News Archive

Berkeley Law Standouts Earn Campus Awards for Public Service

By Andrew Cohen

Berkeley Law made a major impact on this year’s Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service by winning in three of the nine categories: Alex Scott ’13 and Sonya Passi ’13 won the Graduate Student Award for Civic Engagement; Eric Stover of the Human Rights Center won the Faculty Award for Civic Engagement; and the Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects garnered the Campus-Community Partnership Award.

Chancellor Frank Birgeneau and his wife, Mary Catherine, will host an awards ceremony and reception May 9 at the UC Berkeley Alumni House. The annual event honors the award recipients and recognizes those who embody the university’s tradition of public service and commitment to communities worldwide.

Scott and Passi co-founded the Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP) in 2012. The first of its kind in California, the nonprofit legal advocacy group mobilizes pro bono appellate representation for California’s survivors of domestic violence. The group fills a growing need. Nearly 80 percent of all family law litigants represent themselves; most cannot afford the legal fees, and many do not realize that they can appeal.

“Alex and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for when we founded FVAP,” said Passi, but she called it “the most amazing experience” of her life. “As exhausting as it is, we’re motivated by the glaring need for appellate domestic violence services in the state and inspired by the courage of our clients and their children.”

“FVAP has grown tremendously since we started this adventure,” said Scott. “We’ve hired an outstanding executive director, a legal director, and a part-time staff attorney; we’ve received nearly 120 requests for our services and have a growing number of cases in the pipeline. We’ve also given training sessions to legal service providers in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.”

Stover, the faculty director of the Human Rights Center, has long been committed to building alliances with like-minded groups around the world. He achieved this in part by growing a robust fellowship program for UC students to work internationally, forging connections between their academic studies and complex field issues. In the past two decades, 255 center fellows have researched pressing human rights issues in 66 countries and worked with more than 200 organizations.

“I take great pride in the center’s focused research and advocacy,” said Stover. “We employ DNA analysis to reunite families separated by war and political violence; we strive to improve safe shelters in refugee camps for survivors of sexual violence; and we help international courts improve their ability to protect and provide services to victims and witnesses. Personally, what I enjoy most is working with graduate students from across the campus on these and other projects.”

Stover is currently researching and co-authoring a book on the pursuit of war crimes suspects from Nuremberg to post 9/11 with former center fellow Victor Peskin and the center’s Executive Director Alexa Koenig. “Our collaboration is a reward in itself,” Stover said.

Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects are pro bono initiatives founded and operated by Berkeley Law students that help disadvantaged clients in areas ranging from immigration and refugee law to workers’ and tenants’ rights. Created and run by students—more than 400 of whom participate across 20 initiatives—they foster connections between the law school and prominent Bay Area public interest legal organizations, law firms, and government agencies.

“In each case, law students identified a legal need, recruited supervising attorneys, researched the relevant law, and enlisted classmates to bring legal services to underserved communities,” said program coordinator Trish Keady ’08. “These projects allow our law students to interact with clients from their very first semester. With training and supervision provided by us and local attorneys, they gain the benefit of practical experience to inform their academic coursework.”