Jeanne Charn to Receive 2014 AALS William Pincus Award Reflecting Decades of Acheivement and Contribution

Jeanne, in my opinion, is long overdue for this award.  I asked her colleagues Luz Herrera and Jeff Selbin to draft this blog and am proud to share it.  I add that I think this is a particularly appropriate time to honor Jeanne — and by extension Gary her untimely deceased husband and long-time co-conspirator.  As the incubator movement takes off, we owe it to remember that it was all foreseen in the original vision of the Harvard clinical program described below, and intended to assist in the transition to practice through a comprehensive third year.  At the time it was suggested that this vision might be applied in other sectors beyond legal aid.  (Disclosure: I worked as a law student on setting up the program, my wife was there as student, librarian and lawyer, and I have also been the primary consultant to the Bellow-Sacks program described here.  They were transformative experiences.)


On Tuesday, December 10, 2013, the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education announced Jeanne Charn as the recipient of the William Pincus Award, its highest honor. William Pincus was a Ford Foundation officer who played a major role in developing clinical education in the United States. More than 60 law professors and former students signed letters supporting Jeanne for this important award. We cannot think of anyone who better exemplifies the spirit of the award.

This recognition of Jeanne Charn is long overdue. Her unique and enduring commitment to increasing access to justice, and training future generations of social justice lawyers, spans more than four decades.

Jeanne began her legal career as a student practitioner at the federally funded Community Legal Assistance Office (“CLAO”) in Boston from 1968 to 1970.  She continued with CLAO for another year as a staff attorney and became their law student supervisor. Before starting her academic career, she also worked as a staff attorney at the Mass Law Reform Institute.

In 1973, Jeanne was hired as the Assistant Dean for Clinical Programs at Harvard Law School.  In her role, Jeanne and her late husband, Gary Bellow, conceived of and founded the Legal Services Institute (“LSI”). While LSI’s initial focus was to prepare legal services attorneys, LSI also placed client service at the heart of the program. The decision to base LSI in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts in 1979, facilitated the provision of legal services to some of the most disenfranchised members of the Boston community. Over time, LSI evolved into a more general community-based clinical offering for Harvard Law School students. LSI was the precursor to what is now the WilmerHale Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School. The program has gone through a couple of names but students affectionately refer to it as “the Center”.

As co-founder and director of the Center, Jeanne managed Harvard’s largest clinical offering in a community-based setting. The program provided clinical experiences to more than 100 students and hundreds of clients every year. As director, Jeanne designed and implemented important quality assurance measures in a field where few existed. She actively engaged with the private bar and the courts as partners in service and education. Under her leadership, the Center developed the first AIDS law clinic, the first medical-legal partnership, an early predatory lending clinic, and the first education law clinic focused on childhood trauma. Jeanne’s commitment to experimentation made the Center the first program in the country to incorporate a fee for service component to help close the justice gap for the near-poor and local community organizations that were priced out of free legal services.

In addition to offering strong clinical programs and extensive service, the Center served as a training center for clinical faculty and public service leaders.  Today, dozens of clinicians and legal services leaders around the country can trace their passion for teaching and service to their experiences at the Center. The program built by Jeanne, Gary and the many attorneys who continue to work at the Center, inspired a passion for helping and learning. Jeanne continues to spend innumerable hours advising, educating, and mentoring students, attorneys, clinicians, and policy makers. She writes recommendations, gives feedback on papers, provides ideas, and unselfishly opens her extensive network to individuals interested in advancing a progressive clinical legal education and access to justice agenda. Although Jeanne stepped down as the Center’s director in 2006, her passion for mentoring, innovating and improving, continues.

In addition to her contributions to clinical legal education and civil legal services, Jeanne is a thought leader. Since 1999, Jeanne has directed the Bellow-Sacks Access to Civil Legal Services Project. The Bellow-Sacks Project leads research and policy initiatives to expand access to civil legal advice and assistance for low and moderate-income households.  As the director of the Bellow-Sacks project Jeanne works with judges, court administrators, policy makers, academics and practitioners to research and advocate on legal services delivery, the legal and financial needs of low and moderate income households, professional skills and social welfare law and policy.  She has contributed her important insights on legal service delivery to various national organizations including the ABA Standing Committee for Legal Services, the American Bar Foundation Access to Justice Research Initiative and the International Legal Aid Group.

Currently, Jeanne is a Senior Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. She teaches courses on the legal profession, the delivery of legal services and social welfare law and policy. She continues her engagement in direct legal service delivery by working on bankruptcy cases with students and attorneys at the Greater Boston Legal Services. When she is not providing feedback, mentoring, writing articles and volunteering, she spends times with her good friends from the Center and her family in Boston – sons David and Douglas, granddaughters Grace and Calleigh, grandson Emmett, and daughter-in-law Kate Lowenstein.

We, like hundreds of others, owe Jeanne a great deal of gratitude for carving a space in legal education to look for, in her words “new ways to achieve long-sought ends.” Congratulations to the AALS Section on Clinical Legal Education for the honor of recognizing Jeanne Charn’s achievements.

Luz E Herrera, Associate Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Jeffrey Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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