Okechi Ogbuokiri ’10
Associate General Counsel, JCCA, New York
Read My Story
Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) is an intensive eight-credit, first-year course that teaches students legal skills within the complex interplay among law and diversity, values, and institutional power.
The course combines a traditional first-year legal research and writing curriculum using simulation-based assignments with real-life work on a social justice project for a community organization or agency. The LSSC curriculum focuses on the wide array of lawyering skills necessary for practice in the 21st century, including critical analysis and problem solving, team lawyering and cross-cultural competency. The course also challenges students to grapple with law as a social construct and its impact on historically marginalized groups in society.
The entire first-year class of students is organized into small sections (“Law Offices”) of approximately 12 students. Each student Law Office is then partnered with a community-based or advocacy organization to work on complex medium to large-scale social justice project(s) throughout their first year. The students are closely supervised by faculty members with specialized knowledge in the subject area. The projects typically involve one or more social justice agenda items that the organization has not had the time or resources to tackle. Most projects involve both legal and investigative field research components. Check out the list of past organizations served.
In the spring, each Law Office team produces a publishable report with its findings. The team also provides a highly creative, often multimedia-based oral presentation to its partner organization and the entire LSSC class.
The hallmark of the LSSC Social Justice Program is a team pedagogy that teaches students how to use law as a tool for social change. Each year, LSSC teams of students undertake community lawyering social justice projects.
For the organizations served, the program acts as a closely supervised student think tank. Each client organization receives more than 2,000 pro bono hours of work on a social justice agenda item of their choosing. Through the work of students, faculty, alumni⁄ae and staff, the LSSC Social Justice Program annually donates more than 20,000 hours of pro bono service to its select client organizations.
Client organizations must apply to the program with strong proposals that include both library and field research components. Each year, more than 100 organizations from around the country apply to the program. Potential client organizations may be interested in examples of some recent local and national projects to harness ideas for their own proposals. Here is a non-exhaustive list of abstract of projects conducted by the program. All reports are available through the client organization and are on file with the LSSC program. To obtain a copy of any of the reports contact Legal Skills in Social Context Program Coordinator, Jennifer True at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please select from the respective index links below to view LSSC project abstracts by category:
Children’s Law Center— LSSC student teams have conducted several projects on behalf of the Children’s Law Center of Lynn. In one project, the team produced a thoroughly researched report proposing means of ensuring that children knowingly and intelligently made decisions, with their concomitant criminal process and life-long implications, when tendering a plea in juvenile court. The recommendations included thoughtful and creative child-friendly versions of the documents and colloquy used, which at the time of the project were identical to the adult documents. The project assisted the client in developing practitioners’ articles and persuading juvenile court judges and administrators of the need for change on this topic. In another project, an LSSC student team examined the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in applying the 1990 and 1996 amendments to the Youth Offender Law, G.L. c. 200 in various counties within the state at two key juvenile justice process points: pre-trial detentions and indictments. Students researched statutory changes, legislative history and policy implications of the youthful offender law, and investigated, reported on, and compared and contrasted the collection and reporting techniques used by agencies that maintain data on Massachusetts' youth charges and convictions. Finally, the student team assessed the social, economic and racial impact on juveniles designated under c. 200.
Justice Resource Institute— LSSC student teams have conducted several projects on behalf of the Justice Resource Institute (“JRI”), an advocacy organization that serves at-risk and homeless youth. In one project, an LSSC student team helped JRI increase access to justice for homeless juveniles and laid the foundation for status-changing legislation. Legal research included analysis of selected issues in: emancipation law; Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children; the regulatory structure for court appointed counsel and guardians ad litem in DSS proceedings; and federal law on child support and child welfare. Field research developed further anecdotal information on the perceived barriers to a mature minor rule for legal services. A second project completed extensive research on youth access to legal representation and resources. The team developed a rigorously analyzed report studying the nation's laws on emancipation, mature minors, legal access and shelter restrictions. The final work product included a sophisticated website with charts that linked to relevant case law and statutes, as well as an in-depth comparative analysis of the laws in six jurisdictions. The client has adopted the website adopted by the LSSC student team, and uses this substantial foundation as the basis for proposing status-altering legislation for homeless youths in the Commonwealth.
Anchorage Youth Court— On behalf of the Anchorage Youth Court (“AYC”), an LSSC student team produced a comprehensive, approximately 400 page deliverable consisting of a trial skills manual, rules of criminal procedure and rules of evidence so that the AYC could extend their current youth court program from sentencing of individuals who have pled guilty to include criminal trials for contested charges. The law student team’s goal was to create the blueprint for a youth-oriented trial program founded on principles of restorative justice, striking a balance between normative due process values and a culture of respect and youth empowerment. The model even included a youth jury trial program, unlike any in existence at the time. The law student team strived to create a manual which was accessible to high school youth, and so, unable to test the model on Alaskan youth, the law student team partnered with high school students at the Social Justice Academy in Hyde Park, Boston, who worked very closely with the law student team. Both the final deliverable and the process of its creation were youth-empowering, and the final product opened the door to several more years of partnership between Northeastern University of Law and the Social Justice Academy, as well as many more years of restorative justice work.
Office of MA Senator Karen Spilka— LSSC student teams have conducted two research projects on behalf of the Office of Massachusetts Senator Karen Spilka. In the first year, students conducted a research project on Children in Need of Services (“CHINS”) reform legislation. Children and families often enter the CHINS system because other community and governmental institutions have been ineffective in assisting them, but the CHINS system itself has been criticized for ineffectiveness. The project goal was to investigate legal frameworks of children's rights in international and foreign law, investigate best practices in four other US states, and then to propose specific procedural recommendations for proposed changes in Massachusetts law. The team worked closely with the Social Justice Academy Youth Court project (described below). In the second year of this project, these two projects were combined. The LSSC student team developed a detailed model for a free-standing youth court based on restorative justice principles to assist youth in the CHINS system, or who would be in the CHINS system but for the new diversionary measures. This youth court would be established as a pilot project in the new CHINS reform legislation. The final product consisted of legislative recommendations to create this pilot program, and eventually a system of restorative justice based youth courts statewide as a diversionary program for the Juvenile Court System.
Social Justice Academy Youth Court— LSSC student teams have conducted two projects for, or in conjunction with, the Hyde Park High School Educational Complex Social Justice Academy (“SJA”), which has presented LSSC with a multi-year proposal to develop a restorative justice youth court model for the Commonwealth. The overall goal of this project was to implement the restorative justice LSSC/SJA Peer Justice System, and model it for the Boston public school system. This system of school community self-governance and healing has been developed in response to the growing violence and disciplinary issues within public schools throughout the nation. The first year of the project consisted of two parts: 1) development of a youth court pilot model for use in the SJA's own disciplinary work, and 2) an examination of the potential for interplay between a youth court model and the Child in Need of Services (“CHINS”) diversionary system in the juvenile courts. In the second year of the project, students focused on conducting research to ensure that the peer justice model was in compliance with all state and federal Special Education and English Language Learners laws, and assisted in creating a data collection system to monitor the success of the restorative justice peer justice system.
Center for Family Connections— On behalf of the Center for Family Connections, an LSSC student team created a case plan for a (future) civil rights attorney in the Boston area, as part of the fight to assure access to original birth certificates for people born in Massachusetts between 1974 and 2008. In Massachusetts, original birth certificates used to be sealed to protect those who were adopted from the stigma of “illegitimacy.” Today, sealed records are instead considered an emblem of inferiority, and many adopted people are denied information that automatically accrues to all other citizens. This project sought to identify legal options to address these obstacles. The case plan developed by the LSSC student team addresses each of the possible due process and equal protection arguments that could be made, as well as a brief analysis of a potential First Amendment claim.
National Center for Lesbian Rights— On behalf of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects to improve the lives of LGBT families and youth. One team studied the legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths housed in state juvenile justice facilities, who are subjected to discriminatory or inappropriate treatment on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, the project researched the state-law environment in twelve selected states and the District of Columbia to identify and analyze potential causes of action that might be used to address the types of mistreatment commonly encountered by such youths. The final product was a report surveying the law in each of the fourteen jurisdictions, accompanied by model briefs synthesizing the law of two characteristic jurisdictions. Another team conducted a research project to improve access to family law services for low-income LGBT families and identify legal steps that same-sex parents can take to protect their families and children from the risk of separation from a parent and the resulting loss of health insurance and social security benefits. A third team continued the work of the prior team, and continued to help the NCLR’s Family Protection program provide legal resources to both attorneys and LGBT individuals. A fourth team updated and prepared a resource packet for practitioners and the public on domestic partnership benefits. Legal research examined the advantages and disadvantages such benefits in probate law and taxation, and the legal ramifications of couples’ identification on partnership registries in contrast with legal wedlock. Field research included review of employer practices and policies that offer domestic partner benefits, municipal domestic partner registries, sample non-discrimination statutes, and domestic partner insurance underwriting plans.
National Health Law Program— On behalf of the National Health Law Program, a LSSC student team researched the state statutes, regulations, and sub-regulatory documents in all 50 states to determine the procedural due process protections established in designing the Separate State Children’s Health Insurance Program (“SCHIP”). SCHIP was enacted by Congress in 1997 as a block grant to expand health coverage to children whose parents were ineligible for Medicaid but could not afford health insurance. The student team recommended best practices that the client can use in assisting state advocates across the country.
