Legal education is notoriously abstract. It’s engrossing, even fascinating, but at some point in their first year students are liable to lose perspective. Students might forget what drew them to the law in the first place and fail to discern the connection between the appellate-level decisions that they read each day and what they’ll face in their routine practice. The clinics offered through Public Interest Law are a happy bridge over that chasm.
In the fall of my second year, I enrolled in the school’s Public Interest Law Seminar and Clinic. I served at Greater Boston Legal Services, working on behalf of a sizeable roster of clients seeking to have their CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) records sealed. Recent state law allows many offenders to seal their criminal records, thereby furthering their rehabilitation by allowing them the possibility of employment and public housing.
These were not big, important cases in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a truly heady feeling when, as a first semester 2L, you are able to represent clients in court under the Massachusetts student practice rule (Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:03) and stand up in front of judge and say your name, followed by “representing Client X.” And your client looks at you with hope in her eyes. And the judge grants your motion. And your client embraces you. And you realize: yes, I can do this. And more than that: I WANT to do this. And maybe even: I’m needed to do this; I’m called to do this.
Meanwhile, a second clinic, the Environmental Law Clinic, landed me at the state Department of Environmental Protection, a dream spot for someone who came to school hell-bent on engaging in environmental causes. Coupled with courses in Environmental Advocacy and Environmental Law (along with Land Use, Energy Law, and Property), the internship made a few things clear. First, administrative law is incredibly complex, but manageable as you begin to piece the puzzle together. Second, law is not necessarily adversarial, but often consists of bringing parties together to work out solutions in the best interests of everyone involved. Third, you literally never know what’s coming. One day I was working on an extensive memo regarding the legal limits on use of drones by law enforcement; the next, I was romping through the woods at the site of the Pilgrims’ first settlement in Plymouth, studying the fish ladders that the state was using to preserve the descendants of the same herring that fed those settlers and their Native American predecessors.
Numerous other opportunities to exercise what you’re learning exist for public-interest minded students at New England Law. Nontraditional courses such as “Public Interest Law” and “Environmental Advocacy” focus less on case law and matters of doctrine than they do examining the role of lawyers in larger social and political contexts, and students provide their own perspectives based on both past experience and what they’re doing in clinical practice.
On-campus organizations such as the New England Law chapter of the American Constitution Society provide an opportunity to work with some of the leading legal minds in the city and engage students on pressing issues. The school’s admirable Center for Law and Social Responsibility provides a raft of opportunities for pro bono work, along with extending generous subsidies for students to attend the annual Robert M. Cover retreat in New Hampshire, the high point many law school careers.
Finally—and no less important than any of the above—you’ll find, at New England Law, a genuinely diverse student body and classmates passionate about justice, equality, and inequity, committed to reforming the system even as they work diligently to hone their own legal skills. The school likes to boast about the collegial atmosphere that exists in the school—it’s no idle claim, and the support and enthusiasm that you’ll find among similarly-minded students is a rare and truly wonderful thing.