Gary Bellow

Seminal figure who worked on both civil and criminal matters. Leader with United Planning Organization, and CRLA on farmworkers. Clinical programs at universities.

Person details

Where most active professionally: California, District of Columbia, and Massachusetts
Law type: Civil and Criminal
Lists: In Memoriam and NLADA Board/Staff
Source: CNEJL
Date deceased: Apr 13, 2000


Gary Bellow was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1935. He graduated with honors from Yale University in 1957 and from Harvard Law School in 1960. He received a Ford Foundation fellowship in criminal law and spent a year at Northwestern University Law School, which had just started a LL.M. program in Criminal Law. After graduating in 1961, he served in the army, where he also worked as a lawyer, and hitchhiked across the United States twice.

After a very brief stint in the appellate division of the Legal Aid Society in New York, Bellow and his mother moved to Washington, DC, where he sought work as a criminal defense lawyer. He found employment with the Legal Aid Agency (now the Public Defenders Service) in 1962, where he initially worked as an investigator and eventually as a defender.

Passionate about equal access to the justice system for poor people, he became acquainted and friends with Edgar and Jean Cahn, with whom he discussed drafts of their seminal article on the War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective (1964). In 1965, Gary Bellow became Deputy Director of the United Planning Organization (UPO), Washington’s Community Action Program, where he stayed for about one year. While working at UPO, E. Clinton Bamberger Jr. asked him to join the Office of Economic Opportunity-Legal Services Program as its Deputy Director, but Bellow decided to stay with UPO. Bellow did, however, recommend his close friend, Earl Johnson Jr., whom he had met while in the LL.M program at Northwestern University.

In 1966, Gary Bellow left UPO to work with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) where he worked on community organizing and legal assistance for migrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley. Bellow’s work brought him in contact with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers and in conflict with then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan. Bellow stayed at CRLA until 1968. Bellow then worked for the Union Farmer Workers in a pro bono capacity.

In 1969, he was recruited by the University of Southern California School of Law to develop a clinical legal services program. While at USC School of Law, Bellow continued to work as a lawyer, and worked on various legal cases for the Black Panther Party.

Bellow stayed at USC until 1971, when he left to start the Legal Services Institute at Harvard University. He joined the Harvard faculty as a visiting professor in 1971 and then became a Harvard professor of law in 1972. Bellow was a founder of and an instructor at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, the school’s major legal clinic in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. Bellow worked at the clinic until his death in 2000 and is remembered by countless colleagues and students for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the poor, for his vision, and for his reflections and criticism of the routine delivery of legal services, as well as his impact on the development of clinical legal education.

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