Photo Essay

Law School Life Through the Lens

The Power of Pro Bono

There may be no stronger unifying thread among Berkeley Law’s extraordinarily diverse students than their commitment to pro bono work. With more than 28,000 collective hours logged last year, such work is viewed not merely as part of their law school experience, but as an essential one.

That ethos permeates the Berkeley Law landscape, from faculty who dive into wide-ranging pro bono cases to alumni lawyers who help supervise student projects to senior administrators who have significantly increased staffing, resources, and funding for the school’s Pro Bono Program.

Bringing vital services to underserved populations, these efforts produce more equitable access to the legal system — be it working to prevent gun violence, protect a tribal community’s cultural property, increase access to clean energy, secure housing for low-income tenants, or dozens of other endeavors. Here are some pro bono standouts and how they serve the school’s public mission.

Asunción Hampson-Medina
Photo by Rachel DeLetto
Asunción Hampson-Medina ’22
Coming from a background with Indigenous and Mexican heritage, Hampson-Medina wanted to serve his communities in law school in ways he never could before. Participating in the Workers’ Rights Clinic, working as a project leader at the Native American Legal Assistance Project, and co-chairing the Native American Law Students Association satisfied that wish. “The work, both researching and speaking with clients, is extremely fulfilling and has led me to pursue Indian Law the rest of my career,” he says.

Hampson-Medina has relished advocating for communities of color in ways that may change their lives — and those of their future generations. “It is inspiring that we’re able to help people in our capacity as students and it makes the law school experience significantly more gratifying,” he says. “I chose to come to law school because I wanted to help people, and my experience with pro bono work has only strengthened that sentiment and will remain central to my work throughout my career.”

Jamilah McMillan
Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small
Jamilah McMillan ’24
The national runner-up in BARBRI’s One Lawyer Can Change the World scholarship competition, McMillan “witnessed how the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people” after a family member was incarcerated. She went to law school to pursue a career helping low-income communities get adequate representation. “I thought doing pro bono work would keep me grounded and constantly remind me of my purpose for being here,” she says.

McMillan volunteers with Berkeley Law’s Tenants’ Rights Workshop, which strives to keep area residents safely housed. She also worked with the Berkeley Law Afghanistan Project, which offered legal support to people fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, supported women’s legal rights advocates there, and documented evidence of human rights violations. “Helping a client work through the process to submit an Afghan loved one’s asylum packet was definitely a meaningful moment for me,” McMillan says. “I learned so much about being an advocate.”

Deborah Schlosberg
Photo by Darius Riley
Schlosberg has elevated the Pro Bono Program to great heights since becoming director in 2018. More than 90% of Berkeley Law students participate in pro bono work, and have an ever-growing list of options from which to hone their legal talents and help their clients. Having also been a lecturer and the school’s director of student advising, she knows how Berkeley Law students are wired.

“They understand that the legal system is one all should be able to access,” Schlosberg says. “They arrive here ready to partner with the community and use their growing skills to serve others and the issues they care about deeply.” Seeing the program as a bridge to the community — and students who take seriously the trust supervising attorneys put in them to work with clients — she appreciates their proactive approach. “While our students are soaking up the law and learning in their classrooms, they’re also taking action,” she says. “They’re eager and don’t want to wait until they graduate to make a difference.”

Professor David Oppenheimer
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Professor David Oppenheimer, Co-Faculty Director
Oppenheimer sees pro bono work as a crucial reminder of just how powerful the law can be. As co-faculty director, he helps coordinate myriad hands-on options for students that resonate with their passions and deliver much-needed assistance to those in need. “I think what distinguishes Berkeley is that while many schools have a pro bono requirement, we have a pro bono culture,” he says. “That means students who arrive here and don’t already know that they want to do pro bono work quickly realize it’s part of the Berkeley Law experience.”

For Oppenheimer, making that experience available the moment students set foot on campus is a fundamental part of what sets Berkeley Law’s Pro Bono Program apart from other top law schools. “Most of our students do enough pro bono work as 1Ls to earn Edley grants ($6,000 stipends) for their first summer,” he says. “That enables them to take unpaid public service summer jobs, provide vital legal assistance, and gain valuable experience.”

