As the largest human rights clinic in the country, IHRC trains leaders in human rights. Our students become part of a community of advocates working to create a more just and equitable world. Our work is carried out in partnership with human and civil rights organizations around the world, including international, grassroots, and movement-based organizations, as well as communities and individuals directly affected by abuse. Through clinical projects and classroom seminars, students learn and practicea variety of skills deployed by strategic and creative human rights advocates.
Students work in small project teams under the close supervision of expert clinicians, who provide guidance, mentorship, and continual feedback. Students are involved in all aspects of their projects, from conceptualizing goals and formulating strategies, to researching and drafting reports, treaties, and legal briefs, to interviewing witnesses, to presenting findings before courts and international bodies. The project work is informed by clinical seminars that combine case studies, role plays, interactions with practitioners and community members, critical reflection, and workshops of clinical projects.
IHRC’s docket draws on clinicians’ established expertise and networks in six broad areas, while remaining dynamic and responsive to emerging needs and the evolving field. Visit our areas of work pages to learn more about our clinical projects:
We strive to create a welcoming, inclusive community and to promote equity in all facets of our work.
We view the Clinic as a space for reflection and critique, where feedback is highly valued.
We aspire to contribute to the necessary work of dismantling oppressive systems and creating a more just and equitable world.
We believe that individuals, groups, and communities impacted by abuse must be at the center of efforts to protect and defend rights. We seek to play a supportive role that respects and builds their agency, power, and expertise, and advances their vision of justice.
We pursue our work with humility, respect for the dignity and worth of all people, the understanding that each individual is unique, and the knowledge that diversity and difference make for a more valuable educational environment.
We seek to practice and cultivate resilience and well-being. We aim to create an environment where students and clinicians are supported to make good mental health choices, care for ourselves, and avoid burnout.
LLM students and JD students in their second and third year at Harvard Law School are eligible to join IHRC. Information about JD clinical registration is available from the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. IHRC is a popular clinic and we encourage JD students with a strong interest in joining our community to bid highly in the registration process. Incoming LLM students complete a separate application process.
Students from other Harvard schools are eligible to apply to cross-register but because our waitlist of HLS students is often very long, it is rare for cross-registrants to be offered a place in the IHRC.
As clinical seminars cover confidential information relating to clinical work, we are not able to accept auditors. Enrollment in a clinical seminar without also taking clinical credits is not permitted.
Although you cannot work on clinical projects without being enrolled in IHRC, there are other ways you can be involved in human rights work on campus. IHRC supervises HLS Advocates for Human Rights, a student practice organization dedicated to human rights work and advocacy on campus and beyond, with an annual membership of approximately 70 students. Members are placed on student-led project teams where they work in collaboration with and under the supervision of partner organizations. The project partners range from well-established international organizations and experts to small grassroots civil organizations.
A variety of other HLS programs and groups also address human rights, including the HLS Human Rights Program, a research center that focuses on human rights scholarship and offers winter, summer, and post-graduate human rights fellowships. The IHRC and Human Rights Program are separate entities.
A clinical project is a project led by a clinician, through which students engage with substantive, real-world human rights issues. The clinician is responsible for developing and implementing the project across all its stages, often in partnership with a non-governmental organization (“partner organization”) or an affected community. Visit our areas of work pages to learn more about our clinical projects.
Some projects run in the clinic across many semesters, while other projects may last for only one semester or academic year. Each clinician chooses which projects to pursue in any given semester, related to their fields of expertise, and mindful that across the Clinic our projects should represent a range of human rights issues and methodologies.
Although projects vary significantly, each project is staffed by a team of clinical students. Teams usually range in size from two to six students, though the most common team size is three students. Depending on the project, teams may be composed of a mix of new and advanced students. Advanced students are students who have participated in the Clinic in previous semesters.
Clinicians typically cannot provide information to prospective clinical students about the specific projects that will be offered in future semesters: there is often some uncertainty about which projects will continue in any given semester; and the list of current projects can only be shared with students who are enrolled in the Clinic and have completed the conflicts of interest process.
A clinician is an experienced human rights attorney who supervises students on clinical projects. Each clinician brings years of experience to their practice, drawn from the settings where they worked before joining the law school, as well as the expertise they have developed in the Clinic and their extensive professional networks. Clinicians supervise between one and three projects each semester. In addition to overseeing clinical projects, they have a variety of other responsibilities, such as classroom teaching, providing career advice, directing the Clinic’s activities, writing scholarly articles, and working on human rights topics outside HLS.
A partner organization is a non-governmental organization that a clinical team works with on a project. The relationship may be formal–i.e. there may be terms of reference governing the collaboration–or it may be less formal and based largely on personal relationships.
