Berkeley Law’s student body is a community of young professionals whose passions and talents help make this an incredibly vibrant place to learn the practice, purpose, and power of law for the public good. This page is a glimpse at some of our amazing students in their own words and through submissions from members of our community. Nominate someone for a spotlight by emailing rdeletto@law.berkeley.edu.

Marlenee Blas Pedral ’23

portrait of dark haired female wearing a suit jacketHometown: Temecula, CA
Education: UC Santa Barbara B.A.; University of Vermont M.Ed.
Affiliations: UC Student Regent Designate, California Law Review Vol. 111
 

I was born in Mexico and moved to southern California when I was in second grade. The lack of Latinas in higher education and in the broader legal profession influenced my desire to become a lawyer. I chose to attend UC Berkeley because I’ve been in public schools all my life and believe that, as a leading public law school, Berkeley Law and its students and graduates can create change and shape the future of our profession. 

Prior to starting law school, I was involved in Census 2020 outreach. So participating in the Political and Election Empowerment Project (PEEP) (a pro bono student-initiated legal service project) during 1L year was a natural progression of that work. There, I researched voting laws and redistricting efforts. I also served as the law school’s delegate to the Graduate Student Assembly, UC Berkeley’s official legislative body for graduate and professional students. I enjoyed representing my classmates as part of a group that was assessing UC Berkeley’s virtual instruction policy, raising awareness around academic resources, and taking on initiatives like doubling support for Native American students by establishing partnerships to name a few.

I decided to run for the position of Student Regent to the UC Board of Regents because as a UC graduate and former UC staff member, I wanted to bring that unique perspective to the role during such a critical time. Before law school I worked at UC Riverside. There I started two initiatives, the opening of a UCR Career Closet, an initiative that provides students with professional attire, and the founding of the Butterfly Project, a program that provides undocumented students with career counseling, scholarships, and internship opportunities. So I have experience with student advocacy and really enjoy that work. 

The Student Regent is an important position because I’ll be a voting member of the governing body of the University of California. As the only student on the board, I will represent all undergraduate and graduate students across the university’s 10-campus system. 

The role is a two-year commitment. During the 2021-22 academic year I will serve as the Student Regent-designate, and I will have rights to attend all meetings. Then next year, as the Student Regent, I will attend all meetings and become a voting member. Essentially my job is to represent the student voice and perspective on issues pertaining to the holistic student experience before the board. 

As we recover from the impacts of COVID-19, we will continue to face new challenges and I look forward to helping the university innovate and move forward in the best interest of the students during this unprecedented time. In addition to the important priority of addressing impacts of COVID-19 among students and working towards a safe transition back to in-person instruction, another goal for me as Student Regent is to accelerate the university’s efforts to address basic needs and launch collaborative initiatives that address affordable housing for students across the UC system. 

I think that the professional training, genuine commitment to serve, and unique leadership experience that law students have make us exceptional candidates for the job of Student Regent. I’m really excited to help make the student experience remarkable as we continue to overcome challenges and work towards building a supportive ecosystem for all students in fall of 2021.

Armbien Sabillo ’21 and Allaa Mageid ’21

Female in black dress and grey jacket at left; male in blue suit at right; both smiling Co-founders of Bringing Law Into Science & Society (BLISS)

Armbien: Allaa and I met on the first day of Berkeley Law’s pre-orientation. We quickly recognized our shared background as scientists who come from immigrant families, and immediately began collaborating on our vision to combine science and law to uplift historically marginalized communities. During law school, we founded Bringing Law Into Science & Society (BLISS), established BLAST-Hawai’i, and pursued other projects through the Berkeley Technology Law Journal (BTLJ), the UN Human Rights Council, and Legal Clinics. And the results have been phenomenal! 

Armbien: I have always wanted to be a scientist. I grew up by the sea in the Philippines, and being surrounded by fascinating sea creatures ignited in me a curiosity for how living things function.This led me to pursue my Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology here at UC Berkeley. My work focused on the molecular mechanisms of embryo development; my goal was to understand and prevent congenital disorders like muscular dystrophy. During graduate school, I discovered my life’s purpose: to advocate for equitable allocation of research funding and to ensure equitable access to science education. I was dissatisfied with how poorly research programs actually benefit communities of color, which is a direct outcome of science education and careers being so inaccessible. So I decided to go to law school and pursue science policy. 