Resilience Advocacy Project— On behalf of the Resilience Advocacy Project (“RAP”), LSSC student teams conducted two projects. In the first, the team analyzed the obstacles facing low-income teen fathers in New York State, specifically those teen fathers actively attempting to fulfill their child support obligations. The report discussed obstacles encountered by teen fathers before court involvement, during court involvement and unrelated to court involvement, and described select national and local initiatives which successfully provide various social, educational and vocational services to teen fathers. The report concluded with several recommendations to RAP of advocacy areas to explore in the future. In the second project, the student team researched best practices for improving teen parents’ access to cash assistance under TANF, and described the policies and practices implemented in Massachusetts, California and Illinois. The team examined challenges in the application process, case management, the education requirement, the living requirement, practices regarding the tolling of the lifetime limit for TANF benefits. The final report made recommendations for future advocacy work in this area.
The Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate— On behalf of the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate, a LSSC student team conducted a research project into reforming and improving the Rogers process, which is the system of procedures for obtaining consent for the administration of antipsychotic medication to children in state custody. Students conducted legal research and investigative field research with key stakeholders in Massachusetts, identified areas where the stakeholders would like to see reform, engaged in a legal analysis of the possible changes to the Rogers process, and concluded with recommendations.
Washington Office of Public Defense (Parents Representation Program)— On behalf of the Parents Representation Program of the Washington Office of Public Defense, a LSSC student team created a guide comprised of Quick-Cites of Washington State and Federal cases relating to the termination of parental rights. The guide is designed to assist lawyers representing parents in understanding precedent, and to provide them with a road map for research.
Clubhouse Family Legal Support Project— On behalf of the Clubhouse Family Legal Support Project, an LSSC student team conducted a research project analyzing how courts apply the best interest of the child standard in custody disputes involving parents with mental illness. The student team examined fifty state statutes that define the best interest of the child language and analyzed the different language used in these statutes when addressing mental illness. The student team also reviewed seventy-five child custody cases that involved a parent with a mental illness and distilled the common variables that influence the courts’ child custody decisions. The team found that currently, seven state statutes allow courts to consider a parent’s mental illness in custody decisions only if the illness impacts the child or the parent’s relationship with the child. The student team concludes by advocating for the more widespread adoption of this standard.
Juvenile Courts of Lowell and Dorchester— On behalf of the Juvenile Courts of Lowell and Dorchester, Massachusetts, an LSSC student team created the model for a free-standing, restorative justice-based diversionary program for youth to be piloted in Lowell and Dorchester, designed to work within existing systems. Building on the work done in several prior projects, the students designed a program to help break the “school to prison pipeline” for youth in Dorchester and Lowell, and create alternatives to juvenile court involvement that empower youth and focus on repairing harm and healing communities. In order to create their model for this Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion Program (“JCRJD”), law students talked to a wide variety of stakeholders in the courts, schools, and community, including defense attorneys and district attorneys. The final deliverable contains a description of the social problem to be addressed, a brief history of restorative practices, existing restorative justice programs for youth around the country and what JCRJD can learn from them, a pilot model and organizational structure, and a preliminary budget. The deliverable also explains in detail what diversion into the program will look like from a number of agencies, and at different points in the spectrum of litigation.
The WAGE Project, Inc.— On behalf of Women Are Getting Even (“W.A.G.E.”), LSSC student teams have conducted numerous projects aimed at helping to close the wage gap between men and women. In one recent project, an LSSC student team created new website content aimed at empowering women to help close the wage gap. The team analyzed five states’ employment discrimination laws, updated existing website content, and participated in a Ford Foundation grant study of consent decrees. The following year, an LSSC student team analyzed gender discrimination statutes in Maryland and Louisiana to create a web-based resource regarding gender discrimination, and investigated the consent decree successfully adopted by the Boston Police Department between 1980 and 2004. In a third project, the student team continued its state statutory analysis on gender discrimination laws in select states, and examined Alternative Dispute Resolution options such as Negotiation, Mediation and Arbitration as alternatives to litigation for women facing employment discrimination.
In a fourth project, the student team closely studied the options for and barriers faced by women who are discriminated against based on more than one aspect of their identity, such as their sex plus their race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, and/or religion. While women in certain racial groups have been recognized as distinct subclasses and afforded specific federal protection against employment discrimination, this area of law remains largely undeveloped and unrecognized, and defining women as “whole people” has proven tragically difficult in a system that compartmentalizes individual elements of identity. The student team first discusses intersectionality theory, then moves on to detailed analysis of the development of discrimination law in two specific intersections: sex with race, and with sexual orientation. The student team then continues the work of a prior project into alternative dispute resolution, looking at how mediation and negotiation, as alternatives to litigation, allow women to address discrimination on a more individualized basis. Lastly, the team adds two more states (North Carolina and Pennsylvania) to WAGE’s website detailing gender-based employment anti-discrimination laws around the country.
A fifth project built on prior student teams’ work on intersectionality and ADR. In one part of the project, students examined the possibility of amending Title VII to provide relief to people facing intersectional discrimination. The report includes case studies of four past attempts to expand Title VII’s protections through amendment, and provides support for potential supporters of an intersectional amendment campaign. In the second part of the project, the students built on prior teams’ work on ADR and investigated the major factors compelling companies to implement mediation programs and policies, as well as best practices that are most beneficial for employers and employees.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights— On behalf of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one project, an LSSC student team conducted a project to explore the legality of a national cognitive test that purports validity for every entry-level position. The student team focused its research on the possible disparate impact such a testing system may have on minority and immigrant populations. A second LSSC student team investigated whether the use of background checks (including criminal record checks) by employers during the hiring process may violate the requirements of equal employment law. The final report for this project included policy recommendations for legislators, as well as guidance for employers and job-seekers regarding the proper use of background checks.
Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts— On behalf of the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts (“LACCM”), LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one project, an LSSC student team conducted a project to help to remove barriers to the safe and successful siting in the City of Worcester of group homes that assist populations with special needs, such as runaway youth, substance abusers, pregnant and parenting teens and homeless individuals. In a second project, an LSSC student team looked to expand opportunities for minority-owned businesses, and in particular immigrant–owned businesses, in the City of Worcester. It examined whether the City of Worcester and other local governments can create legal incentives, programs or preferences for such businesses, the legal issues presented by these preferences and how to design programs that will withstand legal challenges. The student team also recommended creative ways for immigrants and minorities who have been shut out of traditional banking practices to acquire capital for business start-up and expansion. The team’s exhaustive presentation of findings included: discussion of the economic and social benefits of minority small businesses; discussion of the realities of discrimination faced by immigrant and minority small businesses; discussion of the current programs and strategies used outside of Worcester to promote minority small businesses; analysis of constitutional restraints on state preference programs for minorities; and investigative research into the opinions of the interested stakeholders. The report concluded with set of categorical proposals to benefit immigrant and minority small business owners.
Institute on Race and Justice— On behalf of the Institute on Race and Justice (“IRJ”), LSSC student teams conducted several projects. One team conducted a project on the methods by which states are collecting data on police racial profiling practices. This team prepared model legislation for the implementation of a best-practices data collection system. Students researched current practices and legislation (both enacted and pending) nationwide and analyzed the efficacy of a wide range of approaches to data collection. The final product detailed the team’s findings and analysis, and included a detailed spreadsheet summarizing practices nationwide, the materials for a comprehensive website with state-by-state findings and data, and a draft of model legislation. A second LSSC team, on behalf of the Project for Civil Rights and Restorative Justice, sought to build on the reparations for slavery movement and to explore legislative remedies to recognize and acknowledge (e.g. through apology and/or reparations) harms suffered by civil rights activists. The student team then compiled information on the use of pardons in several targeted states, identified suitable pardon candidates, and developed a manual for pardon applicants.
State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance— On behalf of the State Office of Minority and Women Business Assistance (“SOMWBA”), a student LSSC team conducted multi-jurisdictional research on streamlining minority and women-owned business enterprise certification programs to assure all eligible persons receive certification and in a timely manner. Legal research included an analysis of statutory and regulatory language empowering the agency, and related case law. This project required an understanding of the intersection of a state’s political climate and the resulting functions of its agencies, and the student team grappled with the complexities of an agency that must serve multiple client populations.
Migrant Farmworkers Justice Project— On behalf of the Migrant Farmworkers Justice Project, an LSSC student team assessed the viability of anti-slavery, peonage, and racketeering claims against growers in Florida whose product is a result of the labor of migrant farmworkers. The student team researched and synthesized complex legal issues, and was able to strategize theories and process about how to address the problem of exploitation of these workers.
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders— On behalf of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, an LSSC student team developed a popular legislative education plan to support legislative efforts to expand civil rights protections to Massachusetts transgender people under G.L. c. 151B; G.L. c. 272, § 98; and G.L. c. 76 § 5. Legal research included analysis of proposed legislation compared and contrasted with legislation from sister jurisdictions. Field research garnered anecdotal information from the transgender community to be incorporated into the legislative educational plan. Surveys and polls were conducted to determine and develop strategies for conveying the educational messages effectively.
