LSSC LSSC Law Office students with Zac Bears, executive director of PHENOM (center), and Representative Natalie Higgins ’14 (far left)

4.19.18 — The “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” which was passed last week by the Massachusetts Senate, included key recommendations made by a group of Northeastern law students. As part of the law school’s Legal Skills in Social Context program, a “law office” of 15 first-year students provided research and recommendations to the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) in its effort to stop the predatory practices that frequently plague student loan borrowers, particularly marginalized borrowers who are most often the victims of these practices. The Northeastern team provided PHENOM with comprehensive, social justice-focused recommendations for modifications to the bill when it was pending, and some of these recommendations were ultimately incorporated into the final act. The Northeastern students also created a Know Your Rights Guide community resource guide and are working with PHENOM to see it distributed by state legal offices, regulators, and colleges and universities to those individuals seeking student loans to help them understand and strategically manage their student loan debt.

Know Your Rights“The Know Your Rights Guide is by far one of the most useful and detailed explainers of student financial aid and student debt I have ever seen,” said Zac Bears, executive director of PHENOM. “It has been an honor to work with such a capable and powerful group of future leaders in law and social justice.” The bills, S.2380 and H.2173 (filed by Rep. Natalie Higgins ’14), require student loan servicers to be licensed companies with the state Division of Banks, and empower state officials to investigate the servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws. The final bill included the Northeastern students’ recommendation to establish a Student Loan Ombudsman in the office of Attorney General Maura Healey ’98; the ombudsman will lead efforts responding to complaints from student loan borrowers and help them understand their rights.

“This student law office produced an exceptional deliverable for PHENOM because they were a high-functioning team,” said Professor Elizabeth M. Bloom, who supervised the students. “The trust in one another that they worked so hard to build ultimately enabled them to combine 15 unique perspectives and engage meaningfully with the political process to help tackle an important social justice issue.”

Northeastern’s Legal Skills in Social Context program offers both first-year students and nonprofit or government organizations an extraordinary opportunity to work together on a social justice project. Students are introduced to the core skills of effective team lawyering and given an opportunity to put them into practice through an extensive legal research project on behalf of a public-service partner organization. “The LSSC project is a unique learning opportunity,” said Meredith Stuart ’20, a member of the law office. “In addition to doctrinal work and legal research and writing, it is crucial to build skills in facilitation, collaboration, creative problem-solving and self-care during the first year of law school.”

Other projects this year addressed issues related to sexual exploitation, the business and social implications of debt collection, immigration, transgender rights and wrongful convictions, among others.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students an unparalleled full year of practical legal work. All students participate in four, full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 900 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.