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Berkeley Law Students Triumph in National Writing Competition

Margaret Dreschel and John Chamberlain
Margaret Dreschel ’15 and John Chamberlain ’15

By Andrew Cohen

In what is fast becoming a Berkeley Law tradition, Margaret Dreschel ’15 and John Chamberlain ’15 took first and second place in the national Adam A. Milani Disability Law Writing Competition. It marked the third time in four years that Berkeley Law students swept the top spots.

Sponsored by Mercer University School of Law in honor of the late Adam Milani, a disability rights advocate and renowned legal scholar, the competition solicits student-written trial or appellate briefs on disability law, theory, or practice. In doing so, it seeks to promote greater interest in disability law and civil rights, and to develop quality legal writing skills.

Dreschel and Chamberlain submitted briefs they wrote last spring in their first-year Written and Oral Advocacy sections taught by Lecturer in Residence Michelle Cole. Selected out of more than 70 submitted by law students from across the country, their entries addressed a Title VII employment discrimination claim—in which a department store worker was fired soon after disclosing his transgender identity to his supervisor. 

Dreschel credited Cole for “teaching me how to turn objective, academic writing into persuasive writing.” Although Dreschel had never written “anything resembling a legal brief” before her Written and Oral Advocacy class, she quickly absorbed Cole’s teaching on how to emphasize certain facts in the record to benefit her client—without compromising truthfulness.

Powerful prose

Representing the plaintiff, Dreschel argued that the department store violated Title VII both by firing her client on the basis of transgender status, and by relying on illegal sex stereotypes in its decision. “Learning to write in this way has already been immensely helpful outside the classroom,” she said. “Last summer, I had to draft several motions to persuade the court one way or another.”

Dreschel worked for four years before coming to Berkeley Law as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, a finance and fundraising operator for a grassroots congressional campaign, and a policy analyst in the District of Columbia government. After graduating from law school, she hopes to become a federal government lawyer specializing in housing law, consumer protection, civil rights, or some combination thereof.

Before coming to Berkeley, Chamberlain worked as a math tutor in low-performance city schools, a high school English and history teacher in Bangkok, a wilderness therapy instructor counseling at-risk youth in North Carolina, and a trail crew member in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Like Dreschel, he praised Cole for her encouraging him to enter the Milani Competition and for mentoring him through the process.

“Berkeley has a peerless legal writing faculty, and her guidance was crucial to my success,” Chamberlain said. “She pointed out organizational deficiencies in my brief that I was aware of, but did not know how to fix. Her comments allowed me to see solutions that I would not otherwise have contemplated.”