By Andrew Cohen and Sarah Weld
When it comes to Berkeley Law’s commitment to helping others, the sheer volume speaks volumes: More than 200 students will participate in the school’s pro bono/public interest graduation ceremony on May 20. A record 310 applied to join a clinic next semester. And this year’s grads logged over 26,000 hours of aggregate pro bono work.
The students, faculty, and alumni honored for especially remarkable efforts this year make up an extraordinary group of dedicated advocates who went above and beyond — even by the law school’s towering pro bono standards.
Lindsay DeRight Goldasich ’21
Pro Bono Champion Award (given to graduating students who best exemplify a commitment to and the values of pro bono work)
During Berkeley Law’s 2019 Public Interest/Public Service Career Fair, DeRight Goldasich connected with Jay Petersen, senior staff attorney at California Indian Legal Services. That meeting inspired her to help create the Native American Legal Assistance (NALA) Project, which has since seen students volunteer hundreds of hours to help Native Americans and tribes protect indigenous land rights and other interests. The organization has grown in tandem with the school’s recently revived Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) chapter, for which Goldasich is also a founding board member.
Goldasich says: “My work with pro bono at Berkeley Law has broadened my legal research and writing skills, knowledge of niche legal concepts, connection with practicing attorneys, and served as a constant reminder of the people I could help with my law degree. What was most unexpected, though, was seeing how enthusiastic other students would be to contribute so much of their time and brain power to the NALA Project with me. I am forever grateful to these students and the Pro Bono Program for creating an atmosphere where pro bono work can thrive.”
Ellen Ivens-Duran ’21
Brian M. Sax ’69 Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy (given to a clinic student who displayed excellence in advocacy, professional judgment, collaboration, and reflection)
From helping clients win back crucial disability benefits to co-writing a state supreme court motion on behalf of a client facing the death penalty, Ivens-Duran has committed herself to clinical work and her clients. At the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), she won a disability appeal for a client who can now afford housing as a result and helped an adult client seal his juvenile record. At the Death Penalty Clinic, she led her team in preparing a motion a state supreme court partially granted, making it more likely that her client’s unconstitutional death sentence will be overturned.
Ivens-Duran says: “There is nothing more powerful than seeing my supervisors do the kind of work that I hope to do and do it so well, and do it while supervising students. I just can’t imagine what law school would have been like if I hadn’t done the clinics that I did. … And particularly in the death penalty context, doing anything — whether it’s editing another team’s brief, putting together your own research memo, or having a call with an outside expert — that might give any of our clients a chance for relief is the most important work we can be doing.”
Molly Lao ’21
Francine Diaz Memorial Award (given to graduating students whose studies and career plans best reflect Diaz’s commitment to social justice for women of color)
The pro bono sector of Lao’s dizzying array of school activities was eye-popping all on its own. She served as social justice chair of Berkeley Law’s First Generation Professionals group, worked for three Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPS) — Wage Justice Clinic, Disability Rights Project, Berkeley Law and Organizing Collective — and advocated for area youth with EBCLC’s Education Defense and Justice for Youth team. Raised in a predominantly immigrant and refugee community, Lao also volunteered at a food bank and tutored Oakland Unified School District students.
Lao says: “Since choosing to pursue a legal career in social justice, I knew that Berkeley Law, with its focus on public service, would be a perfect fit for me. I’ve met so many people at Berkeley who help provide needed legal services daily without any desire for recognition, and they’ve motivated and challenged me to think critically about social change. While I plan to be a civil rights lawyer, I also hope to work toward systemic changes that will enable equal justice under the law, which ideally would make direct legal services no longer necessary.”
Ted Lee ’21
Pro Bono Champion Award and Brian M. Sax ’69 Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy Honorable Mention
Throughout law school, Lee devoted himself to consumer justice as co-chair of the Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society, a Consumer Justice Clinic student, and through the Consumer Rights Workshop. He took the initiative to improve courts’ communication to clients, and created materials to educate consumers about their rights and warn them against predatory companies. Lee also helped establish the nationwide Consumer Law Advocates, Students, and Scholars (CLASS) network to encourage partnership between law students and practitioners and to build and expand consumer law programs at U.S. law schools.
