What is HLAB?
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, or HLAB, is a student-run civil legal services organization that serves low-income and marginalized communities in and around Boston. HLS students work at the Bureau during the 2L and 3L years, and work closely with their clinical instructors and fellow student attorneys on their cases. The Bureau takes cases that fall within one of its three practice areas: Housing, Family, and Wage & Hour.
During their time at the Bureau, students can expect to obtain meaningful, hands-on experience in direct legal advocacy work in the courtroom and within the communities that students are serving. Students can also expect to join a tight-knit community of fellow law students who are passionate and committed to issues like housing justice, racial justice, and gender justice.
What does each practice area do?
The Housing Practice Area works closely with clients who are facing eviction. Student attorneys provide full legal representation to clients in Housing Court and participate in numerous community outreach opportunities. Students participate in Attorney for the Day, a program in which students go to court and represent community members in a limited capacity for their hearings that day; Eviction Clinic, in which students help community members fill out answer and discovery forms for their cases; and weekly City Life/Vida Urbana meetings, where students provide free legal advice to community members experiencing housing crises. The Housing Practice has a longstanding close relationship with City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots community group with whom we work to advocate for the expansion of housing rights in the state of Massachusetts. The Housing Practice is committed to its mission of protecting the fundamental human right of housing for its clients.
The Family Practice Area works with clients who have traditional family proceedings, family defense work, and SIJS cases. Traditional family cases include divorce, custody, child support, and other related matters. Family defense work involves protecting families threatened by state intervention and surveillance, such as advocating for a client during ongoing investigations by the Department of Children and Families; informing families of their rights; speaking directly with the DCF social worker to negotiate family action plans and to avoid emergency removals; and representing parents an administrative appeals. SIJS cases pertain to obtaining a certain legal classification for undocumented minors so that they can eventually apply for legal permanent resident status. Family student attorneys have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with clients, engaging in courtroom advocacy, negotiating with opposing counsel, and navigating governmental agencies like the Department of Children and Families. The mission of the Family Practice Area is to empower clients to make their own decisions regarding their families, and to limit state interference and surveillance of families.
The Wage & Hour Practice Area represents workers who are victims of wage theft in the Greater Boston area. Wage theft occurs when employers fail to compensate their employees in accordance with the law. Typical wage theft violations include failure to pay (a) minimum wage, (b) earned overtime, (c) sick leave, and/or (d) anything at all. Additionally, wage cases may involve employers that have illegally retaliated against workers exercising their wage law protections. Wage student attorneys have the opportunity to develop valuable skill sets by taking on a wide range of responsibilities, including writing demand letters, negotiating settlement agreements, leading depositions and discovery efforts, and advocating for clients in court. Ultimately, the mission of the Wage & Hour Practice Area is to promote worker rights by protecting them from employers’ illicit wage practices.
What kind of practical experience can I expect to get as a student attorney at HLAB?
During their two years at the Bureau, students typically gain extensive, hands-on experience that helps them refine their skills in a wide variety of areas: courtroom advocacy, legal writing, working with opposing counsel, negotiation and settlement, working directly with clients and building relationships with clients, community organizing and working with community partners, and problem-solving and responding to unexpected developments. Depending on their practice area, students can expect to be in court on a frequent basis. Many HLAB students handle trials at some point during their two years at the Bureau.
Should I do HLAB even if I am not interested in pursuing direct services work in the long-term?
Yes! Through their casework and experience working with clients, engaging with opposing counsel, and navigating relationships with fellow student attorneys and clinical instructors, students at the Bureau gain practical skills that are largely transferable to nearly any type of profession that they choose to go into. After graduation, many students at the Bureau pursue a number of different professions other than direct services.
What does the application process involve?
The application involves four components: (1) your resume, (2) a short written application about your interest in the Bureau, (3) a case strategy memo, and (4) an interview. The case strategy memo will pose a series of hypothetical legal cases, similar to the kinds you may be handling at the Bureau, and ask you questions about how you would proceed. The memo is not meant to be a formal piece of writing, and will not be assessed for Bluebooking skills.
Candidates will submit their written materials and those selected will receive an interview.
How long should the application take?
We do not recommend spending more than 3-4 hours in total on the application process.
When is the application due?
The application is due on March 31, 2023.
If I do HLAB, does that mean that I can’t do other clinics?
Yes. However, the two-year commitment allows students at HLAB to get much more depth of knowledge and practical experience, as well as familiarity with their cases, than a single semester at a clinic does. Additionally, students will often work on cases that touch a range of issues, even within their given practice area and within a single case.
Students at HLAB with interests in areas offered by other clinics—e.g., election law—are often able to compensate for it in other ways, such as doing research for a professor or taking a class.
If I do HLAB, will I still have time for other commitments, such as doing research with a professor, working on a journal, or serving on club boards?
Yes! Many, if not most of HLAB’s members are involved in other significant commitments such as RAing or serving as a Board member for other clubs. Many HLAB members are also student attorneys with Harvard Defenders.
What is the weekly time commitment for HLAB?
The average workload for an HLAB student is an estimated 20 hours, though this may fluctuate depending on one’s casework. This 20 hours includes speaking with clients, preparing for court proceedings, meeting with clinical instructors, and handling other administrative tasks and projects related to one’s cases or responsibilities at the Bureau.
Who will supervise my work as a student attorney?
Student attorneys work very closely with their clinical instructors (or “CIs”), who work full-time at the Bureau and have practical experience in their given practice area. HLAB students have the benefit of being the primary lead on their cases while also having the close guidance of their CIs, with whom they typically meet on a weekly basis. CIs play a critical role in helping students develop their theories of their cases, figure out next steps, and respond to ongoing developments.
Does HLAB have a social community as well?
Yes! Our Vice Presidents of Membership, as well as other students at the Bureau, frequently organize and host social gatherings throughout the semester for the HLAB community. Every fall semester, HLAB also hosts a weekend cabin retreat for all members. Additionally, the Bureau’s location on 23 Everett Street provides a common space out of which students often work throughout the week, whether on their casework or their schoolwork.
Will doing HLAB help me fulfill any of my graduation requirements?
Yes! Your work in HLAB will fulfill your Professional Responsibility requirement (typically a 3-4 credit course) and your Pro Bono Hours requirement. Many students are also able to fulfill their Writing requirement through their written work as a student attorney.
What if I want to apply to be a BSA or be on HLR in addition to applying to HLAB?
Given the variation of timelines for the different organizations, the Bureau is willing to grant extensions to those who wish to wait on BSA/HLR decisions in the summer. Students interested in HLAB should still apply in March and, if accepted, notify the Vice Presidents of Membership about deferring their acceptance until the summer. Given the demanding time commitments required by all three organizations, students may not be a part of more than one such organization.
Who can I reach out if I have any additional questions?
Please contact our Vice Presidents of Membership, Kaitlyn Ham and Erin Hegarty, at HLABMembership2023@gmail.com. This includes if you would like to speak with an HLAB student to hear more about their experience in particular—they will be happy to put you in touch!