David Paul ’24 is the recipient of the 2024 David A. Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award. Paul is honored for his exceptional achievements in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic of the Legal Services Center (LSC) and the Criminal Prosecution Clinic, where he has “embodied the very best of clinical education.”

The award honors David Grossman ’88, beloved late clinical professor, faculty director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and previously LSC clinical instructor, who devoted his life to the pursuit of justice. As an attorney and mentor, Grossman was committed to building partnerships within the community, guiding clinical students, and tirelessly advocating for social change. This award is presented in Grossman’s memory to a student who demonstrates outstanding expertise in representation and policy reform initiatives and shows a clear capacity for thoughtfulness and empathy in their practice.

“I feel hugely honored to win the David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award,” says Paul. “I remember early in my 1L year feeling so inspired by the 2Ls and 3Ls who devoted themselves to helping real people with real problems, even while managing all the stress of law school and their own internship and job applications. I knew that I wanted to spend as much of my 2L and 3L years as I could helping others and ‘learning by doing.’”

Paul did just that in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, beginning the fall of his second year of law school. Over the course of three semesters in the clinic, Paul participated in multiple project areas — the Veterans Justice Project and the Estate Planning Project — where he mastered multiple bodies of law and lawyering skills, forging trusting client relationships and becoming a valued colleague for students and clinicians alike.

“I came to law school from a previous career in the performing arts, where I was inspired by the passion people brought to their work, but increasingly frustrated by the power structures that prevented accountability and fair working conditions,” he reflects. “At the clinic, I felt like I found my answer: a team full of passion and belief in human potential, driven by a mission of fairness and accountability, and with a fighting spirit in service of that mission.”

In his first semester in the clinic, Paul and fellow clinic student Nathan Lowry ’24 brought about systemic reforms at the Veterans Administration (VA) for thousands of LGBTQ+ military families. The team represented the widower of a veteran who had been denied survivor benefits, arguing that VA violated the right to due process and equal protection in their refusal to recognize the couple’s commitment despite being unable to be legally married pre-Obergefell. Paul built a close relationship with the client, conducted many hours of legal research, drafted a settlement memo, and negotiated with seasoned VA attorneys to obtain a favorable settlement agreement for his client. More than that, the settlement spurred wholesale reforms to VA’s policy on benefit eligibility for same-sex survivors of veterans where state discriminatory laws prevented couples from marrying before 2015.

“He made the client’s cause his own,” commends Dana Montalto, clinical instructor and lecturer on law. “He was meticulous, unflinching, creative, and empathic — and, all the while, the consummate student colleague.”

“Getting to tell our client that the VA was revising its discriminatory policies on survivor benefits for LGBTQ+ servicemembers in response to his case and his story, and hearing the obvious satisfaction in his voice that his fight for justice was going to help thousands of other veterans and their loved ones, was a total highlight of the clinic,” reflects Paul.

This monumental achievement was only the beginning; Paul continued as an advanced student in the Veterans Justice Project, taking on a class action case and zealously representing individual clients. While representing a homeless veteran battling cancer who had been wrongly denied safety net cash assistance, Paul argued a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against experienced opposing counsel, taking quick stock of the defendants’ arguments and answering the judge’s questions with “precision and passion,” says Daniel Nagin, clinic director and faculty director of LSC. “It was a command performance. David made an argument to the court about the basic human needs at stake without sacrificing his client’s dignity and agency.”

“My client gave me a huge hug afterwards,” Paul recalls. “I like to think it expressed not just his gratitude, but, more importantly, the vindication he felt when he saw someone fighting on his behalf in a court of law after he’d been ignored for so long. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”

In the clinic, “I learned the importance of listening carefully to clients and to communicating with them both clearly and compassionately,” he says. “I wanted them to feel confident in our work, but also to understand what was happening and what was at stake.”

“I remember early in my 1L year feeling so inspired by the 2Ls and 3Ls who devoted themselves to helping real people with real problems.”

All the while, Paul also worked on the clinic’s Estate Planning Project. Over many hours and visits, Paul carefully and empathetically guided an 80-year-old veteran through his end-of-life decisions. “David knew every nook and cranny of the veteran’s world and wishes,” says Destini Agüero, clinical instructor and deputy director of LSC. “He expertly tailored the planning to the veteran’s distinctive circumstances and estate planning goals. Thanks to David, the veteran now had peace of mind about his affairs.”

This spring, Paul exercised new lawyering muscles in the clinic, on what Montalto describes as “among the most complex cases the clinic has undertaken,” which involved drafting a federal court petition that addressed thorny questions of jurisdiction, administrative law, and constitutional law.

“David has excelled in an astonishingly wide array of legal contexts that have demanded an equally wide array of knowledge bases, advocacy skills, team configurations, and emotional intelligence,” says Nagin. “Throughout it all, he has embodied the very best of clinical education.”

Paul rounded out his clinical education with a semester in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic, where he was first chair on six trials in Ayer District Court, including four jury trials. “It was incredible watching David prepare for each case, applying all the theoretical principles we’d learned across Evidence, Criminal Procedure, and Trial Advocacy Workshop,” says colleague Chloe Dyer ’24. “In both the Criminal Prosecution Clinic and the Veterans’ Clinic, I’ve seen David be an incredible resource for his peers, including for myself — whether it’s something as simple as helping new students learn the clinic’s filing system or providing advice on cases, he always makes himself available to other students.”

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Celebrating the Class of 2024!

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