Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship

The Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship (BLOS) is a 3 year, full tuition scholarship for first generation college graduates. In order to apply, you must:

  • Identify as a first generation college graduate (see our definition in the How to Apply section)
  • Submit a complete admissions application by December 15, 2021
  • Have taken the LSAT (or GRE/GMAT*) no later than November 30, 2021
  • Write a 1-2 page BLOS essay with your application materials

As a premier public law school, meaningful access to a high-quality legal education is central to our core mission and values. We believe that we have a responsibility to promote access for students who are the first in their families to graduate from college and to pursue a professional degree. The Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship is a symbol of our commitment to both excellence and access. 

Furthermore, we believe that first generation individuals bring an important perspective, shaped by their personal experiences, to any setting—from the classroom to the board room. We also recognize these individuals have the potential to become law students who have a high degree of leadership potential and a strong personal commitment to making a positive impact on society. The Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship provides students with an outstanding, affordable educational opportunity.

Scholarship & Programming

Financial Support

The Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship provides recipients with funding to cover tuition and fees (including Student Health Insurance, materials fees, etc.) for three years (six semesters) of study at Berkeley Law. This is equivalent to more than $180,000 in guaranteed non-loan aid. The BLOS does not provide a stipend to cover books, computing needs, or living expenses, relocation, etc. 

“The BLOS award has served as an invaluable gift and resource to me in law school. I have always worked multiple jobs in high school and college to pay for tuition and living expenses, which made it very difficult for me to dedicate time and energy to my classes. For the first time in my life, I can solely focus on my academics and law school endeavors.”

-Xiaolin Chen ’21

Programmatic Support

We realize that there can be unique challenges when you are the first person in your family to receive a college degree and go on to attend law school. Among these are the financial pressures and demands that often distract from an academic experience. We hope this award will allay those concerns. We also recognize that at times a lack of family or other social support may complicate your introduction into the legal profession. We hope to address these barriers in meaningful ways as well.

Berkeley Law is community‐oriented. Recipients of the BLOS will have the option to participate in the First Generation Professionals (FGP) student organization. FGP was founded and is run by students with the support of faculty sponsors. 

“The organization cuts across race and gender and is born from the common needs of law students from poor and working‐class backgrounds who are often the first members of their family to obtain higher education. The First Generation Professionals student group accords with the mission of Berkeley Law as a public law school committed to promoting social mobility.”

-Professor Bertrall Ross, FGP Faculty Sponsor

 Some of FGP’s activities include:

  • Organizing events designed to support students in the development of social capital, networks, and knowledge, to help ensure that these students have the same opportunities for success as everyone.
  • Offering programs such as dinners with other first generation professional alumni, and a first generation alumni‐student mentorship match coordinated by the Career Development Office.
  • Facilitating connections for FGP students here at the law school, including offering a first generation professional buddy system that matches 2Ls and 3Ls with 1Ls, and an annual dinner at a professors’ house in which students have the opportunity to spend time with the Dean and other members of the faculty. 
  • Academic and other support in the form of exam‐taking skills training sessions, career development forums for both careers in the public sector and the private sector, and more.

In addition, recipients of the BLOS will be guaranteed a spot in Berkeley Law’s Pre‐Orientation Program, hosted by faculty before the official start of classes to ease the transition into law school. (Non‐BLOS recipients are also eligible to participate in the Pre‐Orientation program if they submit a timely application.)

“In our first BLOS dinner, I was introduced to faculty and staff that quickly became trusted advisors and career mentors. Building this support was an important goal for me in law school.”

-Rosa Hernandez ’21

There are also many social and networking events specifically for BLOS recipients. Typically, they are welcomed to campus with a “Family Dinner” that introduces them to key staff in the Career Development Office, Financial Aid, Student Services, etc. In the past, the Dean of the law school also hosted the BLOS recipients for a dinner at his or her home, along with members of the faculty. We expect these and other traditions to continue.