Allaa: My parents immigrated from Sudan, so I grew up always aware of health disparities. That led me to pursue my undergraduate degree in public health. After that I did a master’s in environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins where I concentrated in toxicological sciences and epidemiology, which is the science of tracing diseases. I was awarded the  Presidential Management Fellowship program STEM track where I worked as a health scientist on remediating Superfund sites at the Environmental Protection Agency. I was working on a really contentious Superfund site where we wanted to pursue a criminal investigation on the polluters’ environmental consultants’ scientific methods and we needed evidence that would stand up in court. That’s when I realized I needed to do more than just the science. I decided to go to law school so I could be a bigger part of the solution to these problems. 

Allaa: We both have a really strong commitment to the communities we come from and recognize the differences in the resources that are allocated to different groups of people in different parts of the world. Our science backgrounds give us a unique perspective to be able to see that combining science and law can lead to innovation and equity. But there is an extreme disconnect between science and law.  

Armbien: The whole way of thinking as a scientist vs. lawyer can be so opposite yet complementary. In law and policy we are encouraged to think broadly, whereas in science we are trained to think extremely narrowly. In addition, law is rooted in precedent, while science thrives at the cutting edge. The strength of law is that it doesn’t change very much; you do things that happened before. Science is the complete opposite. The scientific method is about disproving your hypothesis, and you adopt a new paradigm when evidence-based research calls for it. Law is based on judicial opinions. That’s a human being, totally subjective. Science is data-based, less open to interpretation. I think lawyers don’t know much about what scientists do and scientists don’t know much about what lawyers are doing either, but their work is critically interrelated and complementary. 

Allaa: We founded Bringing Law Into Science & Society (BLISS) to be a bridge that allows scientists to learn about law and lawyers to learn about science and how they can benefit each other and collaborate for the good of society. 

Armbien: Our goals for BLISS were to recruit people with technical backgrounds into law and to expose future lawyers to scientific topics. But more importantly, we wanted to create an environment where both sides can collaborate. Berkeley is the perfect place to do this because there are so many brilliant things happening all across the different departments on campus.

Armbien: Our first symposium was exactly that. We recruited scientists from STEM departments: molecular and cell biology, neuroscience, chemistry – we even had a nuclear engineer. We asked the scientists to give a talk about their work and its broader impact in the world. Then we paired up the scientists with law students to work together on hypotheticals. For the law students, we asked: how would you talk to your client about commercializing and patenting their thesis work? How would you help a scientist explain their work to a politician or judge who doesn’t have a science background? For the scientists, we asked: how would you describe to a courtroom why fingerprints or DNA evidence isn’t infallible? How would you advise a legislator to draft a statute is unambiguous and rooted in evidence-based research?

Allaa: Half of the attendees were law students and policy students, but the other half were scientists who were from outside the law school. It was a really special event because I think it allowed both the scientists and lawyers to understand each other’s work more. Now these law students understand why science policy has to be more dynamic than they are used to thinking about in the law and they are conversant in these important issues. And likewise, the science students can go into their professional lives understanding how difficult it can be to move the bar in the legal profession because of our system of precedence, and how important it is to have trained scientists involved in legislating and policymaking.  

Allaa: In addition to connecting law students with other grad departments and other graduate students on campus, BLISS also does community outreach. For example, a group of us went to Contra Costa Community College to talk to STEM students about the intersection of law and science.

Armbien: I think most people see law and science as totally separate things. BLISS has given us the opportunity to go into different spaces and explain that not only are they synergistic, but they actually need each other. Law could use the rigor and objectivity that science has to offer, while science can really benefit from law’s broad perspective rooted in society and daily life. Science can be so far removed from what the people actually need and understand; law and policy bring that perspective. This is why together, science and law are such powerful tools for addressing inequities in society. So it’s been amazing to see the BLISS community grow not only within the law school, but also in the greater UC Berkeley and Bay Area community.

Rachel Terrell-Perica ’21 and Sophia Wallach ’22

Co-directors of Berkeley Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution team

Part of Berkeley Law’s Advocacy Competitions Program, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) team sends students to mediation and negotiation competitions, two of the many different types of alternative dispute resolution processes, according to the ABA. Mediation can be thought of as a negotiation facilitated by a trusted neutral person. Mediation competitions include a mediator or “third-party neutral,” (either a student or professional mediator), and the two parties in dispute. Negotiation competitions do not include a third-party, only the two parties in dispute. While mediation involves a more formalized process, in both, the parties are negotiating against each other, which means that everyone on the ADR Team learns how to negotiate.