Some partner organizations have had working relationships with the Clinic for a number of years; in other cases, the relationships are newer. On some projects, the Clinic will publish work jointly with partner organizations; on other projects, the public work will be produced solely in the name of the partner organization. While most projects have at least one partner organization, some are run solely as Clinic projects.
Students who are enrolled in the Clinic are invited to rank project preferences among the list of projects offered that semester. Project descriptions cannot be shared with enrolled students until the Clinic’s conflicts of interest process is complete, typically one week before the semester starts.
Clinicians review every student’s materials individually and meet as a team to match students to clinical projects. While a student’s preferences are given significant weight, placement on any specific project is determined by a variety of factors including specific project needs and team composition. Students are usually assigned to work on one project with a single supervisor but may sometimes work on more than one project with their given supervisor.
The specific work you undertake will depend on your project. Examples of clinical work include:
• Undertaking legal or factual desk research and analysis;
• Writing memos, legal briefs, submissions, and reports;
• Developing and presenting training or advocacy materials;
• Interviewing experts, witnesses, or survivors;
• Engaging with partner organizations about research findings;
• Participating in convenings, hearings, or diplomatic meetings;
• Formulating and implementing legal or advocacy strategies.
The project descriptions will provide significant insight into the types of work a project involves and its likely outputs. You can also speak to clinicians about what you can expect from different projects.
Students and clinicians work collaboratively and are in regular contact. Students can expect to have at least one full team meeting per week and some combination of smaller meetings, one-on-one conversations, and other interactions with their teammates, supervisor, and the partner organization. Regular weekly team meetings will usually last no longer than two hours. (These weekly team meetings are not scheduled until after the semester starts.)
Weekly team meetings are a chance for the team to check in, share and discuss the substance of their work, revise workplans, set new tasks, and reflect on their contributions and the direction of the project as a whole. At these meetings, the team will usually discuss the work the team completed the prior week, any challenges or questions that have arisen, and exchange feedback and ideas, before assessing the workplan going forward and distributing assignments. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to clinical work and tasks can vary significantly. For example, in any given week students may be undertaking some combination of research on specific topics, producing drafts of work product for partner organizations, preparing to conduct or conducting interviews, and meeting with the partner organization. It is not uncommon for students to submit a written work product most weeks, in advance of the next team meeting.
Team meetings may also cover broader strategic and ethical questions about a project, or involve discussions with the partner organization. Partner organizations have different preferences about how much direction to provide on projects, or how involved they will be with the team’s day-to-day work. As a result, contact with partner organizations varies considerably. In some cases, a team may meet regularly with the partner organization throughout the semester; in others, the partner organization may check in with the team only once or twice per term.
Between weekly team meetings, students will likely complete some combination of tasks involving research, analysis, writing, planning, and coordinating with your teammates. The number of ad hoc meetings that take place each week depends on the needs of the project, often varies throughout the term, and is hard to predict in advance.
In a clinic, students earn academic credits (clinical credits) for the work they complete. Each clinical credit equals 4 hours of clinical work per week or 48 hours per semester. Workloads and assignments obviously vary from week-to-week, so clinical students need not complete exactly 4 hours of clinical work per credit each week. Rather, by the end of the semester students must complete the total number hours for their credit load. For more details, please review the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Program’s clinical credits page.
Clinical students should track the number of clinical hours they complete each week. Some projects may require fairly constant number of hours each week across the semester, whereas others may have deadlines that mean a heavier workload at one point in the semester balanced out by a lighter workload at other points.
We enjoy having students in our suite, in the clinical wing on the third floor of WCC, and encourage you to spend time there. At the beginning of the semester, you will meet with your clinical supervisor to discuss expectations and norms around clinical work, including where and when clinical meetings will take place. Clinical teams usually meet in the Clinic’s conference room or in their supervisor’s office. In addition to in-person meetings, the Clinic uses Microsoft Teams and SharePoint as communication, collaboration, and organization tools for clinical work.
Yes. Each term, the Clinic has a limited number of spaces allocated for advanced students, meaning students who return to the Clinic after having previously completed a semester with IHRC. (The semesters do not need to be sequential.)
At the midpoint of the semester, eligible students (all 2Ls, as well as 3Ls and LLMs in their fall semester) are given the opportunity to apply to continue in the Clinic as an advanced student for the following semester. In semesters where there are more applicants than available advanced slots, the Clinic maintains a waitlist for those who were not initially offered a place as an advanced student.
Human Rights Careers
A central aspect of the student experience includes accessing mentorship and career guidance tailored to their individual interests and goals, as well as the shifting demands of the human rights field. Many of our alumni pursue careers in human rights or other areas of public interest, and our strong alumni network is an important resource for clinicians, current students, and graduates. You will find our alumni working on human rights and social justice issues at a variety of NGOs around the globe, international courts, the United Nations, government, law firms, and law school clinics.