Finally, all Berkeley Law students have access to our on‐site psychologists, Academic Skills Program (ASP), field placements and externships, clinics, journals, Student Initiated Legal Projects, Career Development Office programming, and more.

How to Apply

Candidates must be a first generation college student in order to be considered. We consider a college student to be first generation if neither parent earned a four-year college degree (or the equivalent) or if you were raised by a single parent who did not earn a four-year college degree. 

Finalists will be chosen from all qualified applicants by a selection committee and will be invited for an interview in March. Interviews are required. The deadline to apply and submit all required materials for BLOS is December 15, 2021 and you may apply using the regular decision application or binding early decision application. Because BLOS applications are reviewed in January, the last LSAT that we will take into consideration for BLOS candidates is the November 2021 LSAT

You are required to submit a one to two page essay addressing the following prompt: How do you think being a first generation college student has shaped your perspective, and how will that perspective contribute to the Berkeley Law community and the broader legal profession? The essay can discuss content from your personal statement or diversity statement (if included), but should be a unique, independent essay specifically addressing your identity as a first generation college graduate. You may wish to discuss any obstacles you have faced on your journey to law school, contributions to your community, history of leadership or advocacy, and what kind of impact you hope to make at Berkeley Law and in the greater legal profession. The essay can be submitted at the time of your application or emailed to us at admissions@law.berkeley.edu as a PDF attachment by the December 15 deadline. 

What do we look for?

“The BLOS award not only removed financial barriers from my law school goals, but also gave me the validation I needed to know I belonged in the Berkeley Law space. I immediately connected with Berkeley Law staff and other students through the BLOS interview process, and felt supported and seen by staff throughout my 1L year, with built-in friends in my BLOS cohort. I was able to focus on public interest goals and involvements immediately in pursuit of my future career, feeling free from financial restraints to pursue my dreams and finally not having to make a decisions based on financial feasibility.”

-Maddison Pilgrim ’22

In selecting finalists, the BLOS selection committee will read through your application materials, including personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation, optional addenda, and the required BLOS essay. In general, our committee is looking at three broad categories in selecting finalists:

  • “Distance traveled” (in the non-literal sense). How far have you come, and what obstacles have you faced, on your journey toward law school?
  • “Potential contribution” – both to the Berkeley Law community (will you be a student leader? what activities or curricular areas are you interested in? etc.) and to the legal profession in general (what do you see yourself doing with your law degree? how and where will you have an impact?).
  • “Need” in the financial and mentoring sense. How will you benefit from the BLOS? There are no actual income or asset tests, but we’re looking to provide opportunities to those with very limited resources, financial and otherwise.

Retention and Renewability

BLOS awards are renewed automatically for up to three years (six semesters). There is no GPA or class standing requirement associated with scholarship renewability. The only requirements for retaining BLOS awards are that recipients make satisfactory academic progress and remain in good standing with the law school.

Meet the Scholars

Class of 2024

Alleyah Caesar

Hometown: Laurel, MD
Undergraduate: Spelman College ’21

Alleyah Caesar graduated Summa Cum Laude with a major in History and a minor in Sociology from Spelman College. As an aspiring attorney, she is passionate about restorative solutions for alleviating extreme rates of imprisonment. She hopes to translate this commitment into action by becoming a Public Interest attorney who engages with marginalized communities to increase resiliency in the face of mass incarceration. While at Spelman, Alleyah worked extensively with inmates, juveniles, and families of incarcerated loved ones through organizations such as Common Good Atlanta, Forever Family, and the Spelman College Social Justice Program. Most notably, Alleyah served as Chair for the Youth Subcommittee of the governor-appointed Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group. In her role as Chair, she created an engagement program to improve community relations between law enforcement and minority youth. The program ran in conjunction with the Fulton County Juvenile Court and the Atlanta Police Foundation, and will occur annually with replication throughout several Georgia districts.