In fall 2020, Rachel, Sophia, and Karen Yang ’21 were the first team from Berkeley Law to compete on the international level at the Singapore International Mediation Competition, which virtually convened 48 teams hailing from 31 different countries. The Berkeley team competed in Singapore time (5:00 AM Pacific) for five days. They won all five rounds they competed in and took Gold in the Mediator and Mediation Advocate (negotiation) categories.

Here, Rachel and Sophia discuss the ADR team and the value it has contributed to their legal education:

Portrait of female studentSophia: When I was in college I did field work at a public defender’s office and in a family court. I kept seeing people get up in court and then the judge would give a decision. But I didn’t feel like most of these people were having their stories heard or having anything actually resolved in their lives. When I was getting ready to graduate I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to law school yet, but I wanted to do something immediately to help people work through issues without having to deal with the court system. So I got certified in mediation and was a volunteer mediator while I was working as a paralegal at the Federal Trade Commission. Then I received the Henry Luce fellowship and went to work for a year at the Singapore International Mediation Institute on dispute resolution and mediation issues. One of the reasons I chose Berkeley Law is the Alternative Dispute Resolution team. 

Portrait of female studentRachel: I’m a first generation law student, so I didn’t know much about the legal world. Before law school, I was working for UN Women in Papua New Guinea on a woman-only bus system. It became very clear through my research that regardless of how many social interventions we were doing, that the law didn’t protect these women. That experience led me to work as a paralegal at Lieff Cabraser, then to law school. I wasn’t familiar with alternative dispute resolution when I started as a 1L. I actually missed the signups for tryouts and happened to stumble upon it in progress. I asked if I could still try out and they gave me the prompts and said, ‘If you can do this in the next 15 minutes, then sure.’ I prepped for the next 15 minutes, went into the negotiation, and just came alive. 

Sophia: Participating in the Alternative Dispute Resolution team and competitions is a unique opportunity for law students to practice advocating for their client’s interests while still problem-solving together with opposing counsel, something that nearly every lawyer will do on a daily basis. Strong writing is important, but lawyers also need to be good communicators.

Rachel: Absolutely. I think a lot of people experience anxiety around public speaking and oral advocacy. The ADR team is one of the few opportunities a 1L has to actually do the work of a lawyer in a safe, learning environment. You’ll practice with teammates and coaches and build your advocacy abilities. Before you know it you’ll be able to confidently engage every single person in any room, regardless of their background.

Rachel: I am planning to go into intellectual property and transactions are a very regular part of that practice area. As a result, I am more interested in the negotiation side of our team. It’s thrilling to go into a space and navigate the competing interests and figure out how to move forward. Sophia loves our mediation side. Together we make a great team.

Sophia: As co-directors this year, we’ve worked really hard to draw on our different skill sets in order to make the team as strong and diverse as possible. Clint Waasted, our head coach, has also been instrumental in developing the ADR program for the past 6 years here at Berkeley. ADR is different from other student organizations in that we bring people together from very different segments of the law school that would likely never connect otherwise to work together on a common cause.

Rachel: ADR is also a great experience because it exposes team members to a wide variety of legal practice areas and situations. For every competition, all ADR members participate in spars, which are basically practice mediations or negotiations to ensure those that will be competing are ready to excel at very high levels. For instance, we had a team competing in the National Sports Law Negotiation Competition earlier this year. So we all had to research how to negotiate a sports contract, learn about the professional organizations and the types of clauses that are normally included, etc.

Sophia: Mediation and negotiation are also increasingly essential to international legal practice. Most cross-border disputes are not going to be resolved in a courtroom, but through some sort of ADR process, often administered through an international body such as the WIPO. These tools are already shaping the way that lawyers interact with each other across different states, different borders, different nations. So it was exciting for us to be able to take Berkeley to an international ADR competition and win.

Katherine “Kaki” Vessels LL.M. ’21

Education: Centre College, KY; Xavier University, OH; University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law (JD); United States ARMY
Zooming in from: O’ahu, Hawai’i

The X-Files was a huge part of my life when I was little. I wanted to grow up to be a hybrid of Scully and Mulder. I knew the FBI looks favorably on people who are veterans, so, I was like, “The Army will be perfect. That will help me get in and become Scully!” I found out later that’s not a real thing, but that was my dream until I went to Afghanistan.

