The Small Victories Mean the Most
The Latest from HLS Clinical Programs 2019-06-13
By: Gege Wang, J.D. ’19
Gege Wang ’19
Before leaving law school, I wanted to gain some exposure to public interest and legal services work. I chose to gain this experience through the Employment Law Clinic because it is an important area of law that I wanted to learn before practicing. My clinical placement was at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). It is the most highly respected legal services organization in the Greater Boston area and its employment unit is particularly renowned for its dedication and expertise. While working there, I was under the direct supervision of the head of the employment unit, Mr. Brian Flynn.
One of the most memorable takeaways from my time there is the passion and belief the staff attorneys bring to their work. The rapport between the attorneys and their clients is so genuine. The clients that GBLS is devoted to are vulnerable to unfair and exploitative employment practices for one reason or another, whether because they are poor, underrepresented racial minorities, undocumented workers, or people with disabilities. A three-month unemployment benefit that the staff attorneys helped them to fight for might seem like a small victory in monetary terms, but it means so much to low wage workers, who needed to support their family. The attorneys care about their clients’ mental health issues and they spend the time and energy to understand their clients’ community. They discuss how the case strategies in a particular matter can have wider social implications. There is no profit underlying the attorney-client relationship. When the attorneys say they wanted to help their clients, that is truly what they meant.
The most meaningful assignment I worked on at GBLS was a class action suit against a restaurant employer. I spent a lot of time conducting clients intake and collecting material facts that would be later summarized in the facts section of our complaint. I listened to their stories and understood why they feel the system has wronged them. Confronted with such real, raw accounts of hardship, I thought about how I can use the learning and skills I have gained from law school to be a better advocate for them.
One unique feature about GBLS as a legal services organization is its decision to refuse to give up on using class action as a strategy to promote social changes. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has certain restrictions on legal aid programs that are eligible to receive LSC funds, including the restrictions on engaging in class action lawsuits and legislative advocacy. GBLS is committed to fully utilizing all these tools and legal options to provide its clients with the best representation, so it decided to forgo LSC funding. My involvement in this class action case made me think about how class-action suits are such an important device for public interest lawyering, especially in the context of employment law. Employers are typically the repeat players in the larger legal machine. They are the parties who structure the transactions, draft the contracts that govern the employer-employee relationship, and have abundant legal resources to resolve disputes. The employees, on the other hand, are the one-shotters (people who do not use lawsuits often) and they are disadvantaged because of lack of bargaining power and information asymmetry. Using class action and gathering multiple claimants with the same grievances, the balance of the scale is changed. GBLS itself is the repeat player in the employment space, and employees are now in the position where they are afforded with the repeat player advantages, such as litigation expertise and efficiency in litigation expenses. This is why my class action assignment at GBLS is so important to me.
Sometimes, the readings, assignments and exams at the law school can be overwhelming, which is why I was so grateful for clinical experience. Working for the attorneys at GBLS constantly reminded me of why I chose to go to law school and re-charged me with the sense of purpose. I enjoyed the contagious atmosphere at GBLS where everyone is passionately and humbly pursuing what they believe in, and siding with the underdogs and have-nots to make changes to the world. It is a very inspiring experience.