Alitzel Cervantes Solis

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate: University of Southern California ’21

Alitzel was born in Morelos, Mexico but was raised most of her life in Los Angeles California. She received her B.A. in History in May 2021 from the University of Southern California. Throughout her undergrad career she worked and volunteered at several nonprofits that provide low cost legal services to the local LA community as well as others that helped first generation high school students apply for college. Outside of school Alitzel enjoys trying new restaurants, finding new tv shows and hiking. She is excited to explore all that the Berkeley trails have to offer.

Elizabeth García

Hometown: Santa Ana, CA
Undergraduate: UCLA ’18

Elizabeth was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Chicanx Studies and a minor in Labor and Workplace Studies. As an undergraduate she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. During her time there, her studies focused on the militarization of police and the resulting human rights abuses that occurred under each country’s dictatorship. Shortly after she participated in the UCDC program and interned for the Washington Office on Latin America as a Mexico and Migrant Rights intern. After graduating, she was employed with the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, an office of the Judicial Branch of California which provides counsel to represent indigent men and women under sentence of death in California. At Berkeley Law, she seeks to explore the intersection of race, gender, and criminalization. She is particularly interested in the exploitative and abusive powers of law enforcement and the impact of over policing in immigrant communities and communities of color. In her free time she enjoys weightlifting, indoor rock climbing, and camping.

Denisse Hernandez Zaldana

Hometown: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’20

Denisse Hernandez Zaldana grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa Honors from the University of California, Berkeley. During her time as an undergraduate, Denisse Co-Chaired the Intimate Partner Violence Commission (IPVC), which provided trainings and curriculum development for UC Berkeley and K-12, resulting in the education of over 2,500 students in the Bay Area. The IPVC also provided professional development workshops, including financial and resume building sessions for survivors of intimate partner violence in collaboration with the Alameda County Family Justice Center. As an undergraduate, Denisse served as a representative for the Chancellor Christ’s Coordinated Community Response Team on sexual violence and sexual harassment. Denisse is passionate about civic engagement and interned for a non-partisan voter mobilization effort through the California Public Interest Research Group. Denisse is excited about all that Berkeley Law has to offer and enjoys reading The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and historical fiction. She also enjoys yoga, high intensity interval training and mentoring first generation college students.

Julia Ho-Gonzalez

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate: UCLA ’19

Julia is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and two minors in Public Affairs and Spanish. While at UCLA, she had the privilege to serve as Facilities Commissioner for the UCLA student body and advance sustainability, inclusivity, and accessibility efforts at UCLA. Prior to joining Berkeley Law, Julia interned as a Program Assistant at the Library of Congress and Program Analyst at the United States Department of Agriculture. These internships furthered her passion for public service and advocacy. She looks forward to continuing this at Berkeley Law.

Jasmin Luz

Hometown: Stockton, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’21

Jasmin Luz received her Bachelors of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 2021. As a Stockton, CA native she is inspired to advocate for the rights of immigrants and low-income individuals. Jasmin is the proud daughter of immigrant parents and a first generation high school and college graduate. Throughout her undergraduate education she mentored Berkeley High School students that would become first generation high school graduates. Additionally, Jasmin served as an intern at the Social Justice Collaborative, a non-profit organization providing legal resources to individuals seeking refugee and asylum relief. Jasmin developed personal connections with many of her supervisor’s clients and relayed legal information in Spanish, a language they understood and felt comfortable with. At UC Berkeley Jasmin was involved with student advocacy through the Associated Students of the University of California and by serving on the board of Students of Color Emerging in english. Jasmin hopes to gain invaluable legal knowledge, skills, and connections at Berkeley Law to return to her hometown of Stockton, CA and serve her community. Jasmin is beyond grateful for the opportunity afforded to her at Berkeley Law and is excited about pursuing public interest while attending.