After college I joined the Army and served four years as a transportation officer. I was stationed at the third largest logistics hub in Afghanistan during the 2010 surge. We were in control of everything that moved in and out of there, building supplies, ice cream, Christmas trees, lumber, tanks, toilet paper, etc. We also had to make sure all the supplies were moving throughout the country to support operations. 

My husband was also in the Army, and he was stationed in Hawaii doing air defense artillery. So when I was in officer training he was looking for housing for us and he had always wanted to live on a boat, so he said, “Hey. Would you be okay living on a boat for a little while?” I said, “I don’t care. I’m just trying to survive bootcamp right now. Please just get us somewhere to live.” So we’ve lived on a boat since 2008. We started off on a sailboat, and now we are on a large powerboat. I’ve got my own office, we’ve got two different cabins. It’s a great space. It’s the best and cheapest way to live on the waterfront in Hawaii. 

While I was in Afghanistan I was studying for the MCAT because I was thinking about going to medical school. But I was constantly handling contracts and analyzing regulations and I realized I was way more into that side of things than the idea of sewing up wounds. We knew that Hawai’i was our place, so I only applied to Richardson [University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law].

I was very concerned that my military background wouldn’t transition well to the civilian side of life. But in logistics you interact with so many different people because everyone needs supplies. So law school wasn’t as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. Time management and leadership skills are a huge part of the military. I was often weeks ahead in the reading, where some classmates were scrambling to finish before class. I was on almost every committee there was at the law school because I knew how to talk with people and identify and manage the steps needed to achieve what needed to be done. That, to me, was just an awesome translation of skills that I think really made my law school experience much better. Also, many people find the deadlines and pressure in law school and practice very stressful. But folks in the military have experience performing in literal life-and-death situations. I don’t panic like other people might, because I’ve been in worse situations. That turned out to be a big asset as a law student and litigator.  

During law school I developed close mentoring relationships with Professors Eric Yamamoto (a Berkeley Law alum) and David Cohen (a former Berkeley Law professor). They set me on the path towards international criminal law. Prof. Cohen offered me an internship during my 2L summer that took me to Cambodia and Senegal to work on transitional justice initiatives. During that summer, I worked with Reed Brody (the “dictator hunter”) from Human Rights Watch in Senegal. I also worked with Prof. Cohen on maritime security issues through his ASEAN Law and Integration Center. That led me to a bunch of international speaking engagements and a fellowship in the Philippines.

When I returned to Hawai’i I wanted to actually learn how to practice the law, so I went to a mid-size litigation firm. At the same time, Richardson needed someone to cover a litigating intellectual property course for the semester. I had two trials going on at the same time, a bench trial on Maui and a jury trial on the Big Island. My life was crazy, but I thrived in teaching the class. The thrill of trial was awesome, but getting to teach these students about what practical things they need to learn for the law, that’s what I looked forward to most. Again, mentoring and training people are important skills in the Army, so it’s really what I’m passionate about, and teaching that class proved that to me.

I talked to Prof. Yamamoto about wanting to become a professor, and he encouraged me to look at Berkeley and try out the LL.M. program before deciding whether to commit to three to five years for the Ph.D. 

I’m doing the thesis track and the Certificate in Law and Technology. I love my classes. Everybody is so engaged and the faculty are so dynamic. I’m taking patent litigation, and we’ve got three practitioners and their associates that come in every week and give us real time tips about what you should be doing in practice. That kind of exposure is just priceless because I don’t have that out here in Hawai’i.

Something I’ve been loving about “Zoom law school” is that people are so generous with their time. Every student and professor genuinely wants you to reach out to connect and talk. I’ve built a network of people around the world that I can’t wait to meet after the quarantine time is over. Also the variety and high quality of speakers the law school has been able to bring online for us has just been stellar because we’re getting these amazing folks who wouldn’t normally be able to fly out to California, hangout for an hour event, and then fly back. 

It’s also pretty awesome to be sitting on the back of a boat and taking classes as the sun rises or sets over the marina. I go on hikes with my dog every morning and she hunts feral cats and mongoose. Her joy of being out in nature just resets everything for me and we get to see amazing parts of this beautiful island (check out their adventures on Instagram @kakiv7). I honestly couldn’t imagine a better way to go to law school.

