to Harvard Law School and HLAB at the same time and was beyond thrilled and grateful when I received acceptances for both. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to serve as HLAB’s Associate Director, assist with summer counsel recruitment, volunteer at the Eastern Housing Court through the Attorney for the Day program, and form lifelong friendships with the students and staff of HLAB. HLS can feel intimidating for transfer students, especially at the beginning of the year when you are the “new kid” and still finding your way. I was incredibly lucky to have the constant presence of HLAB in my life, knowing that if I ever had a bad day, I could walk into the yellow building on Everett Street and be greeted with cheerful smiles and friendly conversations.
HLAB students volunteering at Attorney for the Day
I hope you will consider joining our community. Rising 2L transfer students can apply to HLAB by writing to HLABmembership2022@gmail.com by June 6, 2022, when we will send out the application to any interested transfer applicants. The application will be due on June 16, 2022 and we will read applications and conduct Zoom interviews accordingly after that. Future transfer students can find updated application information on our website. You can also check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Don’t stress about the application! It consists of a few questions asking about your background and why you want to join HLAB, in addition to some case strategy questions. The case strategy portion reflects the type of work that you may do in HLAB and contains issue-spotter portions that are similar to what you have already tackled in 1L. My advice would be to keep in mind that HLAB is a direct service organization, so client centeredness is crucial to our work.
Finally, I believe that HLAB is a particularly great organization for transfer students because of its structure and community. I never worried about class registration because the two-year commitment in HLAB allows us to fulfill our pro-bono and experiential education requirements, plus the potential to fulfill part of our Option 2 writing requirement. The corresponding seminar during 2L year fulfills the professional responsibility requirement and this year we were guaranteed a spot in Evidence our 2L fall and Trial Advocacy Workshop our 2L J-term. There are also retreats, photoshoots, parties, socials at CamCom, and mentorship programs within HLAB. As the Section 8 Co-President, I would love to welcome more transfers to our HLAB fam and wish you all best of luck as you navigate your transfer process!
Sara Tsai is a rising 3L who transferred to HLS after her 1L year.