By Andrew Cohen
A $300,000 gift from the Bernard E. and Alba Witkin Charitable Foundation will help transform Berkeley Law’s clinical program by expanding and enhancing its work environment.
“Everyone involved with our in-house clinics will benefit tremendously from this gift,” said Clinical Professor Ty Alper, associate director of the law school’s Death Penalty Clinic. “It will create much-needed space and allow the clinics to work more productively to better serve their clients.”
For more than 14 years, the clinical program has provided Berkeley Law students with hands-on legal training. Under the close supervision and guidance of nationally-recognized faculty, these students deliver pro bono legal services in three clinics housed within the law school: the Death Penalty Clinic, International Human Rights Law Clinic, and the Samuelson Clinic for Law, Technology & Public Policy. The East Bay Community Law Center, which serves low-income clients in a variety of clinical practice areas, is housed off-campus in South Berkeley.
The Witkin Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the clinical program. The late Bernard Witkin ’28, who created the foundation in 1982 with his wife, Alba Witkin, advocated fiercely for law schools to offer students more pragmatic training. Bernard Witkin is best known for his definitive treatises on California law, an invaluable resource to scores of judges and attorneys, and for his work as a state Supreme Court clerk and reporter.
“I’m pleased to provide this funding in memory of my late husband,” Alba Witkin said. “Bernie felt passionately that clinical law experience was of critical importance in preparing students for successful practice.”
The in-house clinics currently work in three adjacent rooms designed to accommodate six to eight students each. With approximately 50-60 overall students in the three clinics each semester, those rooms are sorely overcrowded.
“This generous gift will enable students to experience the collaboration that is fundamental to real-life legal practice,” said Clinical Professor Laurel Fletcher, who directs the International Human Rights Law Clinic. “For the first time, all in-house clinic students will be housed in the same space, which will include individual meeting rooms to foster student team collaborations and use of state of the art video conferencing, and multi-media technology for teaching and practice.”
The expansion project is expected to take about a year. “Clinical training helps our students become practice-ready,” said Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Urban ’00, Co-Director of the Samuelson Clinic. “This newly renovated clinical space will more faithfully mirror the architecture of legal practice, where lawyers collaborate across substantive areas, rather than by themselves in cabined workrooms.”
Having seen the impact of Berkeley Law’s recent school-wide renovations, Death Penalty Clinic student Nikki Davenport ’13 called the Witkin Foundation gift “transformational.” She likened the upcoming project to Berkeley Law’s student center, which houses legal journals and advocacy groups in the same area—enabling them to work together.
“I’ve seen how functional, beautiful space really elevates the spirit of our students and the excitement within our school,” Davenport said. “Clinic students are passionate about their work. It’s important to feel proud of the space where this critical work is done.”