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination— On behalf of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one project, an LSSC student team examined the potential disparate impact that property insurance practices have on communities of color. In a separate section, this project also laid the groundwork for an analysis of correlations between employer size and unlawful employment discrimination. The research included an exploration of complex federal and state law, as well as interviews of practitioners engaged in insurance and employment regulation. The team concluded its report with a myriad of regulatory, litigious and practical recommendations for the client. In a second project, an LSSC student team explored the legal and legislative implications of (and measures to abate) the underutilized provisions of G.L. c. 151B, § 3, a provision that establishes an advisory board, representative of employers and the public, to investigate and annually report to the Governor and Legislature on discrimination in the Commonwealth. Legal research included legislative history on the statute and a comparative study of jurisdictions whose counterpart commissions have similar statutory provisions. To tease out the actual responsibilities and activities undertaken by such advisory boards, field research included interviews of board members in sister states. The end product was a comprehensive report of law, policies and recommendations for the potential uses of § 3.
Texas Civil Rights Project— On behalf of the Texas Civil Rights Project, an LSSC student team developed a self-help and general practitioner’s manual to pursue Title IX actions in evaluating and seeking remedies for disparate athletic programs in Texas junior and senior high schools. Legal research explored primary and secondary authority on point, including settlements, consent decrees and orders. Field research reviewed data on Title IX violations and compliance in schools and also included stakeholder interviews.
LAMBDA Legal— On behalf of LAMBDA Legal, an LSSC student team conducted a two-pronged project to develop an educational campaign and supporting materials to help non-transgender (cis-gender) people, including cis-gender gay, lesbian and bisexual people, understand that all human beings have a gender identity and expression, and that every gender non-conforming person is vulnerable to discrimination on that basis, and thus should have recourse to legal protections. The project developed model briefs for litigation based on four fictional fact patterns. The student team analyzed a possible cause of action for each scenario based on the facts of each case. The ultimate goal was to determine whether each plaintiff could bring his/her cause of action in the relevant jurisdiction, and how successful each cause of action might be. Hypothetical claims were based on state law on perceived sexual orientation, Title VII sex stereotyping, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and local ordinances protecting gender identity and expression. The student team also created educational materials to be used by Lambda Legal’s Community Outreach unit to raise awareness about gender identity and expression.
Legal Momentum— On behalf of Legal Momentum, an LSSC student team researched the legality of local ordinances to promote the inclusion of women in the construction industry. The student team analyzed ordinances in four jurisdictions: Boston, MA; Worcester, MA; New Haven, CT; and San Francisco, CA. After discussing the background on the issue of the scarcity of women in construction and why workforce participation goals are needed to rectify the imbalance, the student team reviewed the successes and obstacles faced by each jurisdiction, and the legal challenges to these preferential ordinances as presented by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The report analyzes both the standards of review for each of these challenges as well as the criteria that need to be met to survive them. The report concludes with a discussion of best practices and procedures to enhance opportunities for women in the skilled construction trades.
San Francisco Department on the Status of Women— On behalf of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women (“SFDSW”) an LSSC student team conducted two projects. In one project, students produced a comparative analysis of legal framework and implementation of work-life balance policies between corporations in the US and the European Union. The report looks at four main categories of work-life programs: family leave options, workforce exit and re-entry programs (including childcare options), flexible work options, and company wellness programs. The report discusses the Family Medical Leave Act, its shortcomings, and how state law and private employer policies have helped fill in the shortcomings in federal law. The report concludes that flexible work arrangements are not mutually exclusive with meeting business demands and, drawing from both domestic and European examples, details a number of options for US companies seeking top provide their employees with flexible work options that exceed what is mandated by law.
In a second project, the student team conducted a project to develop practical tools and resources for companies to improve gender inequality in the workplace. The students created a legal guide that informs companies of their obligations under domestic laws and international treaties that address gender inequality, and created a reporting tool that companies can use to monitor their progress with regards to gender inequality. Finally, the student team compiled a list of challenges and recommendations for companies to consider when implementing the legal guide and reporting tool.
The New England Innocence Project— On behalf of the New England Innocence Project, LSSC student teams have conducted numerous projects. In one, coordinated by the Boston law firm of Testa, Hurwitz, and Thibeault, an LSSC student team assisted the client organization in identifying, investigating and ultimately exonerating, through DNA testing, persons in New England who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. The research involved a detailed analysis of all state and federal statutes currently enacted or proposed that provide for post-exoneration compensation in any form. The final report provided a comparative analysis of these statutes, an assessment of how the compensation provided addresses or fails to address the experiences of post-exonerated individuals interviewed by the student team, and a series of detailed recommendations for model legislation.
A second team of students explored the legal foundation for access to DNA databases by defense counsel. The student team reviewed applicable laws governing access to data bases in all 50 states, as well as on the federal level, to formulate recommendations, legal arguments, protocols, and potential legislative or other proposals, to ensure equitable defense access to DNA indexing systems. A third student team completed extensive research on existing Innocence Commissions and analogous bodies. This research included a comprehensive analysis of these agencies’ similarities and differences. The students completed an international comparative law analysis concerning individual rights and the criminal justice systems in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services— On behalf of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, an LSSC student team conducted multi-jurisdictional research on feasibility of replicating, in other states, the Rapid Response to Brutality Project, responsible for a substantial drop in Massachusetts guard on prisoner assaults. Research included examination of laws allowing legal professionals access to prisoners; federal and state laws supporting a right to photograph clients; and international human rights laws relating to prison brutality. The final product included a report providing a state-by-state strategic analysis and rationale of jurisdictions that may accept such a program.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute— On behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an LSSC student team analyzed the criminal offender record laws and practices federally, in the New England states, and in New York to determine the parameters governing access to one jurisdiction’s criminal offender records by parties in another jurisdiction. The reported findings, compiled into a finely tuned practitioners’ report, clarified the myriad gaggle of statutory, regulatory, and private practices for the client.
Innocence Project of New Orleans— On behalf of the Innocence Project of New Orleans, an LSSC student team conducted two projects. In the first, the students researched and evaluated the Mississippi Public Records Act (“MPRA”) and prepared a memo on the ways in which MPRA exemptions serve as a barrier to convicted defendants’ provable claims of innocence, as well as on suggested reforms to the MPRA that could help the client in its mission to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. The final product recommends a two prong strategy of targeted litigation cases with characteristics similar to those that have proved successful in other states, coupled with an educational outreach program aimed at generating legislative change, in cooperation with sympathetic organizations and key leaders statewide. In a second project, students researched prosecutorial misconduct in Louisiana, including current methods in place to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct, and offered best practices from other states to help Louisiana remedy its insufficient accountability processes.
Prisoners’ Rights Clinic— On behalf of the Prisoners’ Rights Clinic at Northeastern University School of Law, an LSSC student team examined the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information statute and Criminal History Systems Board, Department of Corrections and Parole Board regulations to develop arguments challenging the routine practice of denying student attorneys representing inmates before the Parole Board access to portions of their clients’ files. Ultimately, the student team recommended extremely promising administrative and judicial remedies.
Stanley Jones Clean Slate Project— On behalf of the Stanley Jones Clean Slate Project (“SJCSP”), a Boston organization in which ex-offenders work to make a difference in the lives of other ex-offenders, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. The gateway to one project was opened when in August 2002, in response to litigation, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services promulgated regulations establishing a process by which its subcontractors could hire certain ex-offenders. An LSSC student team compiled information that the SJCSP can use in encouraging Massachusetts employers to hire ex-offenders. Students performed extensive statutory and judicial research on the Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) system and on issues relating to employer liability/negligent hiring, and compiled research on federal and state incentive programs and tax credits. They also interviewed a cross-section of both ex-offenders and employers to realistically assess barriers to employment. The final product was a report that SJCSP shares electronically with other similar advocacy groups on its website, and uses in legislative and individual-employer advocacy. In another project, an LSSC student team developed a public education model on impact litigation on criminal record checks and CORI law-based employment discrimination. Legal research included critical analysis of the legislative history of the Criminal History Systems Board (“CHSB”) and laws governing CORI; the policies and application of the CORI law; the authority and operation of the CHSB; cross jurisdictional comparison of the application duration and processes of CORI in other states; and state and federal common law and legislation on CHSB authority and CORI application. The field research included interviews, literature reviews and resource and public opinion information gathering.
Prisoners Assistance Project— On behalf of the Prisoners Assistance Project, a clinical program at Northeastern Law School, an LSSC student team conducted a project to substantially revise and rewrite the 1986 Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services Sentence Calculation Handbook, a guide for prisoners to use in determining the proper length of their sentences. This work involved the careful analysis and parsing of statutory amendments and intervening judicial decisions, particularly the 1994 passage of the Massachusetts Truth in Sentencing Law that changed the method of computation and developed complicated differences in calculation depending upon the time that the crime was committed. The final product was a user-friendly manual with a 100-page sentencing calculation table.
Youth Advocacy Project— On behalf of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Youth Advocacy Project, an LSSC student team analyzed the Boston Strategy crime prevention program, focusing on potential violations of confidentiality and civil liberties violations by overly aggressive police tactics, and co-optation of neighborhood leaders, youth workers and the faith community. The final report addressed the Boston Strategy’s successes, failures, potential legal challenges, benefits and costs to children and their families and any discernible impact on public safety.
