Safety Net Project


The Veterans Legal Clinic—its official title in the curriculum is the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic—is made up of three collaborative projects: the Veterans Justice Project, the Estate Planning Project, and the Safety Net Project. Through these three projects, students represent veterans and their family members in a variety of case types. In all our case work, we strive to help veterans and their families attain the maximum degree of stability, dignity, and financial well being. We use creative legal strategies not just to vindicate the rights of individual veterans, but to pursue systemic reforms within the institutions and programs that are designed to support the veteran community.

Enrollment in all three projects is through the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic and Clinical Seminar. We ask enrolled students to express their preference for one of our three project areas. Students can also choose, however, to work across two projects if that option is attractive to them. We fully expect to be able to honor each student’s first preference for a project.

(For more information about the Veterans Justice Project, please click here.  For more information about the Estate Planning Project, please click here.)

About the Safety Net Project

Harvard Law SchoolIn ensuring access to safety net programs for clients, students have numerous lawyering opportunities, including client and witness interviewing, legal research and writing, client counseling, negotiation, motion practice, evidentiary hearings involving opening statements, witness examination, and closing arguments, and appellate oral argument.

Giving the specific example of work on Social Security disability appeals, students represent clients contesting the denial of Social Security benefits. In preparing cases for hearing before administrative law judges, students interview and counsel clients, compile the evidentiary record, collaborate with medical providers, and prepare a hearing brief. Students appear with their clients at the hearing, conduct both direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and present oral argument. Under the supervision of experienced instructors, law students have a high success rate in these hearings with the rare denials offering opportunity for appellate practice including complaints, motions and appellate briefs to Federal District Court and presenting oral argument before a federal judge.

All of the clients we represent have serious health issues. Some clients are older and in failing physical health, others are younger and have mental health or intellectual disorders. Many of the client are disabled veterans. Enrolled students have frequent opportunities to interact with medical providers and medical experts and to work on cases at the intersection of disability rights, disability access, mental health and the law.

Students and Attorney Supervisors in the Veterans Legal Clinic just after the students argued a case in Federal Court on behalf of a Safety Net Project client.

The Safety Net Project plays a vital community role that we expect will only increase in urgency. Again giving an example from Social Security, agency estimates are that well over 70% of applicants are unrepresented and documents that those clients without  representation are denied benefits over 75% of the time. Without legal representation many truly disabled individuals cannot show their eligibility for the very benefits intended to assist them in their direst need. In contrast, 70% of represented individuals nation-wide win benefits. Helping this population addresses an enormous unmet legal need and provides students a powerful opportunity to advocate for those least able to advocate for themselves. Winning a case for a client means winning not just ongoing monthly income, but also substantial retroactive payments which can be used for improved housing, education, and treatment, and also guarantees access to comprehensive low-cost health insurance. This economic boost stabilizes not just the individual and their families, preventing a deeper slide into poverty, but also acts as an economic stimulus to the communities in which they live. The Safety Net Project will be keeping the well-being of our vulnerable clients in the forefront of any proposed changes to the programs upon which they rely.

Acknowledging that we cannot possibly meet even a portion of the legal needs of our community, The Safety Net Project is proud to partner with the Boston Public Library to present library-based regular community legal education workshops on accessing and using social safety net programs such as SNAP and Social Security as part of the ongoing work of LSC’s People’s Law School.

The Safety Net Project Internship at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center 

FAQ for Prospective Law Student and Undergraduate Interns 

Q: What is the Safety Net Project?  

A: The Safety Net Project at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center aims to ensure access to safety net programs for clients living in the Boston area who have serious health issues. Some clients are older and are in failing physical health; others are younger and have mental health or intellectual disorders. Many of our clients are disabled veterans.  

Q: What do law students do?  

A: Law student interns are supervised and mentored by experienced clinical instructors. Law student interns will conduct interviews with potential clients seeking advice or assistance; counsel and advise clients; engage in investigation and formal discovery; develop case strategies; prepare pleadings for courts or petitions to administrative agencies; and research case-specific legal issues. Some law student interns appear before courts on contested motions, preliminary matters or assist in a trial; others will represent clients before administrative agencies.  

Q: What types of cases do law students work on?

A: Law students have the opportunity to work across a range of issues within social safety net programs. In the past, students have challenged program rules or helped clients get access to programs including:   

  • Social Security Disability Insurance students argue cases in front of Social Security Administrative Law judges and Federal District Court judges to help clients get access to life-saving disability payments. Many clients are older, and have mental health or intellectual disorders. Without the help of an advocate, many of these clients would not have any legal representation, and would be denied the benefits they need and deserve. The Safety Net Project has helped clients receive over $10,000 in back benefits from the Social Security Administration. 
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program the Safety Net Project provides guidance for those trying to understand food benefit eligibility standards in Massachusetts and challenges denials and terminations of food benefits in administrative court.
  • Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI)student attorneys in the Safety Net Project help individuals seal or expunge their criminal record. While many cases are handled simply by mailing an administrative petition, students have also argued for record expungement in Massachusetts Court.  

Q: What do undergraduates do?  

A: Undergraduate interns experience a range of opportunities supporting clinical instructors and law student interns with client cases, and they engage in independent work on behalf of clients. Undergraduate students’ responsibilities include but are not limited to conducting client intakes, legal research, court records teaching and filings, client correspondence, case memoranda, and record keeping.   

Q: Does the Safety Net Project engage in policy work?

A: Yes. The Safety Net Project partners with organizations and agencies in the Boston area that have clear policy missions. For example, some SNP students and interns have worked on projects addressing food insecurity on college campuses. Others have worked alongside Clean Slate MA to advance criminal record-sealing legislation to ensure that a criminal record does not block a lifetime of opportunities. The Safety Net Project also partners with the Boston Public Library to provide training workshops.

Q: Is there funding?  

A: Internships are unpaid, but are eligible for public interest fellowship sponsorship, including through SPIF (Harvard Law School students only) and EJA. We would be pleased to work with applicants to provide sponsorship for other summer public interest funding. The Legal Services Center will provide a modest stipend to all summer interns; more information on this stipend will be provided to successful applicants. 

 Q: Who directs the Safety Net internship program?

A: Julie McCormack directs the Safety Net Project, including its internship program, and serves as a Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Contact Information

For information about the Safety Net Project, please contact Julie McCormack at 617-390-2522, or by email at jmccormack[at]

Interview from the Brown Political Review with Julie McCormack, Director of the Safety Net Project

What Students Are Saying About Their Experiences in the Clinic

From the moment I started in the Safety Net Project, I sensed LSC’s ‘do what it takes’ attitude toward client service, reflecting lawyers’ two-part role as both legal counselors and general advisors. I therefore especially appreciated this chance for guided practice in the whole spectrum of services that attorneys must know how to offer, an opportunity uniquely available in the Veterans’ Clinic and Safety Net Project.”


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