May 28, 2019
As I am finishing my first year at HLS and reflecting on my decision to transfer, I can without a doubt say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. With a background in environmental studies, I knew when I entered law school that I wanted to pursue a career in public interest. However, as the first in my family to attend law school, I had little vision as to what this career would, or could, look like. After completing my first year of law school, it became increasingly apparent that the jobs I hoped to secure post-graduation were in relatively short supply, which led me to consider transferring to a school with a more robust public interest program.
Nearly immediately after receiving news that I had been accepted as a transfer student, Harvard’s Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA) was there to answer all of my (many) questions. I quickly learned about their Public Interest Interview Program (PIIP), which takes place in September and offers a wide range of public interest interviews right on the HLS campus. Knowing that this alternate interview program existed alleviated my fears of opting out of the more traditional Early Interview Program offered in August. OPIA also gave me information about the Low Income Protection Plan, which would allow me to pursue my career goals without the added worry of overwhelming student debt, and made the thought of losing the scholarships I enjoyed during 1L much more palatable.
Several weeks after arriving on campus, I interviewed with environmental organizations from across the country from the convenience of campus during PIIP, and was offered an internship with my dream organization. HLS offers guaranteed summer funding for public interest students, a luxury my previous school did not offer. Having the guarantee of summer funding made the internship search much less overwhelming and allowed me the flexibility to apply to organizations that I might not have been able to otherwise.
In addition to the resources offered by OPIA, HLS has a wide array of clinics and Student Practice Organizations (SPOs) that allow students to get hands-on experience in practice areas that they are interested in. HLS reserves seats in many classes and clinics for transfer students, making it possible for transfers to enroll in a clinic in their first semester on campus. I began working in the Food Law and Policy Clinic in my first semester and chose to continue in the spring in order to experience the full continuum of one project I had started while gaining experience on others. Early in the fall semester, I also joined the Mississippi Delta Project, a student-led practice organization which partners with organizations in the Mississippi Delta to offer legal and technical guidance on community-centered projects relating to criminal, food, environmental, and reproductive justice. Having the opportunity to work on social justice initiatives in Mississippi, where I grew up, is especially meaningful to me and serves as a testament to the diversity of the SPOs offered at HLS. When considering transferring, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to take on leadership positions, as I had missed a full year of involvement. I quickly learned that that notion could not be further from the truth—transfer students are integrated in all areas of campus and many hold leadership roles in the clubs, journals, or SPOs they become involved in. I am looking forward to leading the Mississippi Delta Project next year as a Co-Chair.
Outside of applicable experience, I came to HLS hoping to find a community of peers also interested in pursuing a career in public interest. The creation of Section 8, HLS’s community of 2L and 3L transfers, and the Student Public Interest Network helped make this goal a reality. Because Section 8 is comprised of both 2L’s and 3L’s, it has the added bonus of a mentorship program; my mentor is also working in public interest in the South and helped to show me that this more niche path is attainable. I had the opportunity to serve as a founding board member of the Student Public Interest Network, which advocates for public interest resources on campus and aims to provide students with a community of like-minded peers during their time at HLS. These two organizations, along with the general atmosphere on campus, allowed me to find a network of fast friends involved in both the public and private sectors. I came to HLS with broad goals in mind—I hoped to pursue a career in public interest, related to environmental and food policy, ideally in the South. OPIA, professors, clinical instructors, and peers have helped me crystallize these goals into a concrete career plan and for that, I could not be more thankful that I made the decision to transfer.
Ashley Maiolatesi is a 2L at Harvard Law School who transferred the summer after her 1L year.