Molly Crane J.D./M.P.P. ’23 is the recipient of the 2023 Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award, in recognition of her dedication to uplifting those touched by the criminal legal system, extraordinary care for clients, and her embodiment of the true spirit of pro bono service.
The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award is given each year as a tribute to Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, for his significant role in establishing and nurturing the Pro Bono Program at Harvard Law School. The award’s recipient is a member of the J.D. class who has displayed an outstanding commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services to disadvantaged communities.
“I feel deeply, deeply humbled to receive this award,” Crane says. “I am inspired every day by the incredible students at HLS who are making the world a more beautiful place, and I would be so grateful if this was a moment to honor each of them, as I’ve seen first-hand the transformative impact of their public interest work. I also know this moment is only possible because of the generations of community members in and outside of HLS who have worked to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice, and it is an homage to them and a true privilege if I can contribute to this continued bending in any small way. Most importantly, I feel incredibly moved that this award is a moment to uplift the courage and dignity of the clients I’ve had the honor of working alongside.”
Crane joined HLS her 2L year as a transfer student into the J.D./M.P.P. program with the Harvard Kennedy School. In keeping with the foundation she built during her 1L year and pre-law school experience in Chicago — which includes such accomplishments as founding the first ever degree-granting college program for young people in prison in Illinois — Crane immediately joined Harvard Defenders when she arrived in Cambridge. In Defenders, she came to lead the expansion of their CORI sealing practice.
“Molly transformed our criminal record sealing practice at Defenders by making it a valued part of our work,” says senior clinical instructor of Harvard Defenders John Salsberg. “She learned the content, became expert on the topic, trained fellow Defenders and did it all with exceptional grace and generosity.”
Last spring, Crane joined the Child Advocacy Clinic, and subsequently, became a member of the inaugural cohort of Youth Advocacy & Policy Fellows. In the clinic, she completed an externship placement with the Public Defender Service (PDS) for the District of Columbia. There, she worked in a unit that represents young people involved in the juvenile legal system who have special educational needs.
Lecturer on law and Child Advocacy Clinic director Crisanne Hazen lauds Crane’s unwavering commitment to her work: “She does everything with complete dedication, and once she is in, she is in. She doesn’t walk away from work easily.”
Bringing genuine warmth, generosity, and humility to every interaction she has with her clients, Crane devotes herself entirely to their cases and causes. “Molly’s advocacy goes beyond just legal work,” says colleague Rachel Niegelberg ‘23. “She has assisted her clients in securing employment, medical care, housing, and educational opportunities, both in and outside of carceral facilities. She is a fierce advocate, working simultaneously to support individuals while working to address the inequities and abuses of the carceral system writ large.”
Hazen echoes this sentiment: “Molly has a devotion to her clients that is quite exceptional, a devotion that isn’t just about legal successes, but about recognizing and valuing her clients’ humanity. She has a quiet presence, listening to others intently and with deep respect, patience, and kindness. This manifests as a clear focus on the individual before her; she appreciates both their strengths and their complexities, and warmly embraces them. She jumps up to take clients’ phone calls, gets on planes to welcome them home when they are released from custody, and otherwise demonstrates a genuine and extensive commitment to their well-being.”
When Crane reflects on her law school experiences, it is these moments with clients that stick out the most: watching her terminally ill client and his 98-year-old mother hug when he was granted medical release from incarceration after nearly 50 years of separation; cheering for her incarcerated PDS clients with disabilities at their high school graduation and seeing the tears of joy on the faces of their family members; after sealing the criminal record and helping obtain permanent housing after decades of homelessness, walking with her Defenders client into their first apartment.
“It has been and is truly the great honor of my life to work in partnership with people impacted by the injustices of the criminal legal system,” Crane says. “Though these moments are joyful, public interest work can be disheartening because systems are not currently built for the communities many of us are a part of, and the communities we work beside, to thrive. I am grateful for the students and staff at HLS for helping us support our clients and one another.”
Crane spent her summers with the Lawndale Legal Center, the Death Penalty Information Center, the Women’s Justice Institute, New York Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, and the People’s Law Office. She has been a pro bono volunteer with the Chicago Community Bond Fund, the State Appellate Defender for the First Judicial District of Illinois, John Howard Association, Freedom to Learn, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the Pipeline Legal Action Network. She also completed the Crimmigration Clinic and served on the Editorial Board for the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. These accomplishments are reflected in the number of pro bono hours Crane accumulated at HLS—the greatest amount for an individual student in the Class of 2023.
After graduation, Crane will return to work at PDS as a Public Service Venture Fund Judge Fine and Skirnick Fellow. In partnership with Equal Justice Under Law, she will represent students with special needs in federal prison. She is eager to continue following the path she laid out during law school: “I look forward to continuing to work alongside people impacted by carceral systems after graduation to dismantle structures of harm and cultivate healing!”
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