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In the Health Law and Policy Clinic, a slew of opportunities to sharpen legal and policy skills

This blog is cross-posted from the Harvard Law School Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog.

By Kelly Jo Popkin, J.D. ’17

L-R: Kelly Jo

L-R: Kelly Jo Popkin, J.D. ’17; Robert Greenwald, Clinical Professor of Law; and Kevin Costello, Senior Associate Director and Litigation Manager

I became interested in the Health Law and Policy Clinic after solidifying my summer employment working with the General Counsel of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC). Unlike the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), where I worked as the organization’s U.S. Policy and Advocacy Analyst last summer, PPAC focuses on the legal issues affecting their seven clinics in California in the moment and on the ground. Though I had a firm grasp on reproductive legal and policy strategies thanks to CRR, I was forewarned by PPAC that I would need to know more about barriers to healthcare access, public health concerns, and health disparities writ large. The clinic seemed like the perfect way to learn about these issues while cultivating a useful skillset for my summertime employment.

In the first couple of weeks, I immersed myself into the world of health policy reform by taking a few projects with a tight turnaround time. Along with Lauren Kuhlik (J.D., MPH ’17), I assisted in drafting a  Supreme Court amicus brief re. Zubik v. Burwell, a follow-up to the Hobby Lobby decision. I also traveled to New York to visit a cancer center and assisted in launching their nonprofit lung cancer screening initiative for upper Manhattan. The excitement of the first few weeks has set the pace for the weeks to follow.

Working in the Health Law and Policy Clinic has given me exposure to a variety of public health topics, from HIV and hepatitis C, to specialty care access, to psychosocial determinants of health. The issues vary just as much as the policy tools used to address them. In one month’s time, I have drafted a policy roadmap for a community-based health organization, a preliminary injunction against a state Medicaid agency, a Supreme Court amicus brief, and an administrative complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. I have engaged in thorough legal analysis and research for all of my projects, using a wide swath of sources to evaluate case law, market statistics, and other indicators of health law and regulations as implemented in a post-Affordable Care Act landscape. I would highly recommend this clinic to any Harvard Law student interested in becoming well-versed in a variety of legal and policy strategies, whether or not they are considering a career in health law.

I would venture to say that I learned more in the few weeks working in the clinic than I had learned in my entire law school career thus far. My supervisors have provided constructive and crucial guidance every step of the way, and have gone out of their way to show how much our work is appreciated. For example, when Professor Robert Greenwald and Clinical Instructor Carmel Shachar learned that they couldn’t put our names on the Zubik amicus brief, they contacted Dean Martha Minow to acknowledge our hard work and praise us on a job well done.

While deeply invested in achieving impactful policy changes, the Health Law and Policy Clinic is equally invested in the cultivation of future policy advocates. Thanks to the clinic’s culture of mentorship, I feel competent and confident in my ability to produce meaningful work products this summer and for the years to come.

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