Latino Health Institute— On behalf of the Latino Health Institute (“LHI”), an LSSC student team reviewed, reported on and made recommendations about LHI’s obligations under state and federal law to comply with requirements to submit all employees to Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) checks, and to disqualify any candidates for employment that do not meet the strict regulatory standards adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Because LHI provides substance abuse counseling, the organization wishes to hire counselors who have experience substance abuse and addiction, but many otherwise qualified candidates also have criminal records reflecting their past with drugs. Also, due the disproportionate number of minorities in the prison system, LHI was finding it difficult to hire counselors and outreach personnel who are of similar ethnic and racial background as their service population. The new CORI requirements thus put LHI in the untenable position of being an unwilling partner in the continued oppression of the community it serves. The final report analyzed the LHI’s options under the current regulations, and closely followed the events of the substantial public outcry concurrent with the project, demanding that the CORI regulations in question be changed to permit organizations like LHI more flexibility in hiring qualified staff.
Indigent Criminal Defense Clinic— On behalf of the Indigent Criminal Defense Clinic of the Emory School of Law, an LSSC student team created a comprehensive Georgia Eyewitness Identification Case Outline which surveys the range of issues and cases with the purpose of informing defense attorneys to more effectively represent their clients in cases where the prosecution uses eyewitness identification as evidence. The final deliverable provided specific recommendations for these defense attorneys in order to encourage more skillful litigation in eyewitness identification cases, and to reduce mistaken identifications in Georgia and the wrongful convictions based on these mis-identifications. The project was conducted as part of the national eyewitness identification reform effort.
ACLU Technology and Liberty Program— On behalf of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program, an LSSC student team addressed erosion of U.S. Constitution Fourth Amendment privacy provisions in the face of rapidly evolving technologies, and the potential role of stronger state constitutional privacy guarantees as an alternative source of protections. U.S. Supreme Court cases like U.S. v. Miller and Smith v. Maryland have narrowed the scope of “reasonable expectations of privacy” and created the “third party doctrine,” which holds that a person does not retain any privacy interests in information held by “third parties” because the disclosure to the third party was voluntary. The final deliverable examined the ways by which some states have provided their citizens with broader protections than those offered by the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of Fourth Amendment, discussed the “third party doctrine” and state divergence from it, and surveyed recent technology used by law enforcement and the applicable state and federal jurisprudence. The student team produced a strategy memo for a litigant wishing to persuade a state court to interpret state constitutional privacy concerns more broadly than the Fourth Amendment, with a thorough appendix as a source for supporting cases.
Boston Area Colleges Election Improvement Program— On behalf of the Boston Area Colleges Election Improvement Project, an LSSC student team examined the legal and practical aspects of how states have sought to regulate Election Day exit polling and how courts have treated attempts to inhibit the process, particularly in light of First Amendment protections. Exit polling is increasingly important in redistricting disputes, and in assessing voting barriers facing various marginalized communities. The student team examined statutes and case law related to exit polling in five states: Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Students also conducted interviews with exit pollsters and state officials in those states to examine how these laws were being implemented “on the ground.” From these findings, the project developed suggestions to ensure the rights of all exit pollsters and the validity of their data. The final deliverable included guidance concerning constitutional challenges to overly restrictive regulations, and best practices for the regulation of exit polling.
Domestic Violence Institute at Boston Medical Center— On behalf of the Domestic Violence Institute-Boston Medical Center, a clinical program at Northeastern University School of Law, an LSSC student team conducted a research project to investigate and improve the availability and quality of domestic violence services at Boston Medical Center (“BMC”) for victims of domestic violence with limited English Proficiency (“LEP”). The team researched federal and Massachusetts regulations of interpreter services, as well as additional regulations regarding professional standards, to determine how well BMC was in compliance with those regulations, and found BMC to be in general compliance. The team investigated the challenges LEP individuals face communicating with their healthcare providers about domestic violence and how the complexities of cross-cultural interaction often interfere with and impede the delivery of appropriate services and support. The team compared BMC’s approach to LEP domestic violence services with the strategies utilized by other area hospitals and LEP service providers in the community, and presented recommendations as to how BMC might begin to improve its interpreter services.
Victim Rights Law Center— On behalf of the Victim Rights Law Center (“VRLC”), LSSC student teams conducted several projects. In one project, students prepared a report to aid advocates representing victims of sexual harassment and assault, to provide Massachusetts school districts with a survey of the current deficiencies within their policies and to indicate how local schools have responded to those deficiencies. The students analyzed the content of twenty-six Massachusetts school district policies in comparison to thirty-seven federal compliance indicators promulgated by the Department of Education and thirty-six points of comparison with the policies of the Boston Public Schools. Students researched relevant administrative authority and case law, including the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights. Students also conducted interviews with school administrators, legal scholars, juvenile justice system practitioners and lawyers practicing in the field of sexual assault. Research culminated in sample model policies with an emphasis on 1. due process rights, 2. privacy and confidentiality, and 3. retaliation. In another project, students researched the problem that campus disciplinary proceedings in several Boston area colleges rarely—if ever—result in sanctions against an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. The project had two components. First, students investigated and compared disciplinary proceedings (and their results) in selected Boston area colleges to those disciplinary proceedings at colleges where sanctions are far more frequently imposed, in an effort to identify factors that may explain why so few disciplinary proceedings in the Boston area colleges result in sanctions. Second, the project performed research to answer a very specific legal inquiry posed by the client VRLC, namely: “Can a class action lawsuit under Title IX be used to address the inadequacy of campus disciplinary proceedings against alleged perpetrators of sexual assault? And, if so, what are the prerequisites for filing such a lawsuit?”
Women’s Resource Center— On behalf of the Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties, an advocacy organization in Rhode Island aimed at helping victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives, an LSSC student team analyzed the current stalking statutes and protection order laws in ten jurisdictions, the relevant case law, and the development of a legislative proposal in Rhode Island which ideally would permit any victim of stalking to efficiently and inexpensively obtain a civil protection order with criminal sanctions. Library research included extensive review and in-depth analysis of statutory and case law from ten jurisdictions. Field research included interviews with judges, law enforcement officers, attorneys, advocacy organizations, and victims of stalking.
Jane Doe, Inc.— On behalf of Jane Doe, Inc., a leading advocacy organization for domestic violence survivors, an LSSC student team conducted a project to address a range of legal issues (including potential tort liability and privacy protections) affecting the roles played by health care providers in screening for and documenting domestic violence. The goal of the project was to further the client’s efforts to encourage hospitals to implement effective protocols for screening and documentation, by clarifying the ways that adoption of such protocols would affect potential provider legal liability relating to domestic violence. The final product was a report surveying and analyzing the relevant law, and applying it in furtherance of the client’s objectives.
Vermont Legal Aid— On behalf of Vermont Legal Aid, the primary provider of that state’s indigent civil legal representation, an LSSC student team examined the unavailability of interpreters for Vermont civil proceedings involving parties with limited English proficiency. In particular, the student team focused on the challenges that face survivors of domestic violence whose limited English skills interfere with their ability to obtain restraining orders against their abusers. The student team explored the scope and implications of this problem in Vermont, analyzed a number of potential causes of action (both federal and state) that might support an enforceable right to free interpreter services, and recommended possible legislative and court rule reforms to implement a remedy.
Help for Abused Women and Children— On behalf of Help for Abused Women and Children (“HAWC”), now known as Healing Abuse, Working for Change, LSSC student teams conducted two projects. In one project, the student team examined how civil legal mandates, such as Title IX, the IDEA and Section 504, may provide alternative options for schools dealing with teen dating violence. In the second project, the student team explored the challenges of enforcing civil restraining orders between students in high school, in the context of the larger social problem of teen dating violence. The student team offered advice to HAWC on how to work better with school officials and courts to implement these restraining orders, as well as on options for students seeking protection who do not qualify for a civil restraining order.
Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys— On behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (“MAHA”), an LSSC student team conducted a research project to advise bilingual education advocates in Massachusetts. Legal research included delineation of the interplay between applicable federal and state law (both statutory and case law), and school district implementation of those laws. The report comprised of two case studies, one on the right to English language development and to understand instruction, and the other on parent involvement in the pursuit of adequate bilingual education. The team concluded with recommendations of strategies for successful challenges to the state of education in schools.
Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts— On behalf of the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts, an LSSC student team conducted a project on bilingual education in the Worcester schools. The team looked at federal law and the provisions of a 1983 Consent Decree which is in conflict with state law (Question 2), and identified these conflicts in order to assess possible legal strategies for action to correct educational deficiencies for Limited English Proficiency (“LEP) students based on enforcement, termination or modification of the Consent Decree over Question 2. The team then offered specific legal strategies for enforcement and modification of the consent decree depending on what is best for LEP students.