Lee says: “Growing up in Koreatown in L.A. in an undocumented community, you grow up thinking you can’t really do anything or be anything. Pro bono work has literally changed my worldview. Through pro bono, I learned and witnessed that it’s possible to change the law so it can better protect and advance the rights of low-income communities and communities of color. It’s been a true privilege and honor to work alongside those who embody Berkeley Law’s pro bono culture by doing good work for the marginalized and oppressed.”
Simone Lieban Levine ’21
Pro Bono Champion Award and Eleanor Swift Award for Public Service (given to exceptional students, staff, or faculty who performed outstanding work to strengthen Berkeley Law’s commitment to public service)
Levine co-led the Reproductive Justice Project for two years, supervising up to 10 student researchers per semester. In the International Human Rights Workshop, she supervised four students researching the ethics of using digital technologies to investigate sexual- and gender-based violence. Levine also co-led Environmental Conservation Outreach and the Hub for Equity in Administrative Representation, took part in the Wage Justice Clinic and Arts and Innovation Representation, was a Public Interest Placement Faculty Committee member, and worked with two clinics.
Levine says: “The Berkeley Law public interest community has been, without a doubt, the best part of my law school experience. In particular, I’ve loved helping 1Ls gain legal skills and substantive knowledge in fields they were so excited to join that they worked in them completely uncompensated during one of the most stressful years of their academic lives. SLPS work grounded me and allowed me to stay connected with the reasons I came to law school. The friends I’ve made through pro bono work and my social justice classes are my community for life.”
Ashleigh Lussenden ’21
Francine Diaz Memorial Award
As a student leader of NALSA, Lussenden played a vital role in reviving the Berkeley Law chapter and creating a sense of community for the school’s Native American students. She also co-led the school’s Women in Tech Law group and was a student researcher for the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Working with the Survivor Advocacy Project, Lussenden provided attorneys with legal research and writing support on issues relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, and advocated for greater support for campus-wide prevention, advocacy, and training.
Lussenden says: “We have been given a great gift having the Berkeley name behind us, which opens doors and creates a position of great influence. This comes with a responsibility to exercise those powers, create positive change, and uplift voices and communities often overlooked by the legal institution. Though this responsibility often falls to students who come from the communities they are trying to help, creating this positive change is a responsibility many students already take seriously and hopefully every student and alum will exercise going forward.”
Sarah Morris ’21
Jim Fahey Safe Homes for Women Award (given to a student committed to ending domestic violence against women)
Over this past semester with Berkeley Law’s Domestic Violence Practicum, Morris supported San Francisco assistant district attorneys on child abuse and sexual assault matters. She drafted trial briefs; conducted legal research on questions of criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence; and assisted with case-building tasks. The practicum places students at Bay Area legal agencies, where they focus on issues such as restraining orders, family law, public benefits, immigration, asylum, employment matters, prosecution of batterers, and appellate work.
Morris says: “Becoming involved in domestic violence work while at Berkeley Law changed the entire trajectory of my education. I spent my final semester of law school working in the Child Assault/Sexual Assault Unit at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. This experience allowed me to advocate on behalf of victims and survivors within the context of a ‘progressive prosecutor’s’ office, wherein decades-old, failed approaches to the criminal justice system are being exchanged for more effective and more just alternatives.”
Kelsey Peden ’21
Pro Bono Champion Award
Peden participated in the Berkeley Law Anti-Trafficking Project and the International Refugee Assistance Project as a 1L, then helped lead both projects the following year. Part of her work on the latter initiative involved a trip to Jordan to help conduct intakes and write a report on the state of refugee rights in Jordan. She also worked with lawyers across the country to ban ghost gun sales while co-leading the Gun Violence Prevention Project, co-led the Hub for Equity in Administrative Response, and participated in a wide variety of other pro bono projects.
Peden says: “Each pro bono project I’ve worked on has given me an unique opportunity to work directly in different fields of law, meet incredible and inspiring public interest minded folks, and change my world view. And developing a community along the way? Incredible. Pro bono at Berkeley really has been the highlight of my law school experience, and an opportunity I am so grateful to have. Yes, it can be a lot of work — I logged over 400 hours while in law school — but every second of it felt meaningful and I only wish I could have done more.”
Watch her video remarks and read about Peden’s trip to the Ivory Coast (where she helped the International Human Rights Law Clinic provide evidence for two lawsuits about child labor in that country) here.