Sue Schechter
Photo by Rachel DeLetto
Sue Schechter, Co-Faculty Director
Serving as co-faculty director with Oppenheimer since 2009, Schechter has relished seeing more resources funneled to the Pro Bono Program in recent years. She provides wide-ranging support for Schlosberg’s multi-prong efforts to develop new endeavors and opportunities for students to help them collaborate, learn from each other, and strengthen their initiatives.

As Berkeley Law’s Field Placement Program director, Schechter has long seen how students care deeply about access to justice issues. “They were already doing pro bono work on their own; we saw a responsibility to support them as they strive to address pressing legal needs in our communities,” she says. “If we do not expose students to the fact that a large percentage of people who need legal services cannot afford a lawyer, what hope is there for the profession and the rule of law? As a public institution, we have a responsibility to educate our students about this crisis and to provide opportunities so they can go out and do the work.”

Eunice Lee and Will Morrow
Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small
Eunice Lee ’22
Lee co-leads the Food Justice Project and Homelessness Service Project. With the FJP, she assists students who were denied CalFresh benefits with the appeals process — conducting interviews, coordinating with a supervising attorney, and relaying legal information and advice. “There are too many barriers involved in navigating different programs and resources that are supposed to be available as social safety nets,” Lee says. “Doing this work and making life easier for someone is the least I could do with this privilege of being a law student.”

With the HSP, Lee helps unhoused and low-income area residents navigate the legal system. Students identify key issues from intake interviews, then direct clients to relevant legal information and resources that may assist them. “Pro bono work is a way to facilitate access to legal resources regardless of socioeconomic status or income, and to do what I can to make sure that people’s basic needs are being met,” Lee says. “That shouldn’t be controversial.”

Will Morrow ’22
Co-directing the Gun Violence Prevention Project, which provides legal and policy research for two major nonprofits, Morrow “became involved because I’ve personally seen the pain that our nation’s gun violence crisis has caused.” Between 2012 and 2020, the father of a close friend was killed in a mass shooting at his business, a grade school classmate lost his stepmother from a reckless police shooting, and a college friend was killed in a random drive-by shooting. “This work provides a tangible opportunity to uplift the humanity of gun violence victims and advocate for legal change to better our communities,” he says.

For Morrow, who also volunteered with the Digital Rights Project, pro bono work offers a chance to delve into pressing and timely legal issues and positively impact historically alienated communities. “I elected to attend Berkeley Law, over other law schools in significant part, because of its sterling reputation for pro bono legal assistance for social justice causes,” he says.

Brooke D’Amore Bradley
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Brooke D’Amore Bradley ’23
Bradley co-leads Berkeley Law’s Reproductive Justice Project, assists the Human Rights Center’s legal investigations team, and has monitored social media for election-related voter misinformation for Common Cause. She also participated in a virtual Berkeley Law Alternative Service Trip (BLAST), helping the Georgia Asylum Immigration Network by conducting intake calls with potential clients seeking asylum or T visas, completing Temporary Protected Status applications, and researching country conditions to write reports corroborating witness testimony.

“My father learned from his mother and then passed along to me that if my life were to be of any meaning, it had to be in the service of others,” says Bradley, who before law school worked mainly on child welfare and public education systems. “In recognition that my legal education is a privilege that allows me access to and knowledge about inaccessible legal systems, I see pro bono work not as an option for myself but as a requirement.”