The Public Education Network— On behalf of the Public Education network, an LSSC student team conducted a research project on college and career readiness (C&CR) programs, specifically the current conceptions of C&CR and what they might mean for American high school students. The student team researched the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the problems that led to reauthorizing the ESEA as No Child Left Behind, the unanticipated consequences of that statute. The team then considered how the C&CR standard is being implemented in several states, and considered the potential challenges in implementing C&CR
Greater Boston Legal Services, Elder Unit— On behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services, Elder Unit, LSSC student teams conducted two projects. In one, the students investigated abusive debt collections practices aimed at low-income debtors in small claims courts in the Greater Boston area. The project researched and developed effective pro se materials for the many pro se debtors, and developed a court-monitoring program to protect pro se consumers in these courts. In another project, the student team created a practitioner’s manual on how to advance elder care rights under the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, focusing on elder-specific and long term care-specific provisions where Massachusetts and other states have discretionary options. The manual included recommended advocacy approaches that GBLS and other low-income elder advocates may pursue to try to influence the Commonwealth’s discretionary decisions.
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.— On behalf of Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., which practices primarily in the area of Elder Law, an LSSC student team developed a client-centered brochure on the guardianship process in Florida, as well as a practitioners report both on recommended improvements in the legal process and on enhanced process access for non-English speaking clients, with particular emphasis on the cultural barriers in the Creole and Spanish speaking populations.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute— On behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an LSSC student team conducted a project to identify and research institutional barriers that bar people with criminal records from working in the health care field. Massachusetts nursing homes and hospitals currently have access to expanded criminal records including cases that were dismissed or ended in not guilty findings, creating a barrier to employment for many qualified applicants, with a disparate impact on people of color, especially women. The research focused on the viability of litigation under title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, while simultaneously exploring possible models for legislative reform. Students conducted a comparative study of the Fair Employment Acts in Hawaii and Wisconsin to inform policy recommendations for Massachusetts and ultimately recommended an informed, holistic approach.
Greater Boston Legal Services, Employment Unit— On behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services, Employment Unit, conducted a project researching language barriers to workers’ compensation. Massachusetts General Laws, c. 152, the Workers’ Compensation Act, is the exclusive remedy for workers injured in the workplace. For immigrants to this country, blue-collar work is the doorway to economic stability. Limited English proficiency is prevalent among this sector of the work force, while there is little accommodation for this reality in the administration of the Act. The LSSC student team assessed, through extensive field research, perceptions of the issue, and conducted multi-jurisdictional research on case law and regulatory approaches to this social justice problem in select states whose populations mirrored our own. Their reported findings concluded with a myriad of regulatory and practical recommendations for the client to advance to the Department of Industrial Accidents.
Latino American Health Institute— On behalf of the Latino American Health Institute, an LSSC student team sought to develop a culturally competent employment reference tool on the legal implications of working in the health and human services industries. Working closely with the client organization’s Latino/a core values, the LSSC team produced a rigorous and nuanced report critically analyzing nine areas of employment law including: workplace sexual harassment, family medical leave, workplace disabilities accommodations, confidentiality requirements for individual health information, workplace violence, employee drug testing and employment terminations. The client intends to use this product internally to fortify its human resources efforts.
Migrant Farmworker Justice Project— On behalf of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (“MFJP”), an advocacy organization located in Belle Glade, Florida that provides legal assistance to guest workers, an LSSC student team performed cutting-edge statutory and case law research to develop arguments defeating the presumption against extraterritorial application of U.S. labor laws in cases of retaliation against H-2A guest workers for exercising their rights. The project’s field research component involved interviews with H-2A workers regarding injuries sustained, worker complaints, and growers’ decisions to not rehire workers in response to the complaints. The final product was a memorandum detailing legal arguments and drawing creative analogies to other statutes and their judicial interpretations, for the client to share electronically with farm worker advocacy organizations throughout the country.
In another project, the LSSC student team conducted a two-prong project on reconciling federal regulations with migrant farmworker wage discrepancies. The students (1) answered the administrative law question of what typically occurs when a prior rule is reinstated in light of the potential for a period of regulatory void, and (2) weighed the options of pursuing either a class action lawsuit or multidistrict litigation in order to pursue back wages owed to H-2A workers. The students produced an Appellate Brief encompassing three of the most powerful arguments that the MFJP could present to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and produced a Strategy Memorandum for possible litigation.
New England Regional Council of Carpenters— On behalf of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, an LSSC student team researched worker misclassification in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The student team compared the practices in these three states to the practices in New York, considered a model due to its reputation as a leader in cracking down on the practice of misclassification. The report includes an analysis of federal policy regarding worker misclassification as well as best practices and proposals for change.
Carolina Legal Assistance— On behalf of Carolina Legal Assistance, a North Carolina organization providing legal representation to individuals with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, an LSSC student team conducted a project to investigate ways to support the development of community-based care alternatives for the service population, through the more effective use by North Carolina of Medicaid waiver programs designed to facilitate non-institutional care. The student’s wide-ranging research explored the parameters of the Medicaid waiver program, its use in North Carolina and other states, the impediments (legal, fiscal, and institutional) to full utilization of the waiver program, and potential litigation and non-litigation strategies to encourage more effective utilization. The final product was a report that provided a comprehensive overview of the operation of the Medicaid waiver program and its utilization in North Carolina and selected other states, as well as a range of strategic options for the client to pursue to further its objectives in North Carolina.
Tobacco Control Resource Center— On behalf of the Tobacco Control Resource Center, which recently merged into the Public Health Advocacy Institute, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one, an LSSC student team investigated the reasons that Massachusetts attorneys have been so inactive in bringing suits against Big Tobacco, and assessed the potential roadblocks to successful litigation. Students researched the history of tobacco litigation and explored advocacy possibilities aimed at damaging the tobacco industry and championing the rights of the public. The research included interviews with members of the Massachusetts plaintiffs bar and research into a range of areas of tort law and civil procedure relating to the concerns raised in these interviews. The final product included a report summarizing the field work and library research findings, together with a draft of an article debunking the primary myths underlying attorney reluctance to take on Big Tobacco, and detailed appendices summarizing the interviews and further developing several aspects of the research. In another project, an LSSC student team conducted a project that examined Massachusetts regulations, statutes and other policies which affect children’s exposure to secondhand smoke, also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (“ETS”). The team identified possible ways to expand legislation to increase protection, and examined possible legal protections under the United States Constitution, family law, tort law and disability law. The project culminated in a report to help the client better understand the ways in which the law can be used as a tool to address this problem, and the drawbacks and limitations to each approach.
Public Health Advocacy Institute— On behalf of Northeastern’s Public Health Advocacy Institute, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects relating to childhood obesity, marketing and school lunches. One student team investigated the potential of litigation as a tool to fight the widening American obesity epidemic. In particular, the student team explored the possible factual foundations for such litigation and analyzed the viability of lawsuits grounded in state consumer protection law that challenge the food industry’s marketing of high-caloric foods to children, focusing specifically on the law of five major jurisdictions. The final product set forth both factual and legal findings, together with drafts of model complaints appropriate to the applicable legal standards in each of the five covered states. Another LSSC student team conducted a project to explore and analyze the state and municipal sub-regulatory context of the National School Lunch Program, the federal statute which authorizes funds and regulates school lunches. The final product aimed to give the client a clear understanding of how schools actually implement this statute, so that the institute would be better equipped to provide recommendations to school departments on how they might reform the school food environment and serve healthier foods while staying in compliance with federal and state regulatory schemes. A third LSSC student team examined zoning and land use regulation as a possible means to control the availability and marketing of fast food and formula restaurants in low-income and minority areas in order to improve the health and welfare of residents. The final deliverable produced population-based zoning solutions to help communities fight childhood obesity.
Community Catalyst— On behalf of the Community Catalyst’s Prescription Access Litigation Project, an LSSC student team investigated potential legal constraints, both regulatory and litigious, on the utilization of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medications. The student team researched the economic and behavioral effects of such advertising on the utilization and cost of prescription drugs and analyzed a range of potential legal strategies that could be used to control excessive or problematic advertising. The final product was a report focusing on possible uses of either the federal regulatory framework or state consumer protection lawsuits as tools to mitigate the harmful impacts of direct-to-consumer drug advertising.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health— On behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (“MDPH”), an LSSC student team conducted a research project on the social impact and legal consequences of so-called “willful exposure” laws which, when enacted, criminalize engaging in certain high risk behaviors while knowing oneself to be HIV positive. Many jurisdictions have already responded to societal fears about the exposure and transmission of the HIV/AIDS disease by enacting criminalization statutes. By 2002, Massachusetts had come close to enacting such a law. The MDPH, HIV/AIDS unit, believed such legislation makes the work of public health officials harder as it creates disincentives for HIV positive individuals to be forthcoming, and sought to prevent such legislation in Massachusetts, or to limit its impact, by devising comprehensive programmatic best practices for arguable instances of willful exposure and transmission. The student team examined newly enacted willful exposure laws in several states, researched best practices in other jurisdictions, researched existing Massachusetts privacy and duty to warn laws and investigated alternatives to HIV-specific criminalization using already existing general criminal laws. The final report made several recommendations: first it suggested programs and practices which will reduce the spread of HIV altogether, reducing the chance of a high-profile exposure case which will lead to panic and criminalization; second, it laid out how laws already in existence could be sufficient to punish an actor if this were truly appropriate; and third, in the event of public outcry for legislation, it recommended a well-tailored and narrowly drawn statute to mitigate the stigma to those living with HIV.