Joshua Frank ’22

Two black males pose wearing boxing gloves under bridge in New YorkEducation: Trinity College, Fulbright ETA Program
Affiliations: Law Students of African Descent, First Generation Professionals, Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law

My dad, Raul Frank, was a professional boxer. He was a United States Boxing Association (USBA) Champion, a Latino International Champion, and two-time contender for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Welterweight Championship. Many of my uncles became pro boxers as well. Over the years, my dad fought for Don King’s Promotion and Roy Jones’ Boxing Promotion. I recall my dad being interviewed by George Foreman, and also seeing Floyd Mayweather attend one of his fights for the IBF Welterweight Championship in Las Vegas. Being a part of these experiences helped me to gain exposure to concepts I would learn later in law school, such as negotiations, complex contract terms, and offers. As a child, many of these memories are etched in my mind. Growing up in Brooklyn as the son of a professional athlete, I always thought about how I could be helpful to the family and to my black and immigrant communities. 

Law school was a big transition for me as a first-generation student. It took some time to adjust to the different learning process, but I was able to adapt thanks to the collaborative environment here at Berkeley. People here are just more inclined to work together.  I really love that about the Berkeley Law community. I chose Berkeley because it gives students an opportunity to do real-world work outside of the classroom starting first year. Early on during 1L year I learned about Start Small through the Pro Bono Program. They are an organization that provides legal, financial, and marketing advice to entrepreneurs. 

My dad is retired from professional fighting now and trains clients at Gleason’s Gym. Through boxing training, he helps children build confidence and adults to live a healthy lifestyle. Gleason’s is one of the oldest boxing gyms in the country and has a really interesting history. Hillary Swank trained at Gleason’s there in Million Dollar Baby. I actually have photos of my dad sparring with her during training for the movie. My dad now oversees the office of his former trainer, the late Bob Jackson, who trained with Cus A’Mato, former trainer of  Mike Tyson. My dad wants to grow his training business and hopefully open his own gym one day. He also hopes to launch boxing shows around the country and world, especially in his home country, Guyana.  Start Small heard about my father’s goals and recommended that I reach out to them to make him a client. 

Working with them, I helped my dad form an LLC, build a website, increase his social media presence, and get a contract that limits his liability for training people in NYC. Proskauer Rose and Fried Frank helped us accomplish this. One of the videos we created with the guidance of Small’s social media team has twenty two thousand views. Student interns from the City University of New York (CUNY) also helped my dad to significantly increase his social media presence. 

The skills that I learned in law school enabled me to communicate with lawyers and review contracts in a way that wasn’t possible for my family before. It’s really amazing to be able to use these legal skills in a way that can literally change somebody’s life, especially when the client is your own father. 

To me, that’s what I was looking for in law school. It’s allowed me to be a heavyweight of sorts in making my families’ dreams a possibility. 

Betul Ayranci LL.M. ’15

Portrait of female student with long dark hair, wearing white jacket.J.S.D candidate
Country of origin: Turkey

Before coming to Berkeley Law for the first time for LL.M., I was a third-year associate at big law in Istanbul, Turkey, at the firm’s Intellectual Property Law and Entertainment Industry practice. After I completed my LL.M. here at Berkeley Law in 2015, with Fulbright Scholarship, I went back to Turkey, and worked as an in-house counsel to a top media holding company. I extended their business to eight countries in less than two years in Latin America and Europe. I was the only US-trained, English speaking lawyer in the company at the time, so it was all on me, which was amazing. After two years there, I moved to the Netherlands to work as a legal counsel to Fox Sports, overseeing their European and Africa sports business in collaboration with the local Fox offices and the Los Angeles headquarters.

Since my days in big law, when the firm trusted me with authoring a few blurbs and article drafts on intellectual property and entertainment law updates, I was drawn to researching and writing. During LL.M., I pursued the thesis-track, and produced a comparative study on the right of publicity of athletes in the US and EU, which was supervised by Professor Molly Van Houweling. During that time, I was invited to present my work-in-progress at a conference in Texas. With that first formal presentation, I realized I wanted to pursue a J.S.D. at some point and become an academic.

Following my graduation from the LL.M. program, I was invited to author the Media Law in Turkey monograph by Wolters Kluwer. That was when I started researching and writing a lot about practical aspects of the entertainment industry. Curiosity followed and I expanded my research into technology and start-up space, focusing on intellectual property, corporate housekeeping and cross-border transactions. I was a lawyer by day and a scholar by night. Some of my articles were published by the American Bar Association’s and International Bar Association’s journals. One of the articles that I wrote actually got a global award from the International Bar Association. I was invited to Washington, D.C. and Sydney, Australia to give talks on the topic.

