Faculty Friday: Jade Brown

Faculty Friday is a series highlighting members of the Initiative on Cities (IOC) Faculty Advisory Board, by exploring their work on campus and in the city. This week, we are highlighting Jade Brown, a Clinical Associate Professor of Law in the Civil Litigation & Justice Program (CLJP) at Boston University School of Law. 

By Jaclyn Berman

Jaclyn Berman: Tell me about yourself and what you are currently working on.

As an Associate Clinical Professor in the Access to Justice (A2J) Clinic at BU Law, I have the privilege of sharing my passion for housing equality and consumer rights with students. In this role, I teach and supervise law students enrolled in the two-semester A2J Clinic, where students directly represent clients and work on projects related to systemic change.  As a former student in the Clinical Program, I enjoy being back at BU teaching students the nuts and bolts of legal practice.

I started teaching at BU in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Coming from a Legal Services background, I knew there was a service gap for tenants facing eviction, where many legal aid offices were closed. I also knew that there were online tools that could help, including MADE, the MA Defense for Eviction Portal, developed by Professor Quinten Steenhuis. I started the BU MADE Project for students to work remotely using the portal to assist tenants facing eviction with drafting and filing a response to their case. This response is called an Answer and includes defenses and counterclaims that the tenants can raise to have a fighting chance in their case. This is a service project that law students outside of the clinic can also participate in. 

In addition to this project, we work on a variety of cases in the A2J Clinic, including housing, consumer, employment, and family law. Under my supervision, students represent tenants facing eviction; they represent workers in unemployment benefits hearings and consumers in small claims debt collection hearings. The clinic is an exciting opportunity for students because they get to put into practice the knowledge and skills that they have developed since starting law school. It is a joy to watch them develop their competence and confidence in their lawyering skills by the end of the year. I also learn a great deal from my students, who have come from various backgrounds and life experiences, each semester. 

One of my favorite student experiences is Lawyer for the Day Program. This semester, we visited the Consumer Debt Lawyer for the Day in Roxbury, staffed by Greater Boston Legal Services, a project I founded. It was good to go back to my old stomping grounds with the students. Greater Boston Legal Services defends consumers sued by large debt buyers, and the students assist them with intakes, client counseling, settlement negotiations, and magistrate trials.  Lawyer for the Day can be somewhat unpredictable, so it is an opportunity for students to apply what they are learning in the classroom in a dynamic and fast-paced environment. They are forced to think on their feet and adapt as new challenges arise. By participating in these opportunities, I hope that students envision the type of lawyer they will become. Returning to my roots allowed me to teach the Consumer Debt Practicum next spring. 

My research and scholarship are also primarily focused on housing and consumer issues. 

My current work explores guardian ad litem representation in housing courts. The Britney Spears conservator legal battle sparked much interest in court-appointed representative situations, like guardianships or conservatorships.  However, it is a little-known fact that housing court judges can appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for a tenant who lacks capacity or cannot advocate for themselves in a case.  My article analyzes the pros and cons of this important resource, including recent legislative efforts to codify the GAL process in housing court. 

What are some of the biggest challenges and clashes between the practice of law and housing issues in Boston? 

I think, for the most part, Boston is a rapidly changing city.  There has been rapid gentrification in some areas, and unfortunately, the law is the last buffer for many tenants and folks at the margins. I am speaking in terms of being part of a low-income community or a historically marginalized group and the importance for people to be able to live in neighborhoods where they can feel safe and have a sense of community. Tenant organizations like City Life Vida Urbana do a lot of work around organizing; however, there is a shortage of legal and non-legal resources. Furthermore, litigation is not always the most effective method to spur systemic or social change. 

To some extent in housing, litigation only stems the tide of individual eviction cases but does not address the root causes of housing instability for most tenants.  While the individual case is extremely important, it does not necessarily resolve larger bad practices and systemic inequities. As such, systemic changes and larger efforts are needed. Two bills on access to counsel that have been proposed in the Massachusetts Legislature would provide low-income tenants facing eviction with a court-appointed attorney for representation. However, the bills did not get passed during the 2023 legislative session. This is just one example of larger systemic changes that could have a significant effect on reducing eviction rates. 

What policy/policies are most difficult for cities to pass or execute successfully?

There are some things that most people can agree are necessary and benefit a large segment of the population or correspond to a larger social good. We query some of these disparities with students in the Access to Justice Clinic seminar. For example, social welfare policies related to seniors or people with disabilities typically receive the most bipartisan support. When you get into issues related to poverty, for example, deservingness, this idea of who is deserving or undeserving and associated stereotypes often come into play. And this is where policy becomes more difficult to get passed.

What is one change you wish to see in Boston?

I would like more opportunities for students to see more of Boston (and the Greater Boston area) and realize the richness of culture and the diversity of people in this city. I was listening to a radio program, and they were talking about this idea that there are two or even three different sides of Boston, but that students, among other visitors, coming to the city are often only familiar with one side of Boston. As a student, I stay pretty close to Commonwealth Ave and miss out on opportunities to see and experience much of the rest of Boston. But, by going to a Lawyer for the Day Program in Roxbury, for example, students can experience Boston beyond Back Bay. We need to think more about ways to enrich and learn from the Boston community.

What is one aspect of Boston that you hope never changes?

Boston is a historic city. There is this amazing history here amazing architecture, and many people come to Boston from all over the world and are able to feel connected to the culture and the city.  I hope that Boston never loses its charm.