August 9, 1989 – Harvard Law School
AUGUST 9 1989 – HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1963, I worked for a large law firm, served in the US Army JAG and worked in an insurance company. After two years as an associate for a sole practitioner, I founded two small law firms representing individuals and community groups and became one of the first lawyers in the country to offer divorce mediation. Concerned about the issue of the unmet legal needs of the public, I served on the boards of legal services programs, created referral programs for the Massachusetts Bar Association and the National Lawyers Guild, started an association of legal clinics, and served as president of a family mediation association.
In 1983 I returned to Harvard Law School as its public interest adviser. On August 9, 1989, my position was eliminated by a recently appointed dean of that law school. I have reprinted below some material related to the elimination of that position.
Since that time I have provided career advice to lawyers and law students and consulted to law schools, law firms and bar associations. In addition I have advocated for the restructuring and reform of legal education.
From what I have observed over the last 20 years, though there has been much criticism of legal education and calls for reform (including the highly regard 1992 ABA MacCrate Report), the law schools have largely ignored them.
Are you as concerned as I am that during the current economic downturn, the law school industry is desperately trying to maintain the on-campus interviewing “funnel” to BigLaw despite the recent survey of 5000 associates finding that 59% of “top-ten” law school grads plan to leave BigLaw jobs within 2 years while other data indicates that 80% of the legal needs of the least wealthy 45,000,000 of us are unmet?
Do you think that there have been and will continue to be positive changes and improvements in the delivery of legal education?
August 8, 1989
HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
Cambridge, Massachusetts 01938
OFFICE OF THE DEAN
Mr. Ronald Fox
Harvard Law School
Many thanks for your recent gift to the Law School Fund. I appreciate your support of the School’s annual giving program.
With best wishes
Robert C. Clark
August 14, 1989
TO; The File
FROM: Ron Fox
RE: Meeting with Dean Robert Clark
On Wednesday, August 9, 1989, at 11:30 A.M., I met with Dean Robert Clark. He told me that he had made some decisions about restructuring and that I was not likely to be pleased. June Thompson would no longer be in admissions and would be full time in placement and there was also going to be an appointment of a new director of counseling. He mentioned that he did not know what I did in my job, although he had seen one letter that I had written and he thought it was very good. He had decided that it was not cost effective to have a 8/10 position devoted solely to the 6 to 8 people who were interested in public interest, therefore, my position was being eliminated as well as the position of my assistant (Dana Bullwinkel] who is about to enter graduate school).
I asked him to clarify whether or not that meant that I had been fired. He said that that was putting it too bluntly: my position was being eliminated. He said that he did not know how long I had been working at the law school. I was not being told that I had to leave the next day. When the administrative dean, Simone Reagor, returns from vacation, I would talk to her about the details.
When I asked him whether he had mentioned that there was going to be a new position, new director of counseling, he said that was the case, and that it was a position for which I would not be considered. (It now appears that this new position was created by the half of Mark Byers, the career counselor for the law school, that was assigned to the Placement Office and the other half of his time that was assigned to the Counseling Office under the Dean of Student’s Office and Mark has been told that he can apply for this job but that he should be looking elsewhere in the event he does not get it.)
I had prepared a memorandum for him and had attached to it some of the material I had written over the last year and a half on public interest career planning and placement problems and issues at the law school and my suggestions and proposals. I gave it to him and told him that if he wanted to discuss any aspect of the material, I would be prepared to do so.
I left the office about 11:37 A.M.
14 March 1990
PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CAREER PLANNING CENTER
955 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
Ronald W. Fox Tel: (617) 868-6669 Executive Director
Fax: (617) 876-0203
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STUDENTS OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
I first want to say that my six years spent directing the public interest career activities at Harvard Law School was the most positive, rewarding and satisfying professional experience I have had since leaving the law school in 1963. I talked, wrote to, and learned from, intelligent, talented, concerned, responsible, committed people – students, staff of the law school, alumni/ae, other lawyers, and career planning professionals at other law schools. I also publicly want to let you all know how much I appreciate your personal visits, kind words and public statements in my support. Your actions made a stressful time more comfortable and gave me the reason, strength, encouragement and confidence to found the Public Interest Law Career Planning Center which will assist law students and lawyers who want to pursue careers in public interest, human services and government.
I came to the law school to direct the public interest career and placement activities after 15 years working in private practice and with many non-profit organizations trying to increase the quality and quantity of legal services delivered to people with low and moderate income. It appeared to me that Harvard Law School believed that it had an obligation to make careers in public interest law a realistic option for its graduates. And, in fact, over the next three years I received approval to establish the IL Public Interest Career Workshop; was given funding to publish the Public Interest Directory; was given the time to assist in the development of “Opportunities in Public Interest Law”; was encouraged to solicit $300,000 from an alumnus, Kenneth Montgomery, `28, for a public interest summer grant program which he generously funded; was given the time to establish a Task Force on Public Interest Law of the National Association for Law Placement; and was afforded the opportunity to give advice and guidance to about 100 individuals in each class and many alumni/ae.
