By Andrew Cohen
Melani Tiongson ’18 never knew Christopher Patti, an education law leader who served as UC Berkeley’s chief campus counsel before he was killed by a hit-and-run driver while cycling in 2017. A member of UC Legal for 27 years, Patti was a constitutional law expert deeply committed to equity and diversity, including access to higher education for all underrepresented groups and securing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
But while pursuing the one-year legal fellowship established in his name, Tiongson saw a career — and an ethos — she wanted to emulate.
“Not only was he a prolific writer and advocate, but a reliable colleague and friend who did a lot for his community,” she says. “Though it’s a tall order to carry, I aim to be like Mr. Patti, who was remembered as a good person who always tried to do the right thing.”
While a legal content specialist at Continuing Education of the Bar, where she conducted legal research and wrote for the organization’s publications, Tiongson heard about the fellowship from classmate and friend Melissa Montenegro ’18 — its first recipient.
“I had a yearning to be a lawyer in the traditional sense that I just couldn’t ignore,” Tiongson admits. “Once I learned more about the fellowship and all it had to offer, particularly the rare opportunity to work in-house with smart, accomplished, and experienced colleagues who care a lot about mentorship, I was sold.”
Given to a recent Berkeley Law graduate interested in public service, the fellowship provides valuable experience in issues confronted by public and nonprofit entities. Tiongson will rotate through each of UC Legal’s Oakland-based practice areas every three months and will also support projects through UC Berkeley’s Office of Legal Affairs. Her rotations will be with Education Affairs, Employment & Governance; Litigation & Capital Strategies; Business, Finance & Innovation; and Health Affairs & Technology Law.
“If I had to choose a rotation I’m most excited about, I’d say Health Affairs & Technology,” she says. “I come from a family of healthcare workers and have prior work experience in student health and well-being, so health law has always been something I’ve been interested in.”
While in law school, Tiongson was co-president of the Berkeley Healthcare & Biotech Law Society, active with the Berkeley Business Law Journal and Asian American Law Journal, and a member of First Generation Professionals. In 2017, she received the Philippine American Bar Association Foundation Scholarship and the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California Raymond L. Ocampo, Jr. Family Scholarship.
During her time at Berkeley Law, Tiongson also served as a judicial extern for U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu (Northern District of California) and clerked with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach.
“I knew that I wanted to be an advocate, change the perception of what a lawyer looked like, and give back to my community,” she says. “Berkeley Law taught me that no matter what your practice is, you can find space for public service and public interest work.”
Finding and fostering community has long been a priority for Tiongson, who calls her involvement with Berkeley Law’s Pilipinx American Law Society (which she co-chaired as a 2L) especially meaningful.
“I connected with law students who looked like me, many of whom also were immigrants and first generation lawyers. The folks there mentored me and helped me excel inside and outside the classroom, and I also got involved with the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California,” she says. “Finding this community gave me purpose and guidance both professionally and personally. I was also able to mentor Pilipinx-identifying Berkeley undergrads, which I found very fulfilling.”
Now, Tiongson is fulfilling her wish to gain versatile legal skills while serving the public interest — and honoring Patti’s legacy.
“During my interview, the panelists spoke highly of his work ethic, warm demeanor, and dedication to the underserved,” she says. “I am truly honored to be given this fellowship in his name.”