Florencio Maldonado

Hometown: Tracy, CA
Undergraduate: UC Merced ’19

Florencio was born in México and moved to California’s Central Valley when he was 8 years old. Determined to find public policy solutions to the social inequities he witnessed growing up, Florencio decided to attend UC Merced and major in Political Science. During his time as an undergraduate, Florencio interned in the United States Senate and the California State Legislature, and upon graduation, accepted a job offer as a legislative aide in the State Assembly. Florencio spent two years in this role, working on critical policy issues to address some of the social injustices he witnessed, and improve the lives of California’s most vulnerable communities. These experiences not only highlighted the importance of public service, but also opened Florencio’s eyes to the consequential underrepresentation of Latinos in spaces of power, including the legal field. Florencio believes that this underrepresentation not only diminishes Latinos’ ability to shape American laws, but also results in an inequitable treatment in the justice system and an unjust enforcement of the law. By obtaining a JD, Florencio hopes to continue his passion for public service by fighting to ensure Latinos, and other marginalized groups, are truly equal under the law.

Kayla Nguyen

Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Undergraduate: Duke University ’20

Kayla graduated from Duke University summa cum laude as a double major in global health and cultural anthropology. During the course of her undergraduate career she dedicated her research to address health inequalities and inequities for communities of color, low-income families, minority groups, and other vulnerable populations. Kayla worked with a non-profit in the Bay Area called Larkin Street Youth Services, an organization focusing on addressing youth homelessness, particularly for POC and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Her background in studying intersectionality and the influence of social identities on an individual’s life path, guided her to seek ways in which students could address and disrupt systems of social inequality and discriminatory hierarchies. Other global health research projects she has overlooked include HIV/AIDS prevention through education in Vietnam as well as the creation of a curriculum to address the school-to-prison pipeline in Durham County. Given her interdisciplinary interests in health, medical care, social justice, and the law, she aspires to continue to address health care affordability and accessibility by pursuing health law. She is incredibly grateful for and empowered by the opportunity to return back to the Bay Area and uplift communities that she herself identifies with and finds solidarity in.

Miranda Paez

Hometown: El Monte, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’19

Miranda was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She is a proud daughter of a single mother and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. She attended UC Berkeley where she earned a B.A. in Political Science with Honors for her thesis, which measured the effectiveness of Oakland Ceasefire—a youth violence prevention program. Following her graduation in 2019, she began working at a public interest law firm specializing in employment discrimination and civil rights for incarcerated individuals. Most recently, she worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as a Docket Clerk. During her gap years, she also began creating a virtual organization to help make higher education more accessible for youth in her hometown. She is interested in pursuing a career in impact litigation, particularly in the intersection of technology and criminal law.

Maripau Paz

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Undergraduate: UCLA ’20

Maripau Paz is a first generation American originally born in Bogota, Colombia. She received her bachelor’s degree from UCLA’s Honors College with a double major in Political Science and Global Studies. As an undergraduate, Maripau focused on student retention, serving as a Resident Assistant, New Student Advisor, Administrative Clerk at the Academic Advancement Program, and as a board member for UCLA’s Student Alumni Association. Academically, she focused on global migration patterns, writing her honors thesis on institutionalized racism in U.S. refugee policy. Inspired to become a litigator, Maripau has worked for the National Center for Youth Law, focusing on making the law more accessible for foster youth. She also was a JusticeCorps member under Americorps, providing bilingual assistance and interpretation services to self-represented litigants within family law. She is also a board member of the Human Trafficking Legal Network, which connects lawyers and advocates with Pro Bono opportunities to advance initiatives to protect foster youth from human trafficking. This past year, she was a paralegal in a corporate employment defense firm, and spent her summer as an SEO fellow at Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe. Maripau is passionate about increasing representation in the law, and looks forward to growing at Berkeley.

Class of 2023

 

Juan Martin Cabrales

Hometown: San Diego, CA
Undergraduate: San Diego State University ’15

Juan is the proud son of Mexican immigrants and a first generation American. He received his bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Juan has served as a case manager for unaccompanied minors, working towards to reunify families across the U.S. He then transitioned into immigration law, providing direct legal services for immigrants seeking a secure and stable life in the U.S. In addition, Juan worked with the East Bay Community Law Center’s (EBCLC) Clean Slate Practice from 2018 -2020. He worked on growing and shaping EBCLC’s first “Crimmigration” program, assisting indigent immigrants and county residents to overcome barriers created by their criminal record. At Berkeley Law, Juan has worked with the La Raza Workers Rights Clinic and the Berkeley Immigration Group. He is now the Co-Editor in Chief of the La Raza Law Journal and Public Interest Chair for La Alianza (formerly La Raza). For summer 2021, Juan worked with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties and remains committed to serving low-income communities.

Lucero Cordova Arellanes

Hometown: Santa Fe, NM
Undergraduate: University of Denver ’20

Lucero grew up in Santa Fe, NM and graduated from the University of Denver in 2020. Throughout her undergrad career, Lucero worked as a legal assistant for a small immigration firm and interned for Casa de Paz, a local nonprofit; whose services include providing shelter, food, and transportation to immigrants released from detention. Lucero is passionate about social justice and issues regarding immigration and equal representation. During her first year of law school Lucero participated in La Alianza’s Workers’ and Tenants’ rights clinic, which she will be co-leading this fall, as well as in the La Raza Law Journal. Lucero spent her summer as a law clerk for Hanson Bridgett LLP. Through these experiences she hopes to enhance her skills as a legal advocate.

Kendra Dawson

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate: Loyola Marymount University ’19

Kendra Dawson was raised in Los Angeles, CA. She completed her undergraduate degree in Communications at Loyola Marymount University and then went on to complete a masters degree in Political Sociology at the London School of Economics & Political Science. In her free time she likes to read, meditate, and travel. She has a strong interest in family law and further exploring technology & IP law. 

Jessica Michelle Gomez

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate: UCLA ’12

Jessica is the daughter of Salvadoran civil war refugees. She grew up in South Los Angeles. She was a member of the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees & Families, a grassroots collective that organizes and supports refugee families by providing material support during and post-detention. As a former organizer and paralegal for the Opportunity Under Law project, the impact litigation unit at Public Counsel, Jessica helped combat economic injustice through community engagement and policy reform. In this previous role, Jessica advocated for the fundamental rights of vulnerable communities, such as formerly incarcerated people, refugees and low-wage workers. This summer, Jessica worked at Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia with the immigration division. At Berkeley law, she continues to foster deep relationships with system-impacted clients through her work with the Post-Conviction Advocacy Project. Jessica dedicates herself towards elevating the needs and voices of directly impacted and neglected communities. Jessica aspires to become a criminal public defender.

Sasha Graham

Hometown: Richmond, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’20

Sasha, a single mother, attended UC Berkeley, where she majored in Ethnic Studies. She has been a housing activist for the last 5 years, serving as the President on the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment State Board. During her time on the Board she helped pass Rent Control and co-designed a Know-your-rights mural in her hometown Richmond, CA. She assisted in passing AB 1482, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, a statewide anti-rent gouging bill. She has traveled across the nation to engage politicians, political groups and activists to garner support in solving the housing crisis in America. She would like to serve her community through writing policy and litigating for education, housing and human rights.

Taliah Mirmalek

Hometown: Oakland, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’16

Taliah Mirmalek is a community researcher/organizer born and raised on Ohlone Land in Oakland, California. She earned her B.A. from UC Berkeley in Rhetoric and Political Science, with high honors from the Rhetoric department for her thesis analyzing the disciplinary logic of economic sanctions. As a student, she organized with Students for Justice in Palestine. After graduation, she organized as a researcher in the labor movement, with SEIU and UNITE HERE Local 2850, advocating for low-wage service workers’ right to organize. In the year prior to law school, she followed her love of working with youth and completed a Blueprint Fellowship, tutoring middle schoolers at United for Success Academy, an Oakland public school. At Berkeley, she has participated in La Alianza’s Centro Legal Workers’ and Tenants’ Rights Clinic where she supported largely immigrant workers and local tenants. She co-founded a pro bono project supporting projects ranging from land use law for a native tribe and establishing a workers co-operative, under the supervision of the Sustainable Economies Law Center. She is also an active member of Law Students for Justice in Palestine as well as the Muslim and Native student associations. This summer, she has interned with the Advancement Project, an organization committed to using the law to support community and youth organizing. This coming semester, she will be participating in the Policy Advocacy Clinic.