Greater Boston Legal Services, Disability Unit— On behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services, Disability Unit, a LSSC student team examined the rights of the persons with disabilities to access the transportation services of the MBTA. The student team reviewed the existing sources of legal rights to transportation access for persons with disabilities, and focused on the available avenues for redress that are provided by various local, state and federal agencies when such rights are denied. The final product consisted of a draft guide to the available complaint mechanisms, directed both to individuals with disabilities and to the relevant advocacy community, and a report detailing the group's findings.
Justice Resource Institute— On behalf of the Justice Resource Institute, LSSC student teams conducted several research projects. In one project, focused on changing the legal status of homeless minors to allow them increased access to health care, the team investigated the possibility of amending the federally mandated Massachusetts 72-hour shelter restriction rule for youths, investigated alternative shelter service options, made legislative recommendations to modify statutes allowing youths to consent to routine healthcare, and suggested language for amending the Massachusetts Mature Minor Rule. In a second project, an LSSC student team focused on developing a comprehensive Boston city-wide system for the provision of HIV/AIDS legal services, with special focus on immigration law, social security and prisoner access to medical treatment. Research into the current legal landscape in each of these areas included, where applicable, statutes, regulations, case law, procedures and policies affecting persons living with HIV/AIDS. The project concluded with suggestions and next steps for JRI including working with other Boston-area service providers, strategizing new approaches to services for current clients, and using the team’s research findings to help develop future grant proposals.
In a third project, the student team produced a comprehensive practitioner’s manual examining privacy issues that affect inmates living with HIV/AIDS, and two Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQ”) brochures, one for inmates and one for practitioners. The practitioner’s manual compared and analyzed states, regulations, policies, procedures, and case law that have implications for the privacy rights of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS in five states and the federal prison system. The manual also analyzed legal tactics, both successful and unsuccessful, for reform on a broad range of issues impacting this population, compared and recommended correctional facility programs designed to educate and improve the lives of this population, and provided a series of recommendations for JRI to help further its goal of advocating for this particularly disempowered and vulnerable population. The two FAQ brochures provided easily accessible answers to the most critical HIV status and privacy-related questions that JRI must answer on behalf of both HIV-positive inmates, and the legal practitioners working on their behalf, in the state of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services— On behalf of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, an LSSC student team examined remedies for consigning seriously mentally ill inmates to solitary confinement. They conducted a state law multi-jurisdictional research of case law and subsequent regulatory change and also developed arguments that could be made for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their findings culminated in, rigorously detailed, cogent client regulatory and litigious recommendations on how seriously mentally ill inmates should be treated in Department of Corrections internal disciplinary procedures and practices.
Reproductive Rights Network— On behalf of the Reproductive Rights Network, an LSSC student team examined alternatives to the physicians-only laws and regulations prohibiting mid-level providers from performing certain types of abortions. Legal research examined the laws and practices on the issue in the six New England states. Field research explored the access tensions caused by Massachusetts present legal stance through interviews of ACLU practitioners, legislators and health care providers. The end product was a comprehensive report detailing legal avenues of expanding existing laws to midlevel providers. The client organization decided to submit aspects of the report to the next publication of Our Bodies Ourselves.
Asthma Regional Council— On behalf of the Asthma Regional Council (“ARC”), an LSSC student team researched building and sanitary codes in the six New England states to determine both whether these codes are effective enough in reducing asthma triggers and how effectively these codes are enforced by building inspectors. The team researched state and municipality demographic information to ensure that a range of localities were considered, looked at the impact of asthma on different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups, and researched whether each jurisdiction had adopted a state-wide asthma plan. The student team compared the language of the building codes as well as their enforcement with the guidelines provided by ARC and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), and interviewed individuals responsible for enforcing the codes at the state and municipal level throughout New England, including building inspectors, architects and fire marshals. The student team recommended legislative change, changes in inspection policies, increased training and education for state inspectors, and increased public education about the severity and impact of asthma.
Community Catalyst— On behalf of Community Catalyst, an LSSC student team assisted the client’s “Hospital Accountability Program” by investigating and preparing memoranda regarding state-based legal strategies and theories to help the uninsured and underinsured avoid exorbitant hospital debts. The project investigated ways to change hospital billing practices, explored the use of community benefits to alleviate overburdened patients, and examined ways to improve state insurance laws in order to increase health insurance coverage.
Committee for Public Counsel Services, Mental Health Litigation Unit— On behalf of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Mental Health Unit, a LSSC student team conducted a project on guardianship and the right to counsel in Massachusetts. On January 15, 2009, Gov. Patrick signed into law a form of the Uniform Probate Code, which established a new right to counsel in certain guardianship proceedings. The new statute is ambiguous uncertain key respects, including what notice will be required, how courts will appoint counsel, and how court-appointed counsel will be funded, as well as in other important ways. The student team examined several jurisdictions, including New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, Florida and Ohio, where the law provides a range of protections in guardianship proceedings, in order to identify best practices and offer recommendations for Massachusetts.
Drug Policy Alliance— On behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance, LSSC student teams conducted two projects. In one project, the student team explored Veterans’ access to mental healthcare/substance abuse treatment programs, and proposed legislative and policy changes that will increase their access to such services. The project began with a factual investigation into the scope and possible causes of the problem veterans now experience in accessing mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. The project then examined the various laws at both the federal and Massachusetts state level that either provide or impede veterans’ access to these vital treatment programs. The final report proposed changes to the law. In another project, the student team researched the new law legalizing marijuana possession in Massachusetts. The student team proposed several ways in which the intent of the new law can be better implemented. In the second project, the student team researched possible drug policy reform in Massachusetts. The students researched the sweeping drug policy reforms adopted in Portugal in 2000, proposed three models for the establishment and institutional location of a new Massachusetts agency referred to as the Council on Substance Abuse Evaluation, and identified obstacles to the adoption of the Portugal model in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus— On behalf of the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus, an LSSC student team conducted a project to explore prisoners’ rights to mental health services under Massachusetts and federal law (and particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act) and the extent to which current Massachusetts legislative proposals further the goal of securing mental health services for prisoners. The project also investigated the best legislative or administrative models from other states that enhance, if not guarantee, the provision of community-standard mental health services to incarcerated individuals. Finally, the project examined any documented gaps between the provision of mental health services to people of color and Caucasian prisoners, and researched the legal implications of such gaps including potential civil rights violations.
Medical Legal Partnership for Children— On behalf of the Medical Legal Partnership for Children at Boston Medical Center, a LSSC student teams conducted two projects. In the first project, students explored legal solutions to the problem of lack of adequate mental health services for children in Massachusetts. The project researched federal and state laws, and also explored how new legal and legislative reforms, including the "Rosie D" decision and the recent expansion of the Massachusetts Children Psychiatric Access Project (“MCPAP”), may increase the availability of services to certain child populations.
National Center for Law and Economic Justice— On behalf of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, an LSSC student team conducted three projects. In the first project, the student team researched the effectiveness of remote communication between government benefit agencies and individuals who are Deaf or heard of hearing. Under federal law, government agencies must communicate with individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing as effectively as with individuals who are not Deaf or hard of hearing, though in practice, there is still much work to be done to reach this goal. Students researched applicable federal law to provide a foundation for determining the compliance of remote communication processes of government agencies, and conducted investigative field research with representatives from government agencies and with advocates serving individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing in several states, including New York, Massachusetts, Texas and California. Students also thoroughly researched the possibilities and obstacles posed by several different remote communications technologies, both old and new. The students’ legal analysis and field research both inform the recommendation of widespread implementation of currently employed best practices, as well as novel solutions, to overcome these remote communication challenges. Finally, the students’ report addresses the relation to disability law, issues arising from confidentiality policies of government agencies with respect to third party facilitated conversation (e.g. relay operators, sign language interpreters), and proposed solutions.
In the second project, the student team researched website accessibility for disabled populations, including people who are blind or visually impaired, and people who have cognitive impairments. The team focused on the websites for three federally-funded programs that are implemented at the state level (Medicaid, SNAP and TANF), and five states (New York, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas). The project examines the legal framework for web accessibility, discusses the social context of the web accessibility problem, and inspects the relevant agency websites for compliance with the legal standards, and for best practices.
In the third project, students examined various states lawful compliance with federal and state mandates regarding the timely processing of three federally funded, state-administered benefits programs (Medicaid, TANF, and SNAP). The team researched four states, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kansas, and uncovered potential areas for future litigation resulting from the states’ failure to meet federal and state timeliness statutes, from fragrant violations to mere policy considerations.
The Disability Law Center of Massachusetts— On behalf of the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts, an LSSC student team created a transition services online manual for parents, students, educators, advocates and lawyers. The manual takes parents and students through the special education process between the ages of 14 and 22 years, when students with disabilities should be receiving transition services as they move from life in school to life after school. The manual clearly lays out the legal rights of parents and students and provides concrete and practical examples of advocacy. The manual includes the steps necessary to receive transition services, and helpful tips to resolve problems if they arise.
