Written by FLPC clinical student Julia Nitsche for the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs of Harvard Law School.
Over the course of my three semesters with the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), I have worked on numerous projects, from state technical assistance, to the Farm Bill, to international food waste regulations. All of them presented their unique sets of interesting challenges, and I feel like I have learned a ton from the collective experience of working on them all. Perhaps the most formative experience I had, was the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council Project.
In my first semester with the FLPC, I was assigned to a project where we worked with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC) to help them craft policies that would be more favorable to small or cottage food vendors. PFPC told us that they felt small food vendors in the Pittsburgh area were having a hard time opening new businesses, and they needed both guidance on how to make the process easier, and ideas on how to incentivize healthy food vendors to come onto the market.
The project was broad, and frankly a little scary. I didn’t know the first thing about the cottage food industry, or Pittsburgh, or Food Policy Councils (of which, it turns out, there are many). But with the help of my peers on the project and our clinic supervisor, we designed a plan and got to work. We put ourselves in the mindsets of a new business owner, combed through local food safety and vending regulations, and identified pain points. Then, we did some research on how other cities regulated small food vendors, and what types of incentives people had proposed for healthy food vending, like discounted vending permits for fruit & veg vendors operating in underserved areas. With a little structure and a lot of research, we finally put together a memo on what we had found, and our recommendations for how Pittsburgh could make its regulations less onerous on small, healthy food vendors.
I was lucky enough to go to Pittsburgh in my second semester with FLPC to continue the project and present our findings to the PFPC members. Overall, it was a great experience – they were very receptive, thrilled to have our help, and it really felt like our recommendations might make a difference.
While I am not going to practice law once I graduate, there are many things I take away from this project, and the rest of my experiences at FLPC, that I know will be useful to me in my career as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. First, I know that I can tackle any project, no matter how large. Combing through all of Pittsburgh’s statutes relating to food safety and vending regulations seemed insurmountable at first. But taking a step back, coming up with a plan, and then assigning jobs amongst our team broke a massive project into manageable pieces. I know that in consulting, this type of approach is paramount (and in law too). Second, this project helped me develop my research skills. I doubt I will have the occasion to look up local regulations in consulting, but there is something to be said for learning how to find information – knowing where to look and knowing when to ask. Third, meeting and presenting to our client, PFPC, definitely prepared me for my future career. And finally, this project centered around teamwork. We so rarely have the opportunity to work with others in law school, but on work projects we are often a much smaller piece of a larger whole. This is true in consulting, in law, and in life. I know that it was really helpful to me to have at least one experience in law school where I worked with someone else and truly had to communicate with them and rely on them to render a good result.
I am so grateful to FLPC for the great projects they have exposed me to and recommend anyone interested in food law or getting practical experience to join!