From poverty law to policy analysis, opportunities for every interest

The number of students learning by doing at Harvard Law School has more than doubled over the past five years. In 2002-03 there were 291 clinical placements; in 2006-07 there were nearly 800 students doing clinical work.

Since Professor Gary Bellow ’60 founded the school’s first clinical practice program 30 years ago in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, the WilmerHale Legal Services Center has provided placements in a variety of subject matter areas and now has 14 sub-clinics. But there are now also 15 other clinical options at HLS—five of them new this year—offering students a wide variety of hands-on experiences in addition to the provision of direct legal services and representation to low-income clients. Students have new and expanding opportunities to work in a fantastic array of subject matter areas, on projects involving impact and appellate litigation, client counseling and negotiation, and development of public policy.

At the newly created Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, for example, projects include assisting the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation with the implementation of an executive order involving reducing greenhouse gases; students are helping to develop directives, regulations, statutory modifications, procurement policies and permit incentives. At the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, students have been working with NGOs to develop a set of ethical policies for use when U.S. Internet service providers do business with regimes that censor and filter online communications.

To support the new emphasis on clinical education, eight clinical faculty members have been hired.

Lisa Dealy, director of the law school’s Clinical Program, says she hopes the growth of the clinical community will lead to more synergies between the various clinics. Some of this is already happening.

This year, for example, faculty and students at the International Human Rights Clinic are collaborating with others at the Cyberlaw Clinic to provide context to its Internet filtering project. And students in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic are tapping into the International Human Rights Clinic’s work on gang violence in El Salvador, in efforts to prevent repatriations.

Professor Elizabeth Bartholet ’65, head of the Child Advocacy Program and chair of a faculty committee that looked into expanding the clinical program, says that the growing incorporation of clinical learning throughout the curriculum is signaling students that “this stuff really matters.”