Public Interest Law: A Career with Impact

With an undergraduate degree in English, Sarah Atkinson ’22 was drawn to study law because it combined two things she loved: reading and writing. Her time at Harvard Law School has given her the opportunity to turn those passions into a career with impact.

Though Atkinson came to law school interested primarily in media and entertainment law, she heard about the Consumer Protection Clinic from classmates who had been in the clinic and, encouraged by their positive experiences, enrolled in the clinic for the Spring 2022 semester. Having decided to pursue litigation relatively late in her time as a law student, Atkinson was particularly drawn to the Consumer Protection Clinic’s litigation focus, and the opportunity for students in the clinic to gain experience in the courtroom.

Although Atkinson enjoys the practical application of the reading and writing skills that originally brought her to law school—through things like legal research, writing memos, drafting briefs, and more—being able to work with clients one on one is where she finds the clearest connection to the positive impact the law can have on the people it is meant to protect. For the Consumer Protection Clinic’s clients, what might seem like a small issue can be life changing. Said Atkinson, “meeting a client and solving a problem for them—it might be a small problem in the legal sense, but to the client, it’s huge.”

At the clinic, Atkinson found herself responsible for tracking down a client on a case that had been in process since before the pandemic. A default judgment had been entered against the client, and a debt buyer was attempting to have the man’s wages garnished. Attorneys in the Consumer Protection Clinic had been unable to reach the client for months but knew he could be facing urgent and dire consequences if he did not fight the wage garnishment. Atkinson managed to find the client through his employer. The client was barely making ends meet, and his job was the only means he had to provide for his family. If his wages were garnished, he literally would not be able to afford food. After working with her supervisor to reassure the client and his employer that the clinic was working to stop the debt buyer’s attempt at wage garnishment, Atkinson was able to gather enough information to negotiate with opposing counsel and have the case dismissed.

Spending a semester in the Consumer Protection Clinic provided Atkinson the opportunity to work with clinical instructors Roger Bertling and Alexa Rosenbloom, experienced attorneys who provided support and guidance as Atkinson learned the ins and outs of consumer law. Atkinson described their supervision as invaluable, saying, “They’ve seen every kind of case, but they treat every case like it’s new.” Atkinson was glad to have the experience of working in person at the LSC office in Jamaica Plain, where she could drop by Bertling and Rosenbloom’s offices to ask questions and even practice arguments ahead of court appearances.

Atkinson’s time in the Consumer Protection provided her with real-world experience with the legal skills she will carry forward in her career, and it reinforced her desire to continue public interest work on a pro bono basis. After graduation, Atkinson will join the litigation practice at the New York office of Jenner & Block.

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