Addie Gilson & Eli McClintock-Shapiro

Photo of Berkeley Law Students: Addie Gilson '25 and Eli McClintock-Shapiro '26
Addie Gilson ’25 and Eli McClintock-Shapiro ’26

Family Defense Project (FDP) Students, Addie Gilson ‘25 (co-leader) and Eli McClintock-Shapiro ‘26 (student member and incoming co-leader), joined a panel presentation at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) National Conference on Access to Justice where they presented on their System Navigation Workshop alongside their supervising attorney and a parent advocate. FDP states its mission as “advocacy on behalf of low-income families impacted by the family regulation system, also known as the child welfare system.”

Addie shares, “Attending and presenting at this conference was an exceptional experience. I was so impressed and inspired by the conversations happening around family defense. It was exhilarating to meet so many people who care so deeply about an issue I have long been invested in, and who are pushing the needle in this field. I am incredibly grateful for the mentorship that encouraged me to enter a space not specifically designed for students, but one that made my law education come to life. 

Attendees were eager to get a hand on our workshop materials to replicate something similar in their jurisdictions. They were curious about how the partnership emerged between the SF Bar Association and the Berkeley Law students, and expressed interest in building similar partnerships in their regions. They offered ideas for how we could expand our reach: making TikToks with the information, for example.

Photo of Berkeley Law Students: Addie Gilson '25 and Eli McClintock-Shapiro '26 along with Supervising Attorney and Parent Advocate doing Panel Presentation
Supervising Attorney, Parent Advocate, Addie Gilson ’25, and Eli McClintock-Shapiro ’26

Eli responded, “The conference was excellent and people were shocked, but in a positive way, that law students were there. It definitely made me appreciate the opportunities Berkeley Law provides for students to engage in pro bono work.”

Pro bono work is a way that Berkeley Law students can pursue their public interest passions and develop their legal skills beginning in their first year of law school.  For Addie, a college internship experience shaped her efforts in supporting impacted families and informed her decision to join FDP. “I became interested in family defense during a college internship at a law firm representing children in foster care. In my first week, I witnessed the child welfare agency remove a newborn child from her mother. This experience caused me to reckon with a new aspect of state power. Before that day, I had only ever thought of the child welfare system in terms of the injustices inflicted on children by their parents, not those imposed on families by the state. 

This new perspective captivated me. I wondered why so few people were talking about this, and why parents’ voices were absent from most conversations on the foster care system. I wrote on parents’ experience of the family policing system for my senior thesis, then worked post-graduation as a Sociology research assistant to expand my study for publication. In all, I interviewed 81 parents who had prior child welfare cases. 

For the two years before coming to law school, I worked as an Advocate at the Office of the Alameda County Public Defender. Many of my clients had co-occurring criminal and child welfare cases. While their public defender handled their criminal case, clients had limited legal support and few resources to support them through child welfare investigations.

Family Defense Project Student Leaders
Justine DeSilva ’24, Ariane Walter ’24, and Greta Sloan ’24 – Family Defense Project Co-Founders. Photo by Rachel DeLetto.

I’m so glad that current 3Ls, Ariane Walter, Justine DeSilva, and Greta Sloan,  co-founded the Family Defense Project in 2022, and that I was able to be a member of the first cohort of student volunteers. It’s an area of public interest law, beginning to gain national traction, that desperately needs committed, passionate advocates.

For the past two years, FDP has been working on designing a System Navigation Workshop for parents first entering the child welfare system. This project arose because advocates were reporting that parents often begin their case without a comprehensive understanding of how the agency operates, much less the strategies at their disposal for effectively navigating through it. We interviewed dozens of stakeholders across the country, including parent advocates, social workers, family defense attorneys, and activists about tools, information, and strategies to help parents successfully navigate their child welfare case. We then converted these findings into an interactive workshop for parents, which we presented at the conference.”

The Pro Bono Program advises and supports more than 150 student leaders who project-manage 40 pro bono legal projects under the supervision of licensed attorneys in the community. Our student leadership continuously expresses that being a pro bono project leader is immensely rewarding during their law school career.

For Addie, co-leading FDP has been a highlight of her time at Berkeley Law. She adds, “Shockingly, 1 in 3 children in California, and 1 in 2 Black children, experience some level of child welfare involvement before turning 18. Yet the resources available for parents facing state investigations and removal are scant, especially in the Bay Area. Co-leading the Family Defense Project has provided an opportunity to come together with students, attorneys, social workers, community advocates, and impacted parents to address an urgent community need. Contributing to the movement to support and defend parents has been extraordinarily meaningful and exciting work.”

Family Defense Project (FDP) is one of 40 SLPS projects. Click to read more about Berkeley Law’s Student-Initiated Legal Services Project, and other enriching pro bono opportunities. 

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