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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Chariz Hamilton is one of 14 law students and early-career attorneys chosen for the 2019 Law Program of the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) to participate in a two-week program in Germany and Poland this summer, which uses the conduct of lawyers and judges in Nazi-occupied Europe as a way to reflect on ethics in the legal profession today.
Now in its tenth year, FASPE provides a unique historical lens to fellows in five fields (business, journalism, law, medicine and seminary) in an intensive course of study focused on contemporary ethical issues in their professions.
FASPE studies the perpetrators to emphasize the essential role of professionals and to ask how and why professionals abandon their ethical guideposts. The FASPE Law program examines the role of lawyers in the Nazi state, underscoring the reality that moral codes governing the legal profession can break down or be distorted with devastating consequences. With this historical background, the Law fellows are better positioned (and more willing) to confront contemporary issues.
“I am looking forward to interrogating the value systems of German lawyers, but more importantly, my own,” said Hamilton. “The FASPE fellowship promises to analyze history not merely from an academic perspective, but also through personal and communal introspection. I am eager to immerse myself in all that the fellowship has to offer”. After completing the FASPE fellowship, Sam will spend summer 2019 working at the American Civil Liberties Union’s national office in New York City with the Speech, Privacy, and Technology project.
*Excerpted from FASPE press release.
Justin Brooks is a graduate of Morehouse College (2018); Serena Nichols is a graduate of CSU Sacramento (2018). Both are members of Berkeley Law’s chapter of Law Students of African Descent and co-founders of the podcast, Blacklisted. They recently recorded a conversation about race and identity as part of the Henderson Center’s 20th anniversary oral history project with StoryCorps (audio coming soon).
Serena: The transition into law school was pretty startling. There were a lot of things in class that I wanted to talk about—social issues and the way the law affects people of color—but there wasn’t time. We had to filter it all down into one bland objective “rule.” So I felt kind of disillusioned.
Serena: I still really liked it, especially the people I was meeting, but it was hard. And then Justin approached me about doing a podcast.
Justin: I wanted to start a podcast because I had a lot of people reaching out to me with questions about law school and what I did to get to Berkeley. I think the barriers to entry for black students are really high and, especially coming from my background—growing up in Mississippi and going to Morehouse for undergrad, a place like Berkeley can be isolating.
One day in class Serena made a comment , and I thought she’d be a great person to talk about these very pressing issues that get cast aside in the 1L curriculum.
This was early in first semester. We got together to brainstorm and recorded the first episode of Blacklisted then and there.
Serena: One of our central ideas for the podcast was to fill the gaps of what we were missing in the law school classroom; to talk about the real world issues of race and identity that underlie basically every case we read.
We also wanted to give advice to incoming students of color. Like, what do we know now that we wish we knew coming in? What’s the application process like? What is 1L really like? What classes did we take? What is it like interacting with law professors? We’re in a really good position here as students at a great law school. So, I feel like we have valuable information to share, because law school is a mystery to many people of color.
Justin: Where I’m from, for black and brown people, our experience with the law is one that’s always negative. I didn’t know what contracts or trusts and estates were. I just knew crime happened in my city. I knew justice was different based on your skin color. And so I came to law school hoping that I could make it better for us. Maybe become a professor and have an early impact on law students who are going to run our country and create policies and initiatives that will help communities of color.
I want black students who are thinking about law school to listen to Blacklisted and see themselves in me. To be encouraged that they can do it, too. I also think it’s important just to contribute to the archive of black students at Berkeley Law. We want to have something accessible for years to come, for future students to look back and say, “What were they experiencing in 2019?”
We’ve recorded three episodes so far, about 40 minutes each. We wish we could do them more frequently, but it’s hard to find time.
Serena: We were totally naive about what goes into making a podcast. It’s not just hitting record.
Justin: There was a huge learning curve; figuring out what microphones to use, where to record, what software to use to edit, how to make it sound cohesive. Early on we were over-editing because we were like, “Oh, we don’t want to say this,” or, “I don’t like how I sound.” Now we’re just talking candidly to our audience. I think that’s what they really want to hear anyway, our authentic insight.
Serena: It’s kind of weird to think of our classmates listening to these intimate conversations where we are being really vulnerable. But I think a lot of people struggle in law school and just don’t want to be the ones to say it. So, I hope Blacklisted can be a source of camaraderie for all our classmates, and law students at other universities, too.
