LSC Creates New Poverty Law Workshop, Training Law Students on Safety Net Programs

Poverty Law Class
Dr. Jim O’Connell, President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (right) with Tax Clinic and Poverty Law Seminar student Grace Heinerikson.

Drawing on careers spent representing clients accessing safety net benefits, LSC Clinical Instructors and Lecturers-on-Law Julie McCormack and Betsy Gwin have created a new seminar at Harvard Law School, the Poverty Law Workshop. Responding to pandemic-era calls for more training on core poverty-fighting programs, the course is designed to help students examine the unique legal issues of the most economically vulnerable and marginalized people in our communities – those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity – and consider how the legal system and social welfare policy can respond to their needs.

“It’s clear that the pandemic has motivated a new generation of law students who want to use community-based lawyering and advocacy to alleviate poverty and homelessness, and challenge unjust systems that leave out our most vulnerable residents,” said Gwin. “It’s a thrill to work with students on developing the skills and tools they need to be effective advocates, and to see them deploying those skills in representing our clients in Boston.”

Guests speakers this semester include former Harvard Law School Dean, Professor Martha Minow; Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui; and Dr. Jim O’Connell, President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. Together, students will examine the forces that lead to homelessness and economic insecurity, discuss the historical and contemporary challenges of safety net programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and disability benefits, and identify effective advocacy strategies for public interest attorneys. Each week features substantive legal training in key state and federal safety net programs.

“Our clients need lawyers who understand how safety net programs really work, and also how they often fail the very people they’re meant to serve,” said McCormack. “This course is about learning together and becoming better at our jobs.”

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