By Andrew Cohen
With more employers demanding lawyers who can hit the ground running, Berkeley Law’s Field Placement Program provides an invaluable hands-on learning experience.
Spanning a wide range of organizations and agencies from New York to Singapore, 157 students will complete placements during the current school year. At a recent informational session, students who returned from fall-semester placements outside the Bay Area regaled their peers with stories about their legal work.
“I definitely recommend doing a field placement to all Berkeley Law students,” said Arash Khosrowshahi ’13, who worked for Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. “It’s one of the law school’s best programs.”
Field placement students receive academic credit for working with supervising attorneys in government agencies or public interest organizations. They garner experience in various legal practice areas, such as civil rights; consumer protection; criminal, employment, and environmental law; health care; and privacy rights.
Bet Tzedek helps indigent clients with issues relating to employee rights, debtor’s rights, housing discrimination, and impact litigation. Khosrowshahi focused mainly on cases enforcing the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. He helped settle one complex case, obtaining a sizeable award for the client.
“I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of pre-trial litigation and working with clients on a routine basis, which I loved,” he said.
The program offers placement options in the Bay Area, state-wide, across the U.S., and globally. Its popular judicial externships place students with local, federal, or state judges; and the growing UCDC Law Program places students in federal agencies in Washington, D.C.
Program Director Sue Schechter helps students find placements that merit academic credit and that have a supervising attorney able to provide meaningful oversight and mentoring. She also maintains contact with students throughout their placement experience.
“The Field Placement Program enables Berkeley Law students to develop their legal skills in a real work environment,” Schechter said. “Our students are interested in all kinds of legal experiences, and it’s an exciting challenge to meet their wide-ranging needs and professional aspirations.”
No arbitrary choice
Ariana Green ’13 clerked for a senior arbitrator and worked at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, where she scrutinized arbitral awards and participated in several half-day conferences on enforcement-related issues.
“I wanted exposure to dispute resolution so that I could be a more well-rounded transactional attorney,” Green said. “I also wanted to live in Asia and gain lawyering experience beyond the classroom.”
After graduating in May, Green will represent startups and tech companies as a corporate attorney at Cooley LLP in New York. The firm, which just opened its first Asia office, represents clients that license technology from companies around the world.
“I was able to meet people in the tech sector in Singapore and neighboring countries, which was very helpful,” Green said. “The semester exposed me to the other side of the world. It gave me a chance to learn from professional colleagues and contacts who will continue to guide me in my career.”
Aaron Spolin ’13 worked for Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Southern District of New York—a decision motivated partly by reading the judge’s cases in Civil Procedure class.
“I was surprised by the amount of responsibility given to clerks and interns,” said Spolin, who will become a New York City Assistant District Attorney in September. “Writing draft opinions forces you to become a mini-expert in the area of law related to the dispute, which makes for an amazing learning experience.”
With more Berkeley Law students clamoring to develop pragmatic legal skills, the Field Placement Program continues to grow. Schechter also sees a rising number of students reaping the benefits of their placements back in the classroom.
“After they learn how the law works in the field, many of them comment how much more meaningful their classes are after they return,” she said. “That’s extremely gratifying.”