One hundred years ago, a small group of Harvard Law students formed an organization to provide legal aid to the poor. In the 10 decades since its founding, the Legal Aid Bureau—the oldest student-run legal services program in the country—has helped thousands of clients. Many of its former members— from the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan ’31 to the current Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick ’82 and the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama ’88—have gone on to make important contributions to public service.
On Nov. 8, 1913, the Boston Herald reported that Harvard Law Student Charles Rugg 1914 argued the first court case to be tried in court by the Harvard Legal Aid Association. Since that historic first, the organization has continued its mission of ensuring equal access to justice by providing free legal services in civil matters to low income people. HLS students have represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including housing, family, government assistance, and wage and hourly law. The Bureau’s current projects include the Pro Se Divorce Clinic, the Eviction Clinic, and the Foreclosure Task Force, which was a response to the wave of foreclosures in Boston neighborhoods starting in 2007.
On Nov. 8 to 10, the Bureau will mark its centennial with a gala celebration at the law school. The event will feature keynote speakers and panel discussions on “Closing the gap: Evolving legal education and improving the clinical experience,” “Serving low-income communities across the three branches of government” and “Access to justice: Looking beyond legal services.”