Stanley Jones Clean Slate Project— On behalf of the Stanley Jones Clean Slate project, a community-based support program for ex-offenders, LSSC student teams have done seven (7) projects. In one project, an LSSC student team investigated the obstacles and opportunities that confront ex-offenders recently released from incarceration in securing housing. In particular, the project catalogued available community programs and resources, researched the legal and programmatic hurdles faced by ex-offenders seeking housing in the Boston area, and produced a website for the client organization that provides ex-offenders and advocates with a guide through the housing maze. The final product was an extensive and thoroughly documented website (www.cleanslateproject.org/EXO_Housing.htm) reflecting the student team’s legal, policy, and field-based research about the housing-related problems and prospects facing the re-entering ex-offender. In another project, an LSSC student team identified viable funding sources for a transitional housing and services project that will serve the formerly incarcerated who face difficulties obtaining public housing due to their Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) reports. The final deliverable was a lengthy manual detailing the various grants and funding sources available to the Stanley Jones Clean Slate Project.
World Class Housing Cooperative— On behalf of the World Class Housing Collaborative, a Northeastern University-based consortium that supports the development of affordable housing primarily in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. One project investigated a wide array of issues relating to the development of affordable housing projects on so-called “brownfield” sites, whose former uses raise concerns about possible environmental contamination. The project investigated the liability issues relating to the development of such sites, the available strategies and resources for their appropriate development, and potential areas for legislative or regulatory reform to facilitate such development. The final product consisted of a draft of a manual for interested developers and a report analyzing the legal framework and proposing legislative and administrative reforms. Another project provided assistance to a broad-based affordable housing task force that is sponsoring Massachusetts legislation for a new program to encourage communities to facilitate high-density housing in smart-growth locations. The goal of the project was to produce a manual to help interested constituencies understand the benefits and the mechanics of the new program, in order to encourage municipalities to adopt the program. The final product consisted of a carefully annotated manual, along with a model local zoning by-law that would satisfy the requirements of the program.
Mattapan Family Services— On behalf of Mattapan Family Services, an LSSC student team conducted a qualitative analysis of the imminent and specific concerns of Mattapan residents of Boston as well as a critical legal analysis of relevant zoning law and policy. Melding these two pieces together, the students diligently sought to identify, understand and recommend how the relevant zoning law and policies could be used to address the specific imminent concerns of the Mattapan community.
Project R.I.G.H.T— On behalf of Project R.I.G.H.T., Inc., a collaborative of forty neighborhood associations, community organizations, churches, residents and tenants working together to empower tenant and community groups to reduce crime and violence in their neighborhoods, LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one project, an LSSC student team analyzed the ambiguities and distinctions between state housing regulations and city building codes that, for a variety of reasons, tacitly sanction the existence of illegal lodging houses, which tend to violate building code requirements and create public safety issues and health hazards for both tenants and their neighbors. Legal research included examination and analysis of relevant state law, common law and regulations and codes for how they can be best used in licensing and zoning board proceedings or in Housing and District Court actions. The student team identified effective strategies to combat perpetuation of these dwellings. Field research gathered anecdotal information from various stakeholders on experiences and efforts already undertaken in addressing the issue. In another project, an LSSC student team closely examined trends in Massachusetts landlord/tenant law and its interactions with Section 8 federal housing law, researched Massachusetts tenant selections guidelines related uses of Criminal Offender Records Information (“CORI”) law, and analyzed lease/management structures and commonly used lease terms. Ultimately, the student team devised a myriad of problem solving and litigation strategies ranging from educating the public on landlord’s responsibilities, tenants’ rights, and tenant selection, to means of bringing stakeholders together to contemplate modifications of standard lease agreements. In a third project, an LSSC student team prepared a report with four parts on ways to address the public safety concerns of Grove Hall. The first part explores the possibility and plausibility of establishing a Community Bill of Rights (“CBR”) in Grove Hall (or in Boston), modeled after the CBR implemented in Baltimore through legislation. The second part addresses housing concerns in Grove Hall, specifically the issues surrounding Section 8 housing and how improving lease agreements may impact crime and nuisances. Students analyzed relevant case law and state and federal regulations and provide a model lease agreement along with recommendations for its potential implementation in Grove Hall. The third part considers how management companies can use CORI records most effectively to ensure the safety of their tenants in Grove Hall, based on best practices from other states, and provides a key to CORI records so management companies can better understand what is written in CORI documents. The fourth part addresses how educational and extracurricular initiatives may help to alleviate youth-based crime in Grove Hall, and possible funding sources for these programs.
Housing Discrimination Project, Inc.— On behalf of the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc., an LSSC student team researched predatory lending practices in Massachusetts. Racial minorities are often targeted for sub-prime loans in violation of the consumer protection and fair lending laws. The team researched the Truth In Lending Act (“TILA”), the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (“HOEPA”), and the Massachusetts Consumer Credit Cost Disclosure Act (“MCCCDA”) and assessed a plaintiff’s ability to recover under these statutes. The team created a practitioners’ manual on legal strategies for addressing predatory home lending practices by sub-prime lenders in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute— On behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an LSSC student team critically analyzed the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (“QHWRA”) to determine how it has affected subsidized housing in Massachusetts. Students conducted an in-depth analysis of Massachusetts’ one and five-year public housing agency plans, and analyzed these plans on a variety of criteria and areas of interest to the client. Students examined whether, how and to what extent public housing authorities (“PHAs”) have followed the federal laws and regulations to complete their plans, whether residents actively participated in the planning process, which PHAs are contemplating demolition of units, and how rent, admissions, and other discretionary policies differ.
Shelter Legal Services— On behalf of Shelter Legal Services (“SLS”) LSSC student teams have conducted several projects. In one project, students worked on the development of homelessness prevention strategies for Cambridge, MA. Students conducted a study of evictions in Cambridge in 2006 and researched ways to improve SLS’s services through changes in the legal system, service delivery, and tenant advocacy. Students analyzed 365 summary process eviction cases from 2006 in the Cambridge District Court, and interviewed numerous stakeholders including housing officials, lawyers and tenants. The students examined how, through summary process evictions, landlords can take possession of the property in an expedited manner at the cost of tenants’ rights. Students the fairness of summary process evictions and examines various strategies for preventing eviction, factoring in the unsteady income of many public housing tenants and the possibilities of substance abuse, mental illness and disabilities, all of which impact tenants facing eviction even though they may not show up in case files. The project proposed three eviction prevention strategies that the Cambridge Housing Authority (“CHA”) and legal services organizations could take as first steps to help tenants become more aware of their rights and have increased access to emergency rent assistance. The team especially recommended the creation of a Tenant Advocate position in CHA complexes, based on the supportive housing model.
In another project, an LSSC student team researched some of the legal problems faced by incarcerated veterans, such as debt, divorce, veterans’ benefits overpayments, child support modification, and small claims. The student team offered suggestions to SLS in implementing its new Incarcerated Veterans Project to provide free legal advice, representation and educational pamphlets to incarcerated veterans in Massachusetts.
Broadmoor Improvement Association— On behalf of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, an LSSC student team conducted research and interviewed New Orleans residents in order to ascertain five major shortcomings of the Road Home Program, which was developed to assist the inhabitants of New Orleans return to their homes following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The report discusses the larger patterns of racial discrimination and injustice at work in the (delays in) implementation of the Road Home Program, and identified alternative courses of action which could have resulted in a more just outcome.
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty— On behalf of the National Center on Homelessness and Poverty, an LSSC student team conducted a project that addressed the increasing criminalization of homelessness and poverty in the United States, by comparing policies practiced in American cities with those practiced within parts of the European Union. This report focused on laws that subject homeless individuals to harassment or arrest, and deny them sources of food. It identified model laws and policies that could be used to oppose criminalization measures and promote more constructive alternative approaches.
Southern Legal Counsel Inc.— In behalf of Southern Legal Council Inc., an LSSC student team researched city ordinances in Florida that criminalize homelessness and nonviolent, basic survival activities that disparately impact people experiencing homelessness, such as panhandling, sleeping and camping in public places, or receiving food from service providers. The students analyzed the enforcement of these ordinances in three cities, St. Petersburg, Gainesville and Orlando, and produced a report which shows that criminalization is neither a cost-efficient nor effective response to homelessness, and frequently results in a range of unintended consequences. The report concludes with alternative responses to the issue of homelessness as recommended by the 2010 Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, and highlights programs and services already in place in other Florida communities that have proven successful in helping people experiencing homelessness secure housing and stability.
MassCEDAW— On behalf of MassCEDAW, an LSSC student team conducted a project to develop a comprehensive training manual on international human rights law for Massachusetts legislators to educate these policy makers of the relevance and necessity of integrating international human rights standards into the laws of Massachusetts. The overall objective for this training manual was to build on the confidence of progressive government employees and elected officials who want to (1) see the U.S. re-join the world in terms of international human rights norms and (2) improve the lives of people living within their jurisdictions in concrete ways.
Florida Steelworkers Union— On behalf of the Florida Steelworkers Union, an LSSC student team focused on the role of the U.S. Executive branch (specifically the State Department) in affecting judicial opinions through “Statements of Interest” (“SOIs”), particularly in lawsuits brought by foreign nationals for human rights violations on foreign soil. The student team conducted contextual and historical research concerning Alien Tort Statute litigation and doctrinal challenges that may arise when determining the justiciability of these claims.
Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE)— On behalf of PHRGE, an LSSC student team conducted a research project on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the five affirmative obligations concerning violence against women imposed on nations under the convention, which must be performed with due diligence. There is little international consensus on the meaning of the term “due diligence.” The student team examined eleven landmark cases from US courts and international courts of human rights, analyzed the current practices of twenty-four nations with respect to CEDAW, and developed a possible framework for applying the due diligence standard to the five affirmative obligations by providing recommendations for the development of international standards.
Greater Boston Legal Services, Immigration Unit— On behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services, Immigration Unit, a LSSC student team conducted a project to identify the risks faced by immigrants in exposing to various government agencies their prior use of fraudulent documentation, usually as part of an effort to regularize their status. Building upon the work of the previous year, the project sought to determine both the potential sources of legal liability and the actual likelihood of prosecution or other punitive action in immigrants’ interactions with each of nine federal and state agencies, ranging from the INS to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The research involved not only the identification and analysis of applicable statutes, regulations and case law, but also interviews with advocates and agency personnel to determine actual practices. The final product was a report detailing findings for each of the nine agencies that were studied.
Migrant Farmworker Justice Project— On behalf of the Florida-based Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (“MFJP”), an LSSC team drafted an amicus brief for MFJP to file in a Michigan Supreme Court case on behalf of two undocumented workers. At the time, over five million undocumented aliens worked in this country in high-risk occupations including manufacturing, meat packing and construction. In courts across the country, employers were advancing the proposition that the 2002 United States Supreme Court decision in Hoffman Plastics should act as a bar for the award of workers’ compensation benefits to these undocumented workers when they are injured on the job. Students researched the applicability of this doctrine to the Michigan workers’ compensation statute and drafted an amicus brief for the client organization.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute— On behalf of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute for the Statewide Immigration Coalition, an LSSC student team developed a manual for immigrant advocates on re-documenting undocumented immigrants with legal status. Legal research for the manual included aspects of immigration, employment and tax laws for procedures and possible pertinent sanctions. Field research included gathering anecdotal information from practitioners to determine what barriers undocumented immigrants encounter in taxation, employment, criminal law, housing and other issues.
Florence Immigration and Refuge Rights Project— On behalf of the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project of Florence, Arizona, an LSSC student team developed a Right to Paid Representation Advocacy Manual that was later distributed nationwide to Detention Watch Network member organizations for use in INS proceedings. Legal research posed arguments by analogy to other government-appointed counsel case law, statutes and secondary authority. Field research identified practical strategies derived from interviews with practitioners, educators and adjudicators, whose focus is immigration and refugee law.
Vera Institute of Justice— The Vera Institute of Justice project investigated the extent to which non-English speaking parties to immigration court proceedings have a right to be provided with translations of “vital documents” under federal law and the US Constitution. An LSSC student team conducted a survey of state agencies and departments to determine a number of innovative and low-cost strategies which could be implemented in immigration court proceedings to increase access for parties with limited English proficiency. The report concludes with recommendations for the Executive Office of Immigration Review on ways to increase access to the service population with limited English proficiency, while respecting the procedural and substantive due process rights of these respondents facing removal.
Resist, Inc.— On behalf of Resist, Inc., an LSSC student team conducted a project to create public education materials, for national distribution, that spell out the current limits and potential pitfalls of advocacy for organizations which have §501(c)(3) status. The student team produced two memos on the subject, a “small” memo and a “large” memo -- the “small” memo written for non-lawyer audiences and the “large” memo written for attorneys and legally-knowledgeable audiences. The “small” memo describes, in non-legalistic language, the restrictions on 501(c)(3) organizations with respect to lobbying and “electioneering”. The “large” memo explores the relationship between tax and political speech in order to help nonprofits better avoid conflict with the Internal Revenue Service. The memo sets out the 1) Constitutional basis for limitations on free speech for tax-exempt organizations, 2) the benefits of tax-exempt status, 3) the tests courts use to determine whether political speech by a nonprofit is prohibited or not, 4) the requirements to achieve 501(c)(3) status, and 5) the benefits for some nonprofits in electing a 501(h) status in lieu of a 501(c)(3) status.
Vermont Legal Aid— On behalf of Vermont Legal Aid, an LSSC student team conducted a project that focused on Refund Anticipation Loans (“RALs”): short-term, high-cost loans secured by a taxpayer’s expected tax refund. Tax preparation chains focus on low-income consumers, particularly those who receive an Earned Income Tax Credit, and cost low-income workers millions of dollars in predatory practices. The student team prepared an in-depth examination of various litigation, legislation and education strategies that the client may pursue in order to challenge the predatory lending practices of RAL providers, and produced a report on its findings and suggestions.
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute— On behalf of the housing unit of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, a statewide legal support center, an LSSC student team conducted a project to evaluate the Massachusetts Qualified Allocation Plan that sets priorities for allocations of the states’ share of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit. In particular, the team evaluated the extent to which the Plan fulfills the statutory goal of channeling tax credit support to projects serving the lowest income tenants. The wide-ranging research analyzed applicable federal statutory and case law, examined the approaches that a number of other states have taken in their Qualified Allocation Plans, and explored in considerable depth the actual process and outcomes of the distribution of tax credits in Massachusetts. The final product was a report that provided a thorough analysis of the law governing the state Plans, an overview of the workings of Massachusetts Plan and of its distributional consequences, a comparison with the approaches of other states, and a compendium of possible litigation and non-litigation strategies for the client to pursue to further its objectives.
Boston Community Capital— On behalf of Boston Community Capital, an LSSC student team examined and analyzed various federal, state and municipal laws, regulations and policies aimed at housing and community development financing, both in lending and in venture capital investment. Legal research included an impact analysis on minority, immigrant and low-income communities of receivership statutes, zoning regulations, tax credits, tax title takings and eminent domain. General lending regulations that apply to non-bank lending institutions and venture capitalists were studied. Legal research was supplemented by field research. The client’s goal was to uncover the complicated impact of the above on clients various types of borrowers and the other community organizations that receive client’s venture capital funds.
Charles River Watershed Association/Boston University— On behalf of the Charles River Watershed Association (“CRWA”), an LSSC student team conducted a research project analyzing the implications of Boston University’s plan to construct a new sailing pavilion on the Boston Esplanade. Boston University planned to construct a new sailing boathouse on the Charles River Esplanade between the Massachusetts Avenue and the Boston University bridges. The plans involved leasing a significant piece of public parkland along the Charles River owned by the Metropolitan District Commission. The construction project raised some important legal and policy issues involving public access to, and enjoyment of, the Esplanade and the Charles River. The student team conducted legal research into available tools for protecting the public interest under the constitutional provisions, statutes, regulations and case law pertaining to the transfer of state property and the approval of projects on state-owned lands. The students also carefully reviewed the characteristics of the site, the apparent public uses, and the opinions of various environmental organizations, Bostonians who use the Esplanade and members of civic organizations.
Massachusetts Peer Review Organization— On behalf of the Massachusetts Peer Review Organization (“MassPro”), an LSSC student team developed two training manuals. The first analyzed and recommended means of reducing denials on appeals of Medicare coverage denial. The second addressed recipient cultural and class barriers to due process created by incomprehensible notice provisions. Legal research included analysis of agency procedures promulgated in response to federal statutes, and on how recipients learn to exercise their right of appeal pursuant to the legal standards. Field research included an effort to determine how existing appeal policies and procedures create barriers for low-income people and people of color within the aging population and recommended differing approaches that could impact MassPro’s resources.
South Brooklyn Legal Services— On behalf of South Brooklyn Legal Services, an LSSC student team conducted a project that analyzed the potential for using New York City’s Zoning Resolution to protect the low income and racially diverse communities around downtown Brooklyn (both residents and businesses) from displacement due to the current surge of large scale-development projects. The final report proposed appropriate amendments to the Zoning Resolution that could enhance its ability to protect these populations.
Seattle Community Law Center— On behalf of the Seattle Community Health Center, an LSSC student team conducted a project on overpayments in the Social Security system—a common source of post-entitlement dispute between the recipient and the Social Security Administration. In the first part of the report, the team developed a guide for SSI supervisors to use when training SSI Workers who handle overpayments, using actual overpayment cases to explain procedures, illustrate common errors, and offer solutions to resolve problems before they result in costly and unnecessary appeals. The guide also addressed common sources of error and inefficiency arising from differences in language and culture between SSI Workers and recipients, and arising from mental impairment. In the second part of the report, the student team created a set of reference materials detailing the policies and procedures of Social Security Disability/SSI overpayments, discussed six real life case studies of recipients who challenged overpayment determinations, and provided an in depth discussion of how differences in culture, experience and mental functioning can affect communications and the overpayment process. The reference materials also included a brief overview of a recipient’s constitutional due process rights.
Access to Justice Initiative Task Force on Self-Help Materials— On behalf of the Access to Justice Initiative Task Force on Self-Help Materials of the Massachusetts Trial Court, an LSSC student team researched the different practices that have been most effective in other state court systems in assisting self-represented litigants throughout the litigation process. Students researched current practices in Arizona, Connecticut, California, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York, identified seven best practices in other states on the basis of distribution, accessibility, effectiveness, integration and cost, and produced recommendations for the Massachusetts Trial Court system.