The following is a reflection based on my experience observing a Zoom hearing in housing court. Attending this hearing was part of an assignment for my clinic, the COVID-19 Relief Housing Clinic. The case I observed is not that of a client of our firm, but simply that of a litigant who virtually appeared in Zoom court that morning.
When I watch courtroom scenes on television and in movies, I am captivated by the persuasive oration, surprise evidence, and yes, the juicy drama. Superficially, attending a status hearing in Housing Court via Zoom was not so different from watching a televised courtroom experience. After all, I opened up my laptop and sat down at my desk to watch the scenes unfold through my screen. But the experience was nothing like watching a media portrayal of a courtroom drama. Because this wasn’t Netflix, and the spectacle wasn’t written with the sole function of my entertainment. That morning, I left feeling the opposite of entertained. It’s a lot less fun when the characters aren’t just reciting their scripts on a stage. It’s hard to find enjoyment in the unfolding of real problems of real people, especially when you can sense that there may not be a happy ending.
In my eyes, the protagonist of today’s narrative was the defendant tenant (let’s call her J), setting forth her case for numerous civil damages against her landlord, C. Particularly, she was experiencing various issues with heat, both in a bedroom and with her oven. This made me remember my own apartment last winter, when the heat was stuck at 64 degrees for less than a day. I was angry, less so because the cold was intolerable, and more so because I feel I have an entrenched right to this utility at all times.
J was situated in her apartment, wearing what looked like a bathrobe. She had attended the hearing after getting three hours of sleep after her overnight shift at work. She looked stressed and overwhelmed. It was like the frustration I feel when I have to stay up late for RA duty, but still have an 8 am class the next day.
The one year-mark of the Covid-19 shutdown that forced BC Law to fundamentally change its operations came and went last week. This pandemic-focused world has created realities that none of us could have ever predicted, simultaneously shutting doors and forcing new opportunities to emerge in their wake. The only thing that has remained constant over the past year is the uncertainty of what the near-future will bring.
BC Law has done its best to adapt. A unique example of this is the emergence of the Covid Relief Housing Clinic earlier this semester. What began as a Summer 2020 effort to help people in the greater Boston area receive unemployment benefits has transformed to a semester-long clinic opportunity, addressing urgent legal issues regarding housing and upholding the original goal to meet the timely legal needs of those within our community.
I spoke with Professor Ana Rivera, who runs the clinic, to discuss the creation and utilization of this new addition to BC Law’s Experiential Learning Center.
1. When and how did the idea emerge for this clinic?
The idea for a clinic focused exclusively on housing came to me in the fall 2020, when the federal and local moratoria on evictions were scheduled to expire. There was a great concern that the number of eviction matters would spike exponentially, as workers in the retail, hotel, and restaurant industries continued to struggle either to find new work or to receive unemployment insurance benefits. It seemed right from a social justice perspective to divert resources to this particular problem. I contacted WATCH CDC, a family, housing, and adult education advocacy organization in Waltham, MA, with which our Civil Litigation Clinic has collaborated in the past, and proposed a partnership with BC Law to identify and provide legal assistance to Waltham tenants facing housing insecurity as a result of Covid-19. Having such an intimate relationship with tenants in Waltham, WATCH, through its executive director Daria Gere, was acutely aware of the need and embraced the opportunity. With the support of Professors Judy McMorrow and Renee Jones, the idea was realized.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales
In the law, and especially in litigation, it can seem like being gentle has no place. The adversarial system is set up like a zero-sum game, and it can feel like softness is in direct contrast with winning in the courtroom. However, in a profession where we lawyers are painted as aggressive and combative, perhaps gentleness is a silent strength, particularly in our relationships with our clients.
I’m in the COVID-19 Housing Relief Clinic this semester, and we spent this first week in trainings. During these training sessions, we conducted role-play situations, both interviewing and counseling “clients.” In our training, the “clients” were just our supervising professors and the situations were merely hypothetical. Yet, these simulations reflected the very types of cases and clients that, as student attorneys at the BC Legal Services Lab, we might see this semester. For example, some of these scenarios included a wife trying to keep custody of her son in a divorce case with her potentially abusive husband or a landlord using unjust practices to force evictions.
At first, I wondered how useful this training would be. After all, how much is there to learn about just talking to clients? Turns out the answer, is a lot.
What a ride 2019 has been! I hope you all are enjoying a well-deserved break — baking on a beach somewhere warm — now that the semester is done and over with (whoo!).
Wrapping up a year full of ups and downs, we wanted to highlight a few of the most popular posts by our amazing writers at BC Law Impact:
With that, thank you for following BC Law Impact, happy holidays, remember to re-apply sunblock every 3 hours, and we look forward to seeing everyone in 2020!
Jae Lee is a second-year student who loves hearing from readers. Contact him at email@example.com.
When I decided to attend BC Law, housing was one of my top concerns. At the time that I was applying to law school, I was living in New York City, and Boston was somewhat unfamiliar. I had visited many times previously, but I knew that memories of family vacations to walk the Freedom Trail were not enough to help me make the best decision. I relied on the experiences of BC Law students, and I was not disappointed. As a 3L, I can now say that I have happily lived in my apartment for all three of my years at BC Law. For those of you with the same housing worries that I had, hopefully I can help you find your fit as you decide to join the Class of 2022.
First, it’s important to decide what type of neighborhood fits your personality. Let’s break down some of the most popular locations for BC Law students to live:
So, by now you’ve probably done the math: orientation is August 20th, school starts on the 24th, and many of the leases for apartments you’ve been looking into start on September 1st.
This is a sad reality about Boston (that most leases do start on September 1st), but the good news is that you will only be in this dilemma once in your law school career. I polled some of our rising 2Ls to see what they did for that week and boiled it down to a few options:
When I was looking at law schools a few years ago one of the thing I wondered about the most was what day to day life would be like at the different schools I was was considering. I couldn’t be happier that I ended up at BC, and after two and a half years here Boston is really starting to feel like home. Part of what makes the BC experience so enjoyable is the community here and the opportunity to explore Boston with classmates. I’ll be writing about student life in general, including a variety of favorite activities in and around Boston. To start out with here is a little run down of favorite BC Law spots in Cleveland Circle.
Cleveland Circle is where a majority of BC Law students end up living, and it is perfectly situated between school and jobs downtown. I love living here because I feel like all of my friends are only a five minute walk away, which comes in handy when you need to catch a ride to school!
The reservoir is one of my favorite parts about living in Cleveland Circle. In between Cleveland Circle itself and BC’s main campus is an old reservoir that the city turned into a park. The mile and a half loop is perfect for jogging in good weather and the views of the main campus and downtown Boston can’t be beat. When I need some exercise or just a little relaxation time the reservoir is my favorite place to go.