Letter to Harvard Law Record from Sophie Bryan

April 17, 2000

Harvard Law Record
Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA 02138

To the Editor:

 Coming to grips with sorrow is not a standard component of legal education, nor do I expect it to be, but after a week during which Harvard Law School lost three of its heroes, I know I could use some grief-management schooling.  Some succor is provided by the remarkable accomplishments achieved by Professors Bellow and Chayes and Dean Vorenberg during their lengthy careers teaching and practicing.  Additional comfort is gained when we recall the access, insight, and inspiration they generously shared with their students.  Yet, despite these balms, the loss of Professor Bellow cuts me to the quick, and the desire persists to shout out, “World, stop in your tracks, take notice, all is not the same!” 

 I first met Gary in September 1998, when I enrolled in the “Lawyering Process” course he co-taught with his wife, Jeanne Charn, at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain.  Actually, it was “Professor Bellow” and “Ms. Charn” to me.  I was so cowed by their brilliance, scholarship, and reputations in the clinical and academic realms that I could not bring myself to address them informally.  That year-long class was transformative for many of us. 

Looking back, I am staggered not only by the boldness of Gary’s and Jeanne’s vision for the course – the curriculum included legal ethics, negotiation strategy, professional development, peer evaluation of clinical work product, incorporation of technology into practice, and more – but also by the manner in which they set themselves to the daunting task.  Without a doubt, Gary and Jeanne were the most phenomenal teachers I had ever met.  Their appetite for critical discussion was voracious.  Their willingness to cast away assumptions or standing models in the face of convincing challenges was unflagging.  Their commitment to standards of excellence belied the rote critiques typically leveled at legal services theory and practice.  At times the classroom felt like a laboratory, albeit an unusual one in that Gary and Jeanne were right there with us mixing it up at the workbench.

 Gary provided the closing comments to the students and staff who participated in orientation weekend at the Legal Services Center this past fall.  It was a long day of training, and we were all eager to burst outside and enjoy what remained of a beautiful day.  Without fanfare and without warning, Gary’s brief remarks took our breath away.  He spoke about moral hazards, ethical dilemmas, and the great seriousness with which we were obliged to pursue our clinical work. 

In this static context these themes may read as shrouded with gloom and doom, as a weary shepherd’s cry to his wayward flock, or as the bitter fruits of idealism worn down by years in the legal services trenches.  To interpret his comments in this manner is anathema to the infectious, nuanced, and serious joy with which Gary approached his work and taught his students.  Gary best described this practice of serious joy himself, when he outlined his vision of the lawyer-client relationship in his 1996 C.R.-C.L. essay “A Practitioner’s Reflections.”  He wrote:

Alliance seems as good a word as any to describe this relationship because alliance generates bonds and dependencies and is grounded, at least in aspiration, in forms of respect and mutuality that are far more personal and compelling . . . than the demands of some notion of client-centered lawyering, no matter how strongly held. 

Even after almost four decades of direct service legal advocacy, the alliances Gary built with his clients retained their vitality for him and their hold on him.  As his words above evidence, the grip was not one of martyrdom, but of a collaborative privilege for which he was ever thankful. 

It is worth noting the appropriate astonishment we must accord Gary’s ability to teach his “Medical-Legal Connection: A Patient’s Perspective” class this past fall, a class whose subject matter he was concurrently experiencing both personally and painfully.  One afternoon in class, Gary spoke about how it never ceased to amaze him that he was afforded sincere and open-hearted access into people’s lives in the course of his advocacy work.  This opportunity to travel a few whiles side by side with people from diverse walks of life clearly lit him up, and enabled him to move past numerous political, institutional, legal, and social obstructions hand in hand with his clients and colleagues. 

No doubt, Gary’s shining intelligence, fierce dedication, and years of ground-level advocacy experience contributed to his popularity as an attorney, teacher, and mentor.  The gift I will miss most, however, is his grace.  Gary’s mere presence in a room was enough to at once soothe your soul and light your heart on fire.  He never shied from the challenges at hand, never provided empty reassurances that just doing the work was doing good enough, never fronted that he had resolved the various tensions in operation.  What he did do was to be real and critical and generous and inspirational. 

 In the same essay quoted above, Gary relayed some advice that his grandmother had bestowed on her grandchildren: “Wherever you go, try to make what you find better than it was before you came.”  No question, Gary.  No question. 

Jeanne, David, Douglas, and Courtenay: In his memory and in your honor, we’ll keep working to do the same. 

                                                                          Sophie Elisabeth Bryan, ‘00


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