By Andrew Kincaid ’13
Student attorneys in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau have the opportunity, in addition to their primary practice areas, to represent workers in wage and hour disputes in Massachusetts courts. Over the past few years, the practice group has grown significantly and begun to develop dynamic partnerships with community organizations in order to better serve and more comprehensively understand the needs of our clients. The wage and hour practice, moreover, helps to illustrate some of the aspects of the Bureau that I have come to appreciate most over the course of my two years.
First, the work we do in the wage and hour practice is deeply emotionally fulfilling. Perhaps my greatest success as an attorney at the Bureau has been in a wage and hour case on which I worked over the course of thirteen months. Our client, whom I first met in January of 2012, is an undocumented immigrant who had been chronically underpaid over the course of ten years while working under the table as a janitor. Given the client’s immigration status, the fact that he did not speak English, and his unfamiliarity with wage and hour law, our client had been entirely unable to exercise his rights. After our initial investigation of his claim, we agreed to take the case, at which point we calculated the potential value of his claims, secured a “right to sue” letter from the Attorney General’s office, and, eventually, entered into a negotiated settlement with his former employer for $30,000.
Moreover, my casework in the wage and hour group has been the most innovative and creative work I have done in law school. I thoroughly love my home in the housing practice, but the relative youth of the wage and hour practice group means that often an issue that we confront in any particular case will represent the first time that the Bureau has ever faced an issue of that nature. Admittedly, there is a degree to which this can feel daunting, especially given the breadth of “employment law” as a topic and the various overlapping and intersecting regimes of agency law, the law of corporations, as well as the dual state-federal character of the wage and hour regime, but it also means that the work I have done contributes to future generations of Bureau attorneys doing wage and hour work in a substantive way that is simply not possible in an area where the Bureau has the degree of expertise that it does in housing and family law.
The wage and hour group has given me a level of independence in my work that I have found nowhere else in law school, matched with an unparalleled capacity to achieve meaningful, tangible change for my clients.