It was in late 2018 that really sunk in that it was time to formally go after my passion and apply to J.S.D. program. I had a great job. I had great colleagues. I loved every minute of my practice. So, I didn’t escape back to school, but I was driven forward to school by my passion and curiosity. I naturally came to Berkeley again, not only because I love the Bay Area and the people here, but also because content and distribution in the entertainment industry is so driven by technology now and Berkeley is the best for technology law. It is also home to the Robbins Collection, which is a treasure for a comparativist like myself, and I am honored to conduct my research as one of the distinguished Robbins fellows.

For my dissertation, I’m working with Professors Rob Merges, Molly Van Houweling, Chris Hoofnagle, Coye Cheshire, and Jonathan Gould. My project is data-driven and about transnational contracts and copyright law in the entertainment industries, how the digital streaming platforms have been changing content creation, valuation and compensation. I’m also developing more and more interest in social justice. I recently authored a book chapter, forthcoming by Cambridge University Press, looking at intellectual property and social justice values of access, inclusion, and empowerment on the international level, focusing on international institutions and instruments, how they are handling copyright, trademark, patents, other IP related rights from an inclusive access and empowerment perspective. I hope to dive deeper on that in one part of my dissertation. Separately, as a Miller Fellow, I am assisting Professor Saira Mohamed on the project “The injury of Illegal Orders”.

The J.S.D. experience is very different from a Master of Laws program. In my LL.M. class, everybody was either already practicing lawyers or preparing to go into practice. The conversation and focus was more practical and practice-oriented. In the J.S.D. program, some of my peers are already teaching overseas or they have experience as diplomats. So the conversation now is more about how to advise better policies to decision-makers, whether it’s politics or judiciary, how to make practice better with bettering the policies. It’s also very individual and more self-focused. It is liberating, but also very challenging to come up with an individual research agenda and the right questions.

The environment at Berkeley is really ideal for an aspiring academic. It’s very welcoming and it really feeds curiosity. It’s no surprise that Berkeley keeps winning Nobel prizes, I think that’s an indication of feeling safe and at home and ready to give 100 percent of yourself to add to humanity and science and art.

I’m looking forward to teaching, but intellectual property and contracts are an area that will always be interlaced with practice, especially in the entertainment industries. So I plan to continue practicing at least part-time to be on the ground and keep up with problems facing practitioners so I can contribute to solving issues that make a difference in the field. I haven’t seen many Turkish names in global scholarship in these areas of law, so I’m excited to add to the academy, not only in my home country, but globally.

Kate Mather ’21

Portrait of female student with blonde hair and blue shirt in courtyard outside Berkeley Law
Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas
Education: University of Southern California
Affiliations: Managing Editor, California Law Review Vol. 109

I wanted to be a journalist ever since I was in middle school. I majored in journalism in undergrad, I did summer internships at different newspapers, and ultimately was hired by the Los Angeles Times after graduating, covering breaking news and crime. I loved the adrenaline rush that came with being a journalist. I thought I would do that for the rest of my life.

I was part of the team of L.A. Times reporters that received a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for our coverage of the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Unfortunately, by that point, I had covered a few mass shootings already. 

When something like that happens, people want to know how and why. Oftentimes, there are no answers to that question and as a journalist that’s really frustrating. You’re trying to get as much information as possible from witnesses and survivors and law enforcement, always trying to be respectful of the immense amount of trauma that people have just endured. You’re talking to neighbors and family trying to honor the people who died by telling their stories and describing who they were as people just so that readers really understand the magnitude of the loss. 

It was a tremendous honor to win a Pulitzer Prize. I didn’t think that was something that I would ever be a part of. But I also think, for myself and my colleagues, as great of an honor as it was, we were very mindful of what exactly we had received that for, and particularly the people who lost their lives that day.

That was the beginning of when I started thinking about what I could do beyond reporting to try to help address some of these issues that are everywhere. But it was really the everyday stories, seeing how policing and the criminal legal system were deeply flawed. I got frustrated after a while. I felt like I was writing about the same problems over and over and hoping that someone would read my articles and do something about it. I decided I wanted to play a more hands on role in solving some of these issues that I was writing about.

