Services that make democracy work

Our clients ask us to create policies: legislation, agency rules, treaty amendments, standards for commerce, supply-chain innovations, and procurement contracts. They also ask us to investigate threats, plan coalition strategies, and advocate for policy change. We work at all levels—local, state, federal, and international. Considering how one level influences the others, we practice the law of federalism and support states as laboratories of democracy.

Four policy themes

Most recently, the Institute has developed expertise and continuity around four policy themes—climate, health/food, worker rights, and trade. Use the following links for our work on each theme.

  • Adapting to climate change
    Summers are hotter, floods are higher, and storm-surge is devastating coastal communities. Recent projects support the Georgetown Climate Center in its efforts to help state and local governments manage their “retreat” from damaged infrastructure, strengthen flood resilience, and mitigate urban heat.
  • Achieving health justice and healthy food
    Sugary, fatty foods are spiking childhood obesity, and barriers to oral health are life-threatening. Oral health for children is our first policy initiative for Georgetown’s Health Justice Alliance, a collaboration of the law and medical schools, and we continue work to reinvent a healthy food chain for urban schools and food policy councils. Read more …
  • Implementing human rights for workers
    Modern slavery, wage theft and hazardous factories supply our food, our clothes, our computers, and more. We build capacity of governments, universities and other institutions to respect human rights their own supply chains.
  • Balancing democracy & trade
    Global trade policy is on the defensive, in part because investor rights and market access have come into conflict with public interests like health, clean energy, food security, and even national security. Our work identifies threats that trade and investment treaties pose to governing authority and develops alternatives that protect public interests.

Clinical mission

The Harrison Institute has always had a dual mission—to serve public interests and educate law students. Our clients benefit from students’ creativity and the resources of a world-class law school. Our students learn by doing and putting their values into practice. Each mission reinforces the other.  Read more About the Policy Clinic.

History

Jason Newman, headshot

Jason Newman

The Harrison Institute is one of the longest-running public-interest programs at any law school. Beginning as the Project for Community Legal Assistance in 1972, the Institute was renamed in 1980 to honor the life of Anne Blaine Harrison, who supported the program with her ideas and leadership. Jason Newman was the Institute’s founder and director until 2004 when he retired.

Anne Blaine Harrison, headshot

Anne Blaine Harrison

Over the years, the Harrison Institute has been an incubator for clinical programs that respond to local and national needs. The following chart shows the evolution of programs that have led to the current structure of two clinics, one focusing on policy and the other on housing and community development.

Clinical Programs in the Harrison Institute

1970s

Legal assistance to community organizations:

Administrative advocacy – developmental disability rights, special education entitlements, rent control, land use, historic preservation, support to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

DC legislation – Drafting and research for DC Council committees. Legislation included the DC Housing Finance Agency, the DC Freedom of Information Act, utility consumer rights, probate reform and tax reform.

1980s

DC housing legislation – Drafted successful legislation for the citywide housing coalition: tenant rights to purchase, condo/coop conversion and sale, rent control, housing code enforcement, eviction control.

Multifamily housing advocacy – Represented tenant associations under laws for rent control, housing code enforcement, coop and condo conversion.

Montgomery County legislation – Staffed the Office of Legislative Counsel. Drafted legislation on urban districts, pesticide regulation, land developer fees, pension reform, and a multiyear code revision project.

1990s

Housing & community development – Focus of housing work on tenant purchase. Addition of entrepreneurial training and expansion of tenant ownership to other cities.

Agency counsel – Legal staff support to the DC Statehood Commission and Taxicab Commission.

State legislation – Drafting model legislation for the Center for Policy Alternatives including community banking, childcare financing, family and medical leave, environmental justice, microenterprise, rural development, community health services.

2000s

Housing & community development – Focus on multifamily purchase, financing, rehabilitation and entrepreneurial training. Housing spun off as a separete clinical program.

Policy – Various clinic teams focused on zoning (completed), utility regulation (completed), health/food, trade, climate, and human rights.

2010s

Policy – Four policy teams enabled the Institute to collaborate with other university centers and institutes and external partners and clients:
Climate – work with the Georgetown Climate Center and numerous state and local governments including Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and Louisiana
Health – work with the O’Neill Institute, Georgetown’s Health Justice Alliance, School Food Focus, ProcureWorks, and the National Association of Community Health Workers
Human rights – work with the Kalmanovitz Initiative on Labor and the Working Poor, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, and the International Learning Lab on Public Procurement and Human Rights
Trade – work with Georgetown trade-law faculty, the Forum on Democracy & Trade; the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee; the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and California; Action on Smoking & Health; and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance