By Andrew Cohen
Saul Rodriguez ’19 emigrated to the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, when he was 9. Classmate Xiuyuan Hu ’19 did the same, from Chengdu, China, when he was 13.
When they first arrived in the U.S., the notion of attending college—let alone working for a judge during law school—ranged anywhere from highly optimistic to downright absurd. Yet this summer, you can find them in high-level chambers.
Selected by the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA) Federal Judicial Externship Program, Rodriguez will work for Judge Jesus Bernal in the Central District of California. Selected by the Sonia & Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, Hu will work for Judge Norma Ruiz of the New York Supreme Court.
Both are the first Berkeley Law students chosen by the respective programs. Some of their classmates will also work for judges through other diversity pipeline initiatives—including the Just the Beginning Foundation’s judicial internship program founded in 2011 through the leadership of Eastern District of Virginia Judge Gerald Bruce Lee.
“I had no idea that I’m the first from our school to be chosen under this program until Eric Stern told me,” Hu said. “It’s definitely a great honor.”
Stern, Director of Operations for Berkeley Law’s Career Development Office, played a pivotal role in both students landing these prime opportunities.
“Eric spoke to our La Raza Student Association summer job search panel and I later met with him and Erin Clarke, my Legal Research & Writing instructor, to talk about my interests and create a plan,” Rodriguez said. “I learned of the MABA program from La Raza co-chairs Erika Villaseńor ’18 and Miguel Zavala ’18, filed the application, and went on follow-up interviews. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without those support systems. I’m extremely grateful they were there to help.”
Stern noted that judicial internship diversity pipeline programs provide students of color, LGBT and first-generation students “an invaluable opportunity to work with judges who are generous mentors.”
“Saul and Xiuyuan are going to have transformative experiences this summer in terms of what they’ll learn from their judges, but also because of the connections they’ll make to the successful, dedicated attorneys and judges who are stakeholders in these programs,” Stern said.
Accent on ambition
Hu hopes to pursue a career that enables him “to become a creative litigator. I want to get a grasp of how courts are run on a daily basis,” he said. “I’m definitely interested in a clerkship down the road and even becoming a judge if that’s possible.”
The same holds true for Rodriguez, who spent three years as a bilingual elementary school teacher in Chicago through Teach for America—then two more as an ESL instructor in Los Angeles—before starting law school.
“Clerks, judges … those positions of great influence aren’t always readily available to people of color,” he said. “In a way, considering the possibility of holding those positions is driven by the same factors that brought me to law school: to give people of color a greater voice.”
“The most rewarding part of law school has been seeing how much of a voice our affinity groups and organizations have within Berkeley Law’s community,” he said. “My professors and classmates are some of the most passionate and impressive people I’ve ever met, but they also reflect an empathy and awareness that is necessary for social advancement.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2014, Hu interned at a small law firm that focused on personal injury cases—then volunteered at the Buddhist Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California. Keenly interested in Zen, he also participated in a short monastic training program in 2015.
Earlier this year, Hu got word of the Sotomayor Program, which seeks to cultivate and develop future leaders by placing high school and law school students in judicial internships at courts throughout New York City. The program also aims to increase diversity in the legal profession by educating and empowering students from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds.
After passing the initial screening, Hu had a FaceTime interview with one of the Sotomayor Program directors and soon after he was matched with Judge Ruiz. Hu will attend an orientation session on May 20 before embarking on his summer odyssey.
“My interviewer told me there are some networking opportunities that come along with this program,” he said. “For many reasons, I’m excited to get started.”