Class of 2022

Samantha Kempton

Hometown: Whitethorn, CA
Undergraduate: UC Berkeley ’17

Samantha is a J.D. Candidate at UC Berkeley School of Law. She attended the University of California, Berkeley where she earned a B.A. in Legal Studies and Social Welfare. At Berkeley Law, Samantha is the Co-Leader of BRAIV, a domestic violence advocacy student organization. She also participates in anti-trafficking legal efforts and the Berkeley Journal of International Law. This summer, Samantha worked as a Judicial Extern at the San Francisco Superior Court Unified Family Court Branch. Prior to working with the Unified Family Court, Samantha worked as a Law Clerk at the Family Violence Law Center and at East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland, CA. After graduation, she hopes to continue to serve families and children in need of legal services.

Sally Choi

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate: Georgetown University ’17

Sally Choi graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Sociology and Government. During her undergraduate years, she interned at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, primarily working with transition-aged youths in the foster care system. Following graduation, Sally worked as an analyst at a litigation firm with a focus on securities fraud and government enforcement defense. Briefly before law school, she worked in the legal department at Forever 21 under the privacy and marketing team and gleaned insights into the in-house practice. Last summer, she worked with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in various stages of trial and administrative hearings at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. This year, she summered at Kirkland & Ellis and will be returning as a full-time associate. At Berkeley, she is part of the publishing team on California Law Review.

Kaylee Johnson

Hometown: Casper, WY
Undergraduate: Stanford University ’18

Kaylee attended Stanford University, where she majored in Political Science and played for the varsity women’s basketball team. She served as a corporate paralegal at Fenwick & West LLP before law school. During her first year of law school, Kaylee joined the Negotiations Team and The Berkley Journal of African-American Law & Policy. She also dedicated her time to assisting with reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals in California. Kaylee has a strong interest in Corporate Law and its intersection with Silicon Valley.

Cissy Morgan

Hometown: Tucson, AZ
Undergraduate: University of Arizona ’17

Cissy was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. She attended the University of Arizona, where she majored in Sociology. During her undergrad, Cissy served as a Congressional Intern for Congressman Grijalva and mentored students of color at her former high school. Cissy has a passion for social justice and science. Prior to coming to law school, she worked as a research assistant in the Police Professionalism and Changing Protest Policing Protocols Lab and Poverty in Tucson Field Project. Cissy also Co-founded the Black Lives Matter Tucson Chapter. Last summer Cissy was a 1L Diversity Fellow at Perkins Coie in the Los Angeles office. She was also the Co-President of First-Generation Professionals and Coalition for Diversity’s Equity and Inclusion Chair.

Maddy Pilgrim

Hometown: Roseville, CA
Undergraduate: Chapman University ’19

Maddy is a 3L at Berkeley Law is pursuing a career as a Public Defender. Maddy graduated summa cum laude from Chapman University with degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science, and a minor in LGBTQ Studies. During her 1L year at Berkeley Law, Maddy volunteered with Clean Slate Project at Contra Costa Public Defenders and in her 2L year, lead a team of eight students in the project. During her 2L year, Maddy advocated for clients in the Clean Slate Clinic and Crimmigration Clinic at EBCLC. This upcoming year, Maddy will join the Death Penalty Clinic. During law school Maddy worked for the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of California in its Capital Habeas Unit, at Contra Costa Public Defenders, and at Alameda County Public Defenders. Maddy has also been a member of the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice during law school and served as an Executive Editor in her 2L year. Maddy enjoys baking, houseplants, and spending time with her partner and their dog, Luna.