I was impressed by the depth of commitment to public interest within the student body. I talked to students, analyzed class lists and read surveys that confirmed my findings that 40% of each class were interested in pursuing public interest careers. A study of one class revealed that by the time of graduation, 40% of its members had attended public interest workshops and/or devoted substantial time to public interest law either during the summer or in a clinical course. I spent many hours listening to students and providing information to allay their fears and to counter pressures from peers, the law school, family, and society in general to take positions they did not want. In addition, I received frequent calls and visits from anguished alumni/ae wanting to leave jobs in large firms they found boring and/or in conflict with their values. Yet every year, upon graduation, over 90% of the class take positions with large law firms representing commercial institutions and others in the wealthiest 1% of the society that the legal profession serves well. At the same time the rest of the society, 247 million people, are either totally unable to afford legal services if they have a housing, health, employment, discrimination or family problem, or, if they are indigent, only able to have a lawyer at no cost to them for one out of every fourteen of these legal problems. I refer to this factual situation as the “Crisis in Public Interest Law.”
Many of you presently at the school as well as those who have recently graduated recognized that much of fault for, and the responsibility for remedying, the lack of diversity of career choices of graduates of the law school lay within the law school itself. You questioned 1) the curriculum’s reliance on commercial cases, 2) the high cost of attending the law school accompanied by approval of higher student debt 3) the second-class status of the clinical program, 4) the preference given to large firms in the hiring process by the allocation of a disproportionate amount of staff time and resources to a recruiting process dominated by these firms and held in the fall when few other legal institutions know their future legal hiring needs, and by the failure to examine in depth negative aspects of such firms, especially the many student complaints of discrimination and unfair treatment 5) the failure of the law school to challenge the “prevailing wisdom” generalizations based on flawed assumptions, such as “Work in large firms is intellectually stimulating and prestigious and one receives the best training there,” “Grades are very important in obtaining any job,” “There are no jobs in public interest and even if there were, most students can not afford to take them because of the amount of their debt,” “The work in public interest areas is boring, routine, uncreative and unimportant”, “There is no training in public interest jobs” and “It is important that you find a job and become an employee rather than going out and creating your own institution” 6) the failure to provide adequate staff and resources for students and alumni/ae looking for career advice 7) the indifference and lack of availability of most of the faculty for career and job advice.
In early 1988, I requested funds from June Thompson, the Director of Placement, for additional staff and resources needed to create a Career Development Division in the Placement Office. Because of her basic disagreement with me about the existence of a crisis and her belief that there was little need for career advice generally and public interest career counseling specifically, the request was rejected. In April, 1988, I submitted a proposal through the Dean’s Office requesting that a Career Development Center outside of the Placement Office be established to offer guidance to students, staff, faculty, alumni and others on public interest and many other less accessible and less familiar careers. I know of no staff or faculty meetings called to review the proposal, to discuss career issues, to debate differences in orientation or to set goals and priorities. No written responses were ever sent about the proposal and in early August. 1988, I heard indirectly that a decision had been reached – nothing would be done.
In April, 1989, after two very unsatisfactory meetings with June Thompson, I again renewed my request to the Dean’s Office for the establishment of a Career Development Center. At about the same time I proposed the creation of a Center for the Delivery of Legal Services in the Public Interest which would coordinate research and activities on the “crisis” throughout the law school, including placement, career planning, the counselling center, financial aid, and the alumni/ae office. I inquired about the status of the proposals weekly. No staff or faculty meetings were ever called to review the proposals and I received no written response.
On July 1, Robert Clark became the dean and on August 9, 1989, two days after my return from vacation I was told to make an appointment to see him. At the meeting, after I introduced myself, he informed me that although he did not know what I did, he did know that it was not cost effective to have a four day a week position devoted to public interest when only six to eight people were affected so he was eliminating my position and that of my assistant, Dana Bullwinkel. He said that in our place a full-time staff assistant would be hired who would report to June Thompson and counsel students in all areas of the law, not just public interest.
The school lacks, and seriously needs, a well-supported, well-staffed, well-publicized, career development office and a public interest career center. I regret not having been given the opportunity to establish these offices but I remain optimistic. I believe that the law school will in the near future come to grips with the crisis. I do not think that it will ignore the imbalanced and inappropriate diversion of 90% of its graduates to the representation of 1% of the population. I do not think that it will want to be considered an irrelevant factor in the search for equality of access to the justice system. I am optimistic because so many of you spoke out this fall demanding more support, resources and guidance on the many varied public interest careers. I also want to express to all of you my deepest respect for the responsible actions you have taken in support of those who want to pursue legal services for those who need them the most. Because of your untiring efforts, your organizing, your factual and reasoned responses, your requests and demands, and your persistence, you have made many aware of the concerns of students and issues that had previously gone unrecognized. You have provided encouragement not only to students here but to students at other law schools and untold lawyers and college students considering a career in public interest law.
Your involvement is not only important, it is critical and necessary. Almost all of the significant progress that Harvard Law School has made and most of the programs that have been developed in the last fifteen years in the area of public interest career planning and placement have resulted from student demands. The creation of the public interest committee by the new dean with a broad mandate to review the role of public interest within the law school is a recent example. We are truly in the midst of a crisis which will not be resolved while you are in law school. How you respond to it in law school, however, may determine how you respond to it throughout your entire legal career. Your actions this fall have given many people reason to be optimistic. Continued best wishes in your efforts.
Ronald W. Fox