Katie Martinez ’23 and Ben Rankin ’23 are the recipients of the 2023 Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Awards. The awards are presented annually to students from each law school for outstanding clinical coursework and contributions to the clinical community. Students are selected by full-time clinical faculty at each law school with faculty who are members of CLEA.
CLEA Outstanding Clinical Externship Student Award: Katie Martinez ’23
Katie Martinez ’23 is being honored with the CLEA Outstanding Clinical Externship Student Award in recognition of her unwavering dedication to the Child Advocacy Clinic. Martinez completed the Youth Advocacy Fellows Program, where, according to director of the Child Advocacy Clinic and Lecturer on Law Crisanne Hazen, “she demonstrated a commitment to the power of education and public defense to advance the lives of individual people harmed by intersecting systemic failures.”
Martinez spent her first clinical semester in an externship placement with the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Youth Advocacy Division (YAD). “As a clinical student for the YAD,” says Martinez, “I quickly recognized how much I loved the complexity of working with young people. I also saw that in addressing their criminal cases, we were only reaching the tip of an iceberg. There was a vastness beneath the surface that remained unchanged in their lives — education failures, homelessness, mental health challenges — even once the case was resolved. I knew I wanted to use my degree to provide them access to the support they deserved.”
With her passion for juvenile justice ignited, Martinez continued her holistic education in the challenges facing system-involved youth with a second clinical placement at the Special Education Division of the Public Defender Services for the District of Columbia.
“There, I learned what a powerful tool special education law can be in changing the lives of young people for the better and keeping them out of the adult system,” Martinez says. This externship offered further preparation for her next steps; after graduation, she will serve as an Equal Justice Works Fellow for the School Justice Project, where she will advocate for the education rights of young people with disabilities in Washington, D.C. detention centers.
Martinez was also a student in the Education Law Clinic and the Crimmigration Clinic, and she was a member of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project. She continued her public interest work outside of the academic year, spending her 1L summer with the Georgia Justice Project and her 2L summer with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. To culminate her youth advocacy experiences at HLS, Martinez completed a capstone writing project on the need to expand special education rights by providing robust wraparound services for transition-aged youth in detention centers. Hazen lauds Martinez as “a bright legal mind, and a diligent and hardworking student with a thoughtful and intellectually critical voice.”
“My clinical experiences at HLS changed my life,” reflects Martinez. “I came into law school interested in advocating for young people involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, but unsure of what my career would look like. Through my externships and in-house clinics, not to mention amazing mentors, I am confident that I have both my dream job and the skills I need to be successful at it.”
CLEA Outstanding Clinical Student Award: Ben Rankin ’23
Ben Rankin ’23 is being honored with the CLEA Outstanding Clinical Student Award for his exceptional contributions to the Animal Law & Policy Clinic. Over the course of five semesters in the clinic, Rankin became a leader that students and clinicians alike looked to for his passionate leadership and steadfast commitment to animal welfare.
“Ben’s dedication to protecting the species of our planet from extinction is undeniable,” says the clinic’s director, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Katherine Meyer. “He has gone above and beyond what has been required not only to produce exemplary work, but to help guide other students in their work, and contribute to the overall communal effort and spirit of the clinic.”
In the clinic, Rankin spearheaded an effort to protect the Florida manatee from extinction, drafting a petition under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to change the manatee’s status from “threatened” to “endangered” to secure the full extent of the ESA’s protections for the species. The petition required an “extraordinary amount of work and dedication,” says Meyer.
“It has been a special joy to lead the clinic’s ‘Manateam’ over the last two years,” says Rankin. “I’m grateful to my fellow students — Savannah Bergeron ’24, Max Hantel ’23, Babs Tsao ’23, and Max Lupin ’22 — who spent countless hours pursuing needed ESA protections for West Indian manatees.”
Rankin also took on a case under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain valuable information about the import and export of wildlife; he successfully secured public access to millions of wildlife trade records, which will be used to stop the wildlife trade black market by determining species in need of protection under law.
“It is inherently an uphill battle to advance animals’ interests through the law, so this recognition is especially meaningful,” reflects Rankin. “My time in the clinic has been life changing. Director Kathy Meyer showed me how to be an effective voice for our nonhuman neighbors in and outside the courtroom, and in the face of a sixth mass extinction event, little has seemed more important to me since.”
Rankin spent his summers working with the Missouri State Public Defender, Farm Sanctuary, and the Center for Biological Diversity, and he participated in the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project. After working closely with the Center for Biological Diversity as a partner on the clinic’s manatee project, Rankin is thrilled to be joining their Environmental Health Program as a Public Service Venture Fund Fellow through the Sumner Redstone Fellowship in Public Service after graduation.
Want to stay up to date with Harvard Law Today? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.