By Andrew Cohen
When Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic (PAC) released a report in February on the jarring rise of criminalizing homelessness in California, it sparked widespread media coverage throughout the state. Soon after, the report became a central piece of the Right to Rest campaign that seeks to enact basic civil rights protections for homeless people.
“We knew our report would be a path-breaking contribution to the literature and debate on this important issue, but we underestimated the interest it would generate,” said Clinical Professor Jeff Selbin, PAC’s executive director. “The response impressed on me once again how a great public law school can contribute to making the world a better place.”
Then operating the clinic as a pilot program within the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), Selbin saw the importance of establishing PAC as a stand-alone entity. It will be the school’s fifth in-house clinic and second to open this year, joining the new Environmental Law Clinic.
“This will give us more training and supervision time with the students,” Selbin said. “We’ll continue to work closely with EBCLC and other community groups that have their pulse on the street-level challenges and opportunities.”
As economic inequality and social exclusion fall heavily on communities of color and other marginalized groups, PAC projects cultivate strategies for increasing social justice, equity, and inclusion. Berkeley Law students work with students from the Goldman School of Public Policy on behalf of underserved clients.
“The clinic’s approach is grounded in the lives of real people, addresses pressing societal issues, and is accountable to individuals and organizations,” Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry said. “Students will learn how to support social change campaigns at the local, state, and national level, while exploring the capacities and limits of law and lawyers to influence public policy.”
The fall lineup
This fall, PAC will support campaigns to reduce the burden of juvenile court fees on low-income youth and families, end the criminalization of homeless people, and increase police accountability.
“They’re thorny issues that disproportionately harm low-income people and people of color,” Selbin said. “High pain and low gain social policies, as we’ve come to call them.”
Selbin founded EBCLC’s Health Practice in 1990, and has subsequently served the center in various capacities. Named faculty director in 2006, he helped build EBCLC into Alameda County’s largest provider of free legal services to low-income residents. Last year, 140 Berkeley Law students assisted several thousand disadvantaged clients.
EBCLC has expanded its policy work in recent years, bringing the voices of its clients to the halls of Sacramento and other policymakers while helping PAC hone its approach.
“I’ve been very pleased at the strong student interest,” Selbin said. “With all of the world’s injustices today, students are hungry to make change and want to broaden their toolkit beyond traditional litigation and transactional skills.”
After working at PAC as a student, Stephanie Campos-Bui ’14 will bolster the clinic as its inaugural clinic teaching fellow. She will co-teach the clinic’s seminar course, supervise students, and lead the project on juvenile court fees.
“No one else in the nation has thoroughly examined this practice,” said Campos-Bui, who last year received Berkeley Law’s Sax Prize for Excellence in Clinical Advocacy Honorable Mention award. “We want to bring awareness to the issue and eventually spark change.”
After graduating, Campos-Bui spent six months with PAC and “quickly made herself completely indispensable,” Selbin said. Campos-Bui is the co-author of a report on how to leverage the Affordable Care Act so low-income Californians can get better access to vital safety net and work support programs. She will help the clinic enroll more students and tackle more complex work.
While providing direct legal services, Campos-Bui routinely “bumped up against illogical processes and systems” with no way to combat them. Eager to help change systems that her clients routinely struggled with, she gravitated to PAC’s mission.
“It would be wrong for us as lawyers and as citizens to ignore the systemic inequities and resulting injustice that plague many communities,” she said. “Our projects will shed light on some of these unaddressed issues that marginalized populations face every day—and hopefully trigger some long-lasting reforms.”