The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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Students who become involved with the law in any manner except a criminal action may receive the services of the Legal Aid Bureau of the Law School. The members of the staff are all students but the record of cases shows that all but a small fraction are completed in favor of their clients.
Although the Bureau will not take cases from the general public unless the applicant is unable to pay ordinary counsel, any student may take advantage of the service upon payment of a 25 cent registration fee and the advancement of any court costs which the case may involve.
The Freshmen seem to be the least active group of clients either because they do not know of the existance of the service or because they do not feel as naturally pugnacious toward the people who run into the sides of their cars or the laundry which loses part of their clothing and refuses to refund the cost.
Many Contract Cases
The bulk of the student cases concern the multitude of contracts which they are urged to sign during the first two weeks of their career each fall. Many of them turn out to be unsatisfactory and the Legal Aid Bureau takes upon itself the task of making adjustments or going to court to force settlements if necessary.
The members are admitted to all the courts despite their amateur standing but the great majority of cases are settled without resorting to legal action. Even more important is the advice which the members are ready to give students who may be involved in any number of cases ranging from divorce to libel.
Only between 10 and 15 per cent. of the cases which are handled by the Bureau concern Harvard students, employees and faculty members but the number is steadily growing as the men learn about the existance and efficiency of the staff. This group is served regardless of financial status unless the case involves persons with obvious ability to pay private counsel and would attract public notice. Every effort is made to avoid competition with the local bar in cases involving the general public.
Small claims Referred
Many of the student cases involve claims of less than $50. The members of the staff endeavor to make a settlement but, if litigation is necessary, the client is referred to the Small Claims courts which are held in Massachusetts by every district court and which do not require the services of an attorney. The Court fee is $1.20.
The offices of the Bureau are in the rear of Gannett House, a small white frame building opposite the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to the street car subway. Office hours are from 9 to 5 o'clock during the week and 9 to 1 o'clock on Saturdays. The spring examination period causes the staff considerable worry so the office is closed from April 17 to June 18.
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