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The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau ("HLAB") is the oldest student-run legal services office in the United States, founded in 1913.[1] Located at 23 Everett Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bureau's mission is to provide an important community service while giving student attorneys the opportunity to develop professional skills as part of the clinical programs of Harvard Law School. The Bureau is one of three honors societies at the law school, along with the Harvard Law Review and the Board of Student Advisers. Students who are selected for more than one of these three organizations may only join one.

Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
Harvard Legal Aid Bureau logo.jpg
HeadquartersCambridge, Massachusetts
No. of offices1
No. of lawyers9
Major practice areashousing law, family law, government benefits, and employment law
Date founded1913
The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau's offices at 23 Everett Street

The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is a student-run law firm serving clients in housing law (landlord–tenant relations, public housing, subsidized housing, foreclosure defense), family law (divorce, custody, paternity, child support), government benefits (Social Security, unemployment benefits), and wage and hour cases (unpaid or underpaid wages, benefits, and overtime). The Bureau employs nine supervising attorneys and selects approximately twenty-five student members annually. Students practice under the supervision of admitted attorneys; however, students are the primary case handlers on all matters. As a result, students gain firsthand experience appearing in court, negotiating with opposing attorneys, and working directly with clients. Students receive both classroom and clinical credits for their work at the Bureau.

Unlike most clinical programs at Harvard, the Bureau is a two-year commitment. This gives students a chance to have a much more sustained and in-depth academic experience. In addition to the substantive legal experience, students gain practical experience managing a law firm. The student board of directors makes all decisions regarding case intake, budget management, and office administration.

Notable members include Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, activist and First Lady Michelle Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch[2], Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger and law professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Laurence Tribe.[3]



HLAB Members discuss policy at the annual spring retreat.

The Bureau is composed of approximately fifty second- and third-year student attorneys at Harvard Law School who provide free legal services to a diverse population of low-income clients in the Greater Boston area. It is Boston's second largest legal services provider.

Members of the Bureau practice under Rule 3:03[4] of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which allows them to appear in court as counsel of record for low-income clients. The Bureau currently employs nine practicing attorneys who train and supervise members.

Bureau members practice in the following general practice areas: housing law, family law, government benefits, and employment law. Students usually focus primarily on housing or family law. Within these practices, students work on matters such as eviction defense, domestic violence, child custody and support, divorce, social security benefits, wage and hour violations, and employment discrimination cases.

In addition, many students in the housing practice have become involved with the Bureau's Foreclosure Task Force, which offers assistance to every individual in Boston facing eviction as a result of foreclosure. Working in coordination with Project No One Leaves, the Bureau has attracted national attention for its success in protecting neighborhoods, defending tenants in court, and changing state law.[5][6][7][8]


The 2011 HLAB Board of Directors

As a student run law-firm, the operations of the Bureau are overseen entirely by a Student Board of Directors elected by the general membership. The Board is responsible for developing and implementing Bureau policies, as well as overseeing day-to-day operations at the Bureau. Each Board member is elected for a term of one year by the general membership of the Bureau at the annual election meeting in January.

The student-run nature of the Bureau leads to a great deal of flexibility within the program. Students are encouraged to play a role in shaping the Bureau as it expands to meet new challenges and practice in new areas. Most recently, the Bureau has responded to the foreclosure crisis by developing a canvassing organization, Project No One Leaves, which works with students and community activists to organize tenants facing foreclosure. No One Leaves is now being used as a model for similar organizing efforts across the nation.


In the spring of 1913, several students associated with the Phillips Brooks House Association, a philanthropic organization at Harvard College, joined to form an organization aimed at providing legal services to individuals who could not afford to hire private counsel. Within a year, the organization incorporated under Massachusetts law as the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, established an office in Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall, and developed a client base. The Bureau was composed of twenty-five students at the law school. The student Board of Directors, composed of a President, Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, and two at-large members, managed the affairs of the office.

The Bureau grew during the late 1920s and 1930s, retained a Boston Legal Aid attorney as its part-time supervisor, and moved to the law school’s Gannett House. The Bureau suspended its operations in 1942 at the onset of World War II because of declining enrollment at the law school, but since re-opening in 1946 it has consistently provided training to students and legal services to individuals in need.

The Bureau was once an honor society whose admissions were based solely on academic achievement, along with the Harvard Law Review and the Board of Student Advisers. Bureau members are currently selected in the spring of their 1L year through an application process that involves a writing competition, resume and cover letter review, and interviews. The Bureau is now located at 23 Everett Street on the Harvard Law School campus.


Prominent alumni of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau include:

  • Hon. William J. Brennan, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
  • Deval Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
  • Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney General
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law scholar and founding Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • Hon. Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
  • Hon. Frank M. Coffin, United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
  • Hon. Matthew Kennelly, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois
  • Hon. William Schwarzer, senior United States District Judge for the Northern District of California
  • Hon. Jed Rakoff, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York
  • Hon. Emily C. Hewitt, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims
  • Hon. Fernande R.V. Duffly, Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
  • Raymond Sanger Wilkins, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and founding member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
  • Hon. Daniel Joseph O'Hern, Justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court
  • Hon. Frank Padgett, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii
  • Laurence Tribe, constitutional law scholar and Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School
  • Stephen W. Preston, General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency and former General Counsel of the Navy
  • Will A. Gunn, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Willard Tom, General Counsel, Federal Trade Commission
  • Charles Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and business partner of Warren Buffett
  • Alan Khazei, CEO of Be the Change, U.S. Senate candidate
  • Raj Goyle, State Congressman representing the 87th district of Kansas.
  • Joseph P. Kennedy III, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.
  • Major General Wilton B. Persons, Jr., former U.S. Army Judge Advocate General
  • Joseph Anthony Califano, Jr, 12th United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • Paul D. Carrington, Professor and former Dean, Duke University School of Law
  • Richard Stewart, University Professor, NYU School of Law
  • Earl Leiken, Mayor of Shaker Heights, Ohio
  • David L. Kirp, Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Robert J. Reinstein, Professor and former Dean, Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • Jeffrey Steingarten, author and food editor of Vogue Magazine
  • Howard Learner, President and Executive Director, Environmental Law and Policy Center.
  • Teresa McHenry, Chief of Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director, ACLU of Southern California and Professor at University of Michigan School of Law
  • Prof. Peter Murray, Harvard Law School Professor
  • Leonard Rubenstein, President of Physicians for Human Rights and Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Jill Owens, Senior Special Counsel to the New York Stock Exchange
  • Bruce Gelber, Principal Deputy Chief at the U.S. Department of Justice


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