By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law students and recent graduates regularly land top positions for public interest work. But even with the school’s high threshold in that area, this year is extraordinary.
Seven members of the 2023 graduating class landed coveted Equal Justice Works fellowships, a school record says Assistant Dean of Career Development Eric Stern. The fellows design their own two-year project to address an unmet legal need for an underserved community, find a legal services organization to work for, and pursue sustainable solutions.
Grads also accepted attorney and fellowship positions at myriad public interest organizations. They include the Homeless Action Center, Legal Services of Northern California, Eviction Defense Collaborative, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for Justice, Southern Environmental Law Center, Urban Habitat, Immigration Center for Women and Children, East Bay Community Law Center, San Francisco Bar Association (Homeless Advocacy Project), Oasis Legal Services, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
New grads will also work at public defender offices in New York City, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and several county offices across California, and in military positions with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (Air Force and Marines) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Others will assume government jobs with the U.S. Department of Justice Honors Program, Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service, National Labor Relations Board, California Attorney General’s Office Honors Program, Alameda County Counsel, Portland City Attorney’s Office, Alameda County and Santa Clara County District Attorney Offices, University of California’s Office of General Counsel, and Office of California Legislative Counsel.
This year’s class has also secured 49 judicial clerkships to date, 35 of them in the upcoming 2023 term. In all, 80 Berkeley Law alums will clerk in 28 states, Washington, D.C., and Palau this term.
More than half of the class will work for large law firms in London, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, and 14 for private public interest firms.
“To ensure that students feel supported from start to finish no matter what job they’re pursuing, we offer wraparound services — from review of their application materials, to helping connect them to our alumni network, to preparing them to excel in their interviews,” Stern says. “We also work hard to demystify the complex and often intimidating application processes for some of the most sought after jobs, such as judicial clerkships, public interest fellowships, and government honors programs. Our goal is to make sure these opportunities are accessible to any Berkeley Law student who wants to pursue them.”
Berkeley Law’s Equal Justice Works fellows — Rachel Appel, Wilson Baker, Renee Coe, Elissa Gray, Sydney Moon, Rachel Smith, and Ishvaku Vashishtha — will receive a salary equivalent to similarly qualified lawyers at their organization, health insurance and other benefits, up to $5,000 in annual loan repayment assistance, and leadership development training.
Here’s a look at three of their fellowships:
Confronting voter intimidation
Hosted by the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. and sponsored by Arnold & Porter, Appel will aim to protect voters of color and language-minority voters from intimidation through public education, policy advocacy, and litigation. Before law school, she monitored elections in a rural Utah county with a predominantly Native American population for the American Civil Liberties Union and advanced redistricting legislation for the League of Women Voters.
While election monitoring, “I witnessed the disproportionate burdens Native Americans faced when trying to exercise their right to vote and saw how these barriers operated to exclude voters, particularly communities of color, from the ballot box,” Appel says. “Voting serves as an important gatekeeper for all civil rights. Election law can be an important tool for communities to address inequities and is crucial in building their political power.”
Through field placements at Berkeley Law, she worked extensively on voting rights research and writing projects, and designed her fellowship plan by examining under-serviced issues and where she could fill a gap.
“I saw that voter intimidation was increasingly becoming a problem — out of over 10,000 calls to the Election Protection Hotline, it was one of the top three complaints during the 2020 election,” Appel says. “But despite federal and state laws prohibiting such conduct, very few cases were brought against bad actors. There are fewer than 30 reported cases under the Voting Rights Act voter intimidation provision. I hope to develop voter intimidation case law to deter bad actors and have state officials issue policy guidance in this area.”
New remedy for domestic violence survivors
Hosted by the Family Violence Appellate Project in Oakland and sponsored by Greenberg Traurig and The Clorox Company, Gray will push to improve safety and security for low-income domestic violence survivors facing harmful orders and inadequate remedies through writ petitions, resource development, and community partnerships.
“Supporting survivors of interpersonal violence has been an integral part of my life — at first personally, and eventually professionally,” Gray says. “I grew up alongside loved ones who are survivors. As I became older, I gravitated toward opportunities to advocate for them and others with shared experiences. In college, I explored different career paths where I could support survivors … but nothing fit quite right. Eventually, I volunteered at a domestic violence legal aid clinic and discovered an overlap in my passions. I wanted to not only prevent the trauma caused by violence, but also combat the harms perpetuated through the legal system.”
She continued that work at Berkeley Law through classes, clubs, pro bono projects, field placements, and summer jobs. To make writs a more feasible appellate remedy, Gray will design a screening, assessment, and direct representation framework, expanding on the Family Violence Appellate Project’s model for direct appeals, then develop and distribute resources to advocates and survivors across California.
“I hope to expand the legal toolbox for survivors, who should have the choice to challenge orders that harm them with as few barriers as possible,” she says. “I’ll engage with community partners to ensure that the resources and representation offered through the project are effective and accessible.”
Support for vulnerable scam victims
Hosted by Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland and sponsored by the Intel Corporation and Munger, Tolles & Olson, Coe will advocate for immigrants and people with limited English proficiency targeted by fraud and scams, which spiked during the pandemic and disproportionately affected those communities. Many institutions’ reporting procedures are accessible only in English, and contacting law enforcement raises the risk of immigration consequences.
“This was a chance to create a role I wanted at the intersection of immigration law and consumer law and meet a need that wasn’t being served,” Coe says. “I talked to more than a dozen people — mentors, current and former fellows, immigration lawyers, housing lawyers, and consumer lawyers — about what needs they were seeing and what kinds of legal theories could support those needs. My goal was to use California’s robust consumer laws to support the rights of immigrants.”
Pursuing liability for financial institutions that neither prevent nor adequately investigate fraudulent activity, she will connect with targeted communities and illuminate how to spot, avoid, and recover from scams. Coe, who did extensive immigration-related volunteer work before and during law school, will operate community-based legal clinics to help victims pursue consumer law remedies and work with immigration lawyers to aid her clients.
“I hope to force financial institutions — including banks but also payment apps like Zelle and Venmo — to make their reporting process accessible in languages other than English, take reports of scams and fraudulent activity seriously, and take responsibility for blocking obviously fraudulent transactions,” she says.