Law school was a career change for me, and the more I went through my application process, the more self doubt began to trickle in. But when I came to Admitted Students Weekend, everyone at Berkeley Law seemed so smart and so friendly, and the campus was beautiful. And then during my tour of the law building, we stopped in the California Law Review office, and it felt like a newsroom. And that was the moment where I was like, “Okay, law school is going to be tough. It’s going to be a big adjustment. But this feels familiar, I know I’ll be okay here.”

Joining CLR was just a natural fit for me. I’m incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done at the law review. We’re really committed to uplifting new ideas and new voices that have been historically overlooked and publishing work that is clear and compelling and accessible beyond just the legal community. It’s also been a really great way to get to know my classmates on a personal level. CLR has 160 members, so it’s a really unique opportunity to get to know folks at the law school that you might not otherwise get to know.

I think having a journalism background, particularly in the area of criminal justice, has helped me in law school. When I was a journalist, I talked to people who were most affected by the legal system. Their stories have motivated me and reminded me why I’m here. Plus, effective lawyering can often involve effective storytelling. As lawyers, you’re trying to convince a judge that he or she should rule in your favor; or trying to convince a lawmaker that they need to pass this kind of law to help change someone’s life. If you can tell that story in a clear and compelling way, it’s going to help your case and your clients. 

What I really like about law school is that now I get to take on an advocacy role. I’m not just sitting at the table, hearing what other people have to say about these issues or ideas, and writing it down for a story. I get to say what I think about those issues now and bring my ideas to the table. That’s very rewarding.

Virginia Lyon ’21

Student wearing glasses and long red hair poses before fall colors in front of Berkeley LawEducation: American University (B.A.)
Affiliations: Co-editor-in-chief of Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice; Mock Trial; Death Penalty Clinic; Supervising editor at California Law Review; BLASTlanta; Berkeley Immigration Group; Berkeley Anti-Trafficking Project

I wanted to attend a school that focused on public interest but was still deciding between a few. By coincidence, while I was deciding, I had a law professor in an improv class I was teaching. He told me his friends who taught at Berkeley Law were “some of the happiest people in the legal profession.” That sounded like a place I wanted to be. 

I didn’t go into law school thinking, “Oh, wow, I can’t wait to work on some feminist legal scholarship!” But I went to a bunch of happy hours, as you do when you’re 1L, and the Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice (aka Gender Journal) was the best happy hour I went to. Everyone was smart, and weird, and funny, and kind, and they all had interests I’d never heard of before. They all wanted to make the world a better place and were going about it in different ways. So I went to the first meeting and just kept on showing up. 

Gender Journal publishes legal scholarship at the intersection of gender with one or more axes of subordination, including, but not limited to, race, class, sexual orientation, and disability. Gender impacts everything, so the scholarship we publish is broad, covering everything from global warming, to trans and intersex representation, to vegan feminism, to housing discrimination, to standing for abortion providers.

Something I love about Gender Journal is that we are the only journal on campus that chooses articles by a completely democratic process. Most journals have an articles committee, and they’ll read a bunch of articles and vote on what gets in. But since Gender Journal was founded on the idea that women are not a monolith, it’s only logical that we couldn’t possibly fulfill the journal’s mission if only a few people picked the articles. The entire Gender Journal membership reads every submission and votes on what we should publish. 

These article discussions really helped me through 1L. As a 1L, you read these terrible cases in your foundational, doctrinal classes–cases that were obviously based in prejudice with an eye towards subjugation. But your professors never squarely address this. After a week or so you just want to scream. Article discussions meant I could go into this room and talk about an article that called these problems in the law out. And being able to talk about these issues with my peers was soul-soothing. It was just a really great space.

Now, as co-editor-in-chief, Jessica (Williams ’21) and I oversee all of the operational facets of a journal—the production calendar, deadlines, substantive edits on a piece, cite checking, running meetings, events, etc. While we do this work that will further social justice in the future, it’s important to us that we further social justice now. We’ve shared educational resources and ways for people to get involved in social justice, set up protest groups, and offered our members the opportunity to fulfill journal obligations by protesting or doing voter protection and outreach. 

We updated our website over the summer and launched a blog. We’ve also really tried to up our social media engagement.

Incoming students should really work to find their people. And normally, you think of affinity groups for that. And that’s a good place to start. But because of Gender Journal‘s mandate, it becomes an affinity group for people who want to leverage the law for good. If that’s what you come to school wanting to do, and you don’t mind reading legal scholarship, Gender Journal is a really good way to do that. If you think you’re interested in joining, check us out @genderlawjustice or online at genderlawjustice.org.

