Lisa Dealy, passionate advocate for public service and clinical education at Harvard Law School, retires

Lisa Dealy

Credit: Martha Stewart

Lisa Dealy, who as assistant dean for the Harvard Law School Clinical and Pro Bono Programs for 15 years was instrumental in the transformational growth and reimagination of clinical education at HLS, will retire May 27 after 30 years at the law school.

When Dealy assumed leadership of the clinical and pro programs in 2005, HLS offered a handful of in-house and externship clinics and five Student Practice Organizations (SPOs). As a result of her commitment to clinical education, HLS today has 22 in-house clinics, 14 externship clinics, and 11 SPOs, providing students with a vast array of choices for obtaining practical experience and working in the public interest on vital and leading-edge legal issues.

“Lisa Dealy has been a tremendous leader, a dedicated colleague, a compassionate and wise mentor to many students, and a wonderful friend to so many,” said HLS Dean John F. Manning ’85. “Throughout her years at HLS, she has exemplified the spirit of public service, and she has made a lasting impact here at HLS and well beyond our campus.”

Today, with clinics and SPOs in a wide variety of practice areas from international human rights to many specialties of legal services, HLS students have “unparalleled educational opportunities while providing much-needed legal services to people throughout the world,” Manning said. In the class of 2021, he noted, 89 percent of students completed at least one clinic and 52 percent completed two or more, with many more involved in the voluntary SPOs.

Dealy also worked tirelessly to promote public service and pro bono service at HLS, Manning added. Under her leadership, HLS students have performed more than 5 million hours of pro bono service, with last year’s graduating J.D.s contributing an average of 640 hours each, assisting countless low-income and marginalized people around the world who otherwise might have no access to legal assistance.

“Lisa Dealy created dream career paths for so many public-interest-minded students at HLS,” said Jessica Brand ’07, founder and co-director of the Wren Collective, a strategic advising firm of lawyers and experts in the criminal justice system. “She developed and nurtured clinical programs that provided students with rich and meaningful client experiences, giving us the privilege of standing alongside people in the community who needed legal support.”

Dealy began her career at HLS in 1987 as administrator at the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), where she worked alongside students in representing incarcerated people in parole hearings. After receiving her law degree at Northeastern University School of Law, she returned to HLS in 1996 as the director of the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP), which reduces the loan repayment burden for graduates working in government, public sector, and academic jobs.

“Lisa helped me navigate my loan repayment so I could pursue a career in federal government service, and then provided support and genuine interest in how I was doing for now over 20 years,” said John Carlin ’99, who served as acting deputy attorney general of the U.S. from January to April 2021, overseeing nearly 400 employees responsible for protecting the country against international and domestic terrorism, espionage, cyber, and other national security threats. “I know I am just one of many and cannot thank her enough.”

While working to expand LIPP, Dealy also became director of Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF), the first program in the country that guaranteed summer funding for all law students interested in summer public interest jobs. Under her direction, it became a national model that is now followed at many other law schools, Manning noted. After six years leading LIPP and SPIF, Dealy was named director of the new HLS Pro Bono Service Program in 2002, and then became director of clinical programs. The two programs were merged under her direction, enabling clinical work by students to count towards the HLS pro bono requirement.

“For three years, Lisa supported, guided, and created opportunities for me to craft a unique legal education that makes me the community lawyer I am today: pushing me beyond the boundaries of doctrine and Harvard to learn the real experiences of (fighting) injustice,” said Lam Nguyen Ho ’08, founder and executive director of Beyond Legal Aid in Chicago. “Her commitment to students, unwavering sense of justice and compassion, and pure goodness are rare and precious, and they instilled into clinical education at HLS an extraordinary humanity that is desperately needed in the legal professional—and far too often missing.”

Dealy, Ho added, “was, and remains, a mentor, inspiration, and champion.”

Brand agreed, saying: “Lisa provided all students who came to her with unmatched mentorship, during their time at HLS and long after they were gone. Those who have stuck it out in lower-paying and extremely stressful public interest careers owe a debt of gratitude to Lisa for always standing by our side and guiding us.”