From nonprofits and government agencies to law firms and businesses, alumni bring Berkeley Law’s pro bono ethos into their careers. They spearhead cases, strive to create more equitable access to the legal system, and support the school’s vast pro bono efforts. Just one example: alumni at Crowell & Moring, who last year created a fund to help students engage in meaningful client service assisting community organizations as early as their first semester. These four lawyers helped steer that effort.
Greg Call, Jennifer Romano, Jacob Canter, and Kevin Cacabelos
Photo by Jim Block
Greg Call ’85
Call often sees how extensively pro bono legal services are needed, “from immigration and housing to criminal justice and voting rights,” and how people frequently can’t afford to pursue them. Given that many Berkeley Law graduates become courtroom lawyers, he says, “It offered the opportunity to not only provide financial support, but to also share our experience in courtrooms and hearing rooms.”
Jennifer Romano ’97
Romano works often with the firm’s associates on pro bono matters. Her teams have helped gain asylum for a client at risk of persecution in her home country, enabled a Head Start preschool to hold onto its lease, and converted a sentence for a client convicted to life in prison as a minor. “Some of my proudest legal achievements have come from helping pro bono clients assert their rights in court,” she says.
Jacob Canter ’18
As a law student, Canter worked extensively on election law and advocacy. “The projects were impactful and I learned valuable skills,” he says. “Berkeley Law was very supportive of these efforts — financially, administratively, and culturally. I still use those skills, and my pro bono interests still run toward work that promotes and protects U.S. democratic processes.”
Kevin Cacabelos ’20
Cacabelos and others from his firm led a fall oral advocacy workshop for the Pro Bono Program. “As a student, I always found it valuable to learn from practicing lawyers,” he says. “I think it’s important for students to know that they have the ability to grow into a fierce advocate, and that they can begin that journey while in law school by serving pro bono clients.”
Tal Ratner Solovey
Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small
Tal Ratner Solovey ’22
Ratner Solovey and other students in Berkeley Law’s Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society drafted a comment against a proposed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rule. The proposed rule would have made it more difficult for tenants to win discrimination complaints against their landlords, lenders, insurers, and others. Having worked at the the U.S. Department of Justice, Ratner Solovey wanted “to support consumers who don’t have the same lobbying power as the groups who would have benefited from the rule change.”

He also helped people complete their citizenship applications as part of the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative. A particularly memorable moment was when he assisted an elderly woman who only spoke Chinese. “She had a translator who helped us communicate, but when we wrapped up the process she thanked me directly, without the translator,” Ratner Solovey recalls. “I was so happy to help her. I’m an immigrant myself, and wanted to help other folks who were on the same journey.”

Annabelle Wilmott, Elaria Youssef, and Cheyenne Smith
Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small
Annabelle Wilmott ’22
As a 1L, Wilmott proposed the Arts and Innovation Representation project. The following year, Berkeley Law students began researching the suppression of artistic freedom to assist the Artistic Freedom Initiative, and providing direct client services to artists (under attorney supervision) in partnership with California Lawyers for the Arts. “Artistic freedom is a big interest of mine,” she says. “I noticed there were no art-related Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects at the school, and I wanted to address that gap.”

Wilmott also volunteered with Contra Costa Public Defenders and with the La Alianza Workers’ and Tenants’ Rights Clinic. Pursuing a public interest career, pro bono work was a given. “In law school, that work has humanized abstract legal principles,” she says. “It taught me how to be an effective advocate by addressing my own blind spots. It shaped my career by allowing me to diversify my skill set. Most of all, it showed me how I can use the law as a vehicle for change to benefit marginalized communities.”

Elaria Youssef ’22
While co-directing Berkeley Law’s chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project, Youssef facilitated initiatives aimed at supporting people seeking refuge or asylum. Recently, she co-launched the DA Accountability and Participatory Defense Project, which supports the Urban Peace Movement’s court watch program and other campaigns. “It’s been among my most fulfilling law school experiences,” she says. “We’re able to humanize clients in a system that’s adamant about stripping it away from them.”

Youssef has also worked with the Death Penalty Clinic and the East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate Clinic. While she’s dismayed by the criminal legal system and American jurisprudence more broadly, that certainly hasn’t dampened her resolve. “I hold the Mariame Kaba quote, ‘Hope is a discipline’ very near to my heart,” she says. “While I understand that the revolution will not be litigated, I remain hopeful that by knowing my place in the movement, I can contribute to envisioning a future that’s oriented toward true justice.”

Cheyenne Smith ’22
Smith worked with the Youth Advocacy Project throughout their 1L year. As a 3L, they helped launch and lead the DA Accountability and Participatory Defense Project with Youssef. “I’m committed to the abolition of the prison industrial complex and want to contribute the skills I’ve learned in law school to support that movement,” they say.

For Smith, witnessing firsthand the benefits of working directly with community-run organizations has been inspiring and instructive. “Far too often, lawyers center themselves when we should let the community lead movements that center their own needs,” they say. In addition to providing needed legal assistance and knowledge, Smith notes that Berkeley Law’s pro bono approach emphasizes “how to contribute our legal knowledge without inflating our importance in the movement to demand accountability from state actors whose actions devastate Black and Brown communities. I’ll carry these lessons with me throughout my career.”