Ian Good ’22

Student with serious expression poses in front of Berkeley Law, fall colors in backdropHometown: San Carlos, CA
Education: UC Davis
Affiliations: International Human Rights Law Clinic

During my 1L year I went to a lunch a presentation at the law school for the Keta Taylor Colby Death Penalty Project. It’s a program that places law students at under-resourced death penalty offices in the south. I came out of it thinking, ‘wow’—I get chills thinking about it now. 

My father was a prosecutor. He spent the majority of his career, and my entire life growing up, with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. That was always an influence in my life. I totally acknowledge prosecutors have a very important role to play in society. The crimes that people who are accused of for death penalty-eligible crimes, which are always murder plus an aggravating factor, are heinous. But I still believe you’re more than the worst thing you’ve ever done. I believe in mercy. The possibility that I could do something so impactful, so important, so literally life or death, after my first year of law school really blew me away. It was the only thing I applied to.

I was placed at the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defenders Capital Defense Division. As I was organizing my trip out there, the coronavirus pandemic was just starting and they notified us that the program would be remote. But I went out there anyway.

I had no idea what I would be working on, but it turned out that my supervisor was one of the attorneys who had represented Curtis Flowers at the Supreme Court (see In the Dark, Season 2 podcast for in-depth look at the decades-long wrongful conviction legal saga). Following Flowers’ sixth trial (previous trials had either resulted in hung juries or were struck down by higher courts for prosecutorial misconduct) in which the Mississippi Supreme Court had not found a Batson violation (a claim of racial discrimination in peremptory strikes in jury selection), it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. To paraphrase Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote for the majority, he basically says: “Excuse me. Looking at the totality of the circumstances, there actually is a Batson violation.” Justice Kavanuagh looked at the Mississippi Supreme Court’s majority decision and told them they were doing the Batson analysis wrong, but that Justice King’s dissenting opinion was doing the analysis correctly. So the Supreme Court remands the case for a new trial again. Then, Doug Evans, the prosecutor who had seen this case through six trials, recused himself. The case was transferred to the State Attorney General who finally dismissed the charges (in September 2020). Curtis Flowers is now a free man, thank God.

After the Flowers opinion, there was another Batson case in the Mississippi Supreme Court, Eubanks v. State, where the majority found no Batson violation. Outrageously, the Mississippi Supreme Court basically ignores the US Supreme Court previous decision in Flowers, so unsurprisingly Justice King dissents again. To paraphrase the dissent: “Hey majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court, we just got overturned in the Flowers case and here we are again analyzing these Batson claims wrong.” So a lot of my work was looking at Justice Kavanaugh’s Flowers opinion and the lines of evidence he focused on and drafting a memo for my boss who was writing a brief for an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

I hadn’t even taken Criminal Procedure yet, so I was only vaguely familiar with capital punishment law and Batson claims, mainly from listening to the In the Dark podcast and reading some of a capital punishment textbook. I reached out to Professor Elisabeth Semel, director of Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, to try to get resources. She shared with me their recent report on “Whitewashing the Jury Box” in California. That was very, very helpful in understanding the potential for implicit bias in jury selection and how a prosecutor could make racial appeals without necessarily explicitly referencing race. It was really cool to get to see some of my research in the brief to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

I consider my first summer a huge learning experience. A big part of that experience was, despite a virtual internship, I got to live and work in Jackson, MS. Given the history of the death penalty and the South, it was very important for me to go to Mississippi and experience what that part of the country is like.

So I arrived in Mississippi right after George Floyd’s death. I was working on these issues of racial oppression and racial discrimination during the height of this swelling racial justice movement. The State’s legislature even voted to hold a referendum and replace their current state flag, which incorporated the confederate battle flag in its design, with a new flag which did not bear that vestige of institutional racism. That is truly historic. 

Ultimately, the experience made me far more committed in my beliefs that the death penalty’s wrong in all circumstances. It was also personally very gratifying to feel like I can have a small part to play in correcting some of the injustices of racial oppression in our society.

Paul von Autenried ’20

Hometown: Princeton Junction, New Jersey
Education: Princeton University, A.B. summa cum laude in Politics (Certificate in Piano Performance)
Organizations: Berkeley Trial Team, California Law Review, Pro Bonotes, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association