Vanessa Rivas-Bernardy ’21
Clinical Legal Education Association Outstanding Clinical Student Award (one student or team that demonstrated excellence in a clinic) and Francine Diaz Memorial Award
Passionate about immigrant and refugee rights, Rivas-Bernardy advocated for them at the California Asylum Representation Clinic and in four semesters at the International Human Rights Law Clinic, working on policy advocacy, documentation, and litigation projects. Pushing for border policy reform, she met with community groups, briefed congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., and drafted memos. Over the past two summers, she helped represent immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, asylum seekers in Mexico, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Rivas-Bernardy says: “Clinic pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way. It provided a challenging but supportive environment to gain advocacy experience in a range of contexts and subjects. It also emphasized the human dimension of legal practice by pushing us students to collaborate effectively as a team, develop professional and trusting client relationships, and provide constructive feedback on others’ work. I feel really fortunate to develop skills that will undoubtedly help me be a better teammate and advocate to my future colleagues and clients.”
Professor Eric Biber
Kathi Pugh ’90 Award for Exceptional Mentorship (given to one or two outstanding supervising attorney(s) of Berkeley Law’s Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects for their outstanding efforts to encourage, mentor, and supervise our law students engaged in pro bono work)
A mainstay faculty member in Berkeley Law’s top-ranked environmental law program, Biber is the supervising attorney for Environmental Conservation Outreach, one of the school’s 38 SLPS initiatives. Called “an amazing mentor” who oversees the group’s students with “incredible diligence and patience” in his nomination, Biber connects group leaders with clients working on endangered species protection, public health research, and other key environmental issues, using his vast environmental law community network to facilitate strong client connections.
Biber says: “It’s been a privilege to work with students as they work on important environmental issues. Among the projects they’ve undertaken are support to local community-based environmental justice groups and assistance for advocates seeking to end fossil fuel leasing on federal lands, leasing that contributes to the climate crisis. It’s rewarding to help students build their skills and knowledge in environmental work, get them engaged in the passion that brought them to law school in the first place, and contribute myself to work in the field.”
Ted Mermin ’96
Eleanor Swift Award for Public Service
As one Swift Award nominator wrote, “Ted Mermin eats, sleeps, and breathes an unshakable commitment to public service.” His efforts have made Berkeley Law a national leader in consumer law, through an ever-expanding roster of courses, his teaching, and his work as executive director of the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law & Economic Justice. Helping Berkeley Law students and alumni launch their own public service paths through gracious mentorship, Mermin has been an indefatigable driver of policy reform in California aimed at protecting consumer rights.
Mermin says: “What is there to say about the students of Berkeley Law? They’re worthy of the belief that Eleanor Swift has always had in them. They seek justice in the world. They remember why they decided to go to law school in the first place. In a dozen years of teaching and working with them, I have never ceased to draw inspiration from their commitment, energy, and determination to make the world a little better than when they found it. This award belongs to dozens, even hundreds, of people. But I am awfully grateful to receive it on their behalf.”
Lilliana Paratore ’17
Kathi Pugh ’90 Award for Exceptional Mentorship
Paratore is the managing attorney of UnCommon Law, which helps incarcerated individuals preparing for their parole hearings. Having volunteered with P-CAP as a Berkeley Law student, she now trains and supports its current law students. When students are first assigned a client, Paratore works with them on everything from strategic tactics for securing parole to how they can best form a relationship with the client. Exemplifying how to model care, empathy, and respect, she helps students bring a trauma-informed understanding to their work.
Paratore says: “P-CAP is very close to my heart because I was a participant and leader while at Berkeley Law and it exposed me to the work I now have the privilege of doing every day, preparing incarcerated people to appear before the parole board. I strive to provide the same mentorship and hands-on legal education I received as a law student because of how impactful it was to me. I’m continually rewarded by seeing P-CAP students partner with their clients on paths toward freedom that center clients’ experiences and needs with empathy, tenacity, and care.”
Come celebrate the student award winners and other graduates at the virtual Public Interest and Pro Bono Graduation, Thursday, May 20, at 5 p.m. PT. The event honors and thanks graduating J.D. and LL.M. students who have demonstrated a commitment to public interest, pro bono, and social justice work.