By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law’s Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPS) are ramping up efforts to promote their wide-ranging initiatives during National Pro Bono Week, Oct. 24-28. Hundreds of involved students are currently tackling issues such as worker’s rights, asylum representation, and civil rights outreach.
“Some law schools have a pro bono requirement; at Berkeley Law, we have a pro bono culture,” said Jalle Dafa ’11, the law school’s SLPS Coordinator and Public Interest Skills Fellow.
At the start of fall semester, more than 200 first-year students attended a SLPS orientation session. The annual event, which helps students embark on their first year of pro bono work, included presentations on legal ethics, cultural competency, and client interviewing.
“On the Saturday of the first week of classes, as our incoming students were scrambling to find the bookstore, read and brief their first cases, and figure out which hallways were dead-ends, over 200 of them attended our skills and pro bono orientation,” said Professor David Oppenheimer, Berkeley Law’s director of professional skills. “That’s because our students believe in the public service mission of the school and are committed to learning law through helping people.”
During National Pro Bono Week, the American Bar Association celebrates the work of pro bono attorneys and law students nationwide, and encourages volunteer service to meet the growing need of low-income clients. The week is celebrated by law schools, legal organizations, and state bar associations across the country through volunteer recognition events, free legal clinics, and presentations on service opportunities.
Three of the 16 SLPS initiatives that are off to a productive start this semester are the Environmental Justice Workshop (EJW), East Bay Workers’ Rights Clinic (WRC), and Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).
EJW provides pro bono legal assistance on environmental and environmental justice issues. The group has 33 student participants, including 25 first-year students, and partners with Bay Area nonprofits. They collaborate on research and policy projects in low-income communities related to small-scale food enterprises and climate change. They also work to protect international communities impacted by large-scale land development projects .
WRC helped about 40 low-wage workers within the first three weeks of the school year. It also recently launched the Workers’ Rights Disability Law Clinic, which has held three sessions—including a workshop that served 35 clients. Both clinics provide free legal advice to low-income workers facing employment-related issues such as wage and hour disputes, unemployment insurance, and workplace discrimination.
IRAP helps Iraqis who worked on behalf of the U.S. and, as a result, have been forced to flee the country, live as refugees, or go into hiding. The group assists clients in obtaining refugee status and special immigrant visas to resettle in the U.S. Students have raised money to help with medical fees, allowing clients to complete the application process and come to the U.S. to raise their families in safety.
Other current SLPS initiatives include the Berkeley Tax Law Clinic, Advocates for Youth Justice, Berkeley Immigration Law Clinic, California Asylum Representation Clinic, Civil Rights Outreach Project, Community Legal Outreach, and La Raza Workers’ Rights Clinic. All SLPS initiatives are made possible by the volunteer work of area attorneys who supervise the students’ work.
To recognize National Pro Bono Week and honor the volunteer activities of students, staff, faculty, and alumni, Berkeley Law invites members of the law school community to stop by the Donor Lobby Oct. 25 from 11:30 am–1 pm for a special appreciation event.