This summer, I have the great opportunity to intern at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau in Cambridge, MA. Founded in 1913, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) is the oldest student-run legal services program in the country. The Bureau is committed to responding to the legal needs of low-income and marginalized populations in the Greater Boston area. Providing free quality legal representation, their free legal services encompass varied areas of law including family law, housing law, wage and hour law, government benefits, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status matters. As one of Harvard Law School’s clinical programs, the Bureau is comprised of eight clinical instructors and nearly fifty students. During the summer, the Bureau has a summer counsel consisting of twenty fellows who are all in their first or second year of law school. HLAB aims to train student attorneys who will advocate vigorously for their clients and respond to cases in a manner that addresses the systemic inequalities that are the causes of poverty. Through HLAB’s invaluable work, individuals in the Greater Boston community are able to access quality legal representation, regardless of their financial status.
As an intern at the Bureau, I have a variety of administrative responsibilities and tasks. I am responsible for answering all incoming calls and directing callers to their destinations, as well as sorting mail and recording correspondence. As a Spanish speaker, I am also called upon to assist in translating documents and interpreting phone calls and meetings with clients. Additionally, I assist counsel members in any legal research they may need for their cases, retrieve court records as needed, organize and file records, and enter record data into our database.
While it may appear to be a minor task, filing and entering record data is instrumental to keeping the Bureau running smoothly. As graduating students transfer cases, it is integral that the next student attorney assigned to the case is able to understand all parts of the case so that they may advocate for their client to the best of their ability. Filing is a large part of my role at the Bureau, and I am currently undertaking a sizable filing project. This entails sorting through case files and checking to see that all necessary documents are in place, inputting them into our database, and finally filing them in our deposition room.
While several of my duties at the Bureau are administrative, by working closely with summer counsel members, I am gaining great insight into what it truly entails to be a lawyer and a student in law school. It has been fascinating to learn from my exposure to legal documents and other components of casework. As a student who is interested in immigration law, it has been the most interesting by far to see supporting documents sent from the Department of Justice on behalf of clients for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status matters.
By performing various tasks and administrative duties, I work to support the Bureau and assure that our organization runs with ease. Working to ensure that the logistics of the organization are well maintained, the Bureau is able to run efficiently and fulfill its mission. Through supporting marginalized populations of the Greater Boston area by providing free legal representation, the inequalities among these populations will be reduced drastically. If we can address these cases from a systemic viewpoint, we can begin to understand the systemic inequalities that drive the legal needs of these populations and perpetuate poverty, and we can ultimately work to create lasting and effective change.
Danielle Bertaux ’20