In 1979, the late Gary Bellow and Jeanne Charn proposed that Harvard Law School help create a legal services center, called the Legal Services Institute, in Boston to provide improved legal services for the urban poor and continuing clinical education for attorneys and law students entering the field. Bellow and Charn, together with four other organizers, including a professor from MIT, two Boston attorneys, and Katherine Stone, 2L, submitted a proposal for the Institute to the Legal Services Corporation for funding in conjunction with the Greater Boston Legal Services office. The Harvard Law faculty unanimously approved the proposal.
The curriculum initially focused on legal services and poverty law and drew heavily from case work at the Institute. Students participating were and are closely supervised and evaluated individually. Bellow believed that one of the strengths of the Institute is the teaching function performed by all Institute staff members. The Legal Services Corporation funding was terminated two years into the original four-year grant. From 1983 to 1985 the Institute (renamed the Legal Services Center) struggled, as did many other clinical programs after the decade of Council on Legal Education for Professional Responsibility support, to survive. However, the law school eventually made the decision to support the Center as its primary civil practice clinical program.
By 1991, the end of the second decade of Harvard’s clinical program, the original funding ratio for the Center had been reversed, with the law school providing substantial funding to support the Center’s operating budget and the balance provided from legal services grant funds. Yet, the Center still lacked a permanent physical home; it had twice moved within the Jamaica Plain community in an effort to find work space adequate to the growing size of the program.
In 1992 alumni of Harvard Law School at the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale) contributed $2,000,000 to the law school to purchase and renovate a permanent home for the Center. The Center took possession of its new home in 1994. The new program site represented a critical moment in the Center’s history, ensuring that the Center would have appropriate clinical teaching and lawyering space for its many clinics and practice areas. Equally important, this gift marked the beginning of collaboration between the Center and the firm that has take on various shapes over the years. Through the 1990s and early 2000’s, attorneys from the firm would rotate through the Center to provide pro bono representation to Center clients and technical assistance to the Center on a range of subject areas–including housing development law and business law and intellectual property law for low-income entrepreneurs seeking to get new enterprises off the ground–that overlapped with the firm’s expertise. More recently, the pro bono collaboration between the Center and WilmerHale has focused on litigation matters and pro bono case referrals to the firm. In addition, the Center has been fortunate to host retired partners from WilmerHale as Access to Justice Fellows within Center clinics. In 2019, as part of the Center’s 40th anniversary milestone event, which coincided with 25 years of the Center’s partnership with WilmerHale, the Center was pleased to recognize retired WilmerHale managing partners Jack Cogan and John Hamilton for their transformative support of the Center. They were co-recipients of the LSC Legacy Award in recognition of their visionary leadership in marshaling the gift that made the Center’s new building possible and in energetically supporting the many ways the Center and the firm have collaborated over the years.
LSC at 40
Learn more about our history and get a glimpse of our current work in the video below, made for LSC’s 40th Anniversary in 2019.