Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

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Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
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 ("HLAB") is the oldest student-run legal services office in the United States, founded in 1913.[1] 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.

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.


Prominent alumni of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau include:


  1. ^ "About Us". 14 November 2013.
  2. ^ "Obama taps Loretta Lynch to replace AG Eric Holder | Chicago Sun-Times". chicago.suntimes.com. Archived from the original on 2016-02-22.
  3. ^ "Alumni".
  4. ^ Rules of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

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