Justin: In future episodes we definitely want to get more students involved. We hope future students will want to take it over when we are gone, so it’s a legacy that keeps going.
Listen to Blacklisted here. If you’d like to get involved, contact Justin and Serena.
Hometown: Redlands, CA
Education: Harvard ’05, UVA ’11
Affiliations: Ecology Law Quarterly; Tenants Rights Workshop; Board Member, The Capitol Area Development Authority
I came to law school a bit further down the professional line than most of my classmates. I graduated from Harvard in 2005 with a degree in government and worked on the Hill for former Senator Kennedy and the former Secretary of Defense. I had studied abroad in Copenhagen and became inspired to study architecture, but didn’t know anything about the discipline. So I spent two years in Beijing, China working with a developer. It was the run up to the 2008 Olympics, so the city was rapidly urbanizing and many of the world’s leading architects and urban thinkers were there.
While I was working on my masters at UVA, I interned at a firm called Foster and Partners. They were designing the new Apple campus in Cupertino, and we spent a lot of time thinking through how flows of energy and water and air could contribute to a more sustainable environment.
During that time, I was part of a multidisciplinary team that participated in a competition for rethinking how to clean up the Alameda freight corridor (a heavily-trafficked 20-mile freight rail that connects the national rail system near downtown Los Angeles to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach) from an architectural perspective. Our team ended up winning. That really solidified the connection between public service, policy, and architecture for me.
After that, I went to work in Governor Jerry Brown’s office with his environmental team on green buildings and their contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as part of California’s ambitious climate goals.
The opportunity became available to head up the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), which focused on how the state can achieve more sustainable land use. It was really an ideal combination of my interests with a focus on achieving ambitious public policy goals. I was thankful to get the appointment.
I joined the SGC at a time when a lot of innovative environmental policies were just getting off the ground. California has a cap and trade system, which puts a price on carbon and emitters pay to pollute on a pathway that reduces emissions over time. My agency received a portion of those funds to invest in affordable housing and sustainable communities.
What was innovative about the SGC’s work was not just funding affordable housing in a silo, but thinking about its connection to more sustainable uses of the land. Like how can we better fund buses and transit? biking and pedestrian infrastructure? co-locate jobs and recreation so people have access to opportunity near where they live?
During my tenure, many of my colleagues were attorneys. Both of my immediate bosses, the Governor’s chief of staff and the Governor himself, had a legal background. Seeing the degree to which their legal skills aided them in negotiations with a whole range of stakeholders in lawmaking and policymaking made me realize I needed these invaluable skills to be a more effective policy maker.
It’s been a challenge transitioning to being a student again and to the first year curriculum. We’re being taught the fundamentals of how to think about and apply the law, and sometimes there’s a hunger to jump ahead and get to the real world application. But it’s refreshing and humbling to take a step back and challenge your own assumptions and look at things from a new perspective.
In the workplace, I had to think about a dozen different issues an hour, often without much time to be very thoughtful. Here, there is much more synthesis taking place. I appreciate the critical distance afforded by being in school and being amongst brilliant peers that are passionate about many different things. I’m strengthening not just my ideas, but my ways of thinking about ideas; I’m becoming a better thinker.
Hometown: Fremont, CA and Bangalore, India
Education: Stanford ’14
Affiliations: Founder, BRAIV; Artistic Director, Womxn of Color Collective; Student Board Member, Family Violence Appellate Project
After college I worked at a community health clinic in Washington, DC. My initial role was as a case manager for pregnant and new mothers. But I quickly realized that a large number of the women that I worked with were domestic violence survivors. Many of these women were ready to leave their abusive relationships, seek legal protection and custody of their children, but almost never had a lawyer to guide them through the complicated maze of court processes.
So, I started helping them find resources. I liaised with court social workers, hospitals, and shelters, and helped them apply for restraining orders in family court. Eventually, the health clinic I worked for recognized my passion for supporting survivors of domestic violence and supported me in starting an advocacy program. Through that program I trained medical staff to recognize the impacts of domestic violence, developed screening tools, connected with local government agencies and advocacy groups, and designed educational materials to raise community awareness.
But even with the support of health clinics and advocacy groups like the one I worked for, the lack of legal resources, especially for immigrant and low-income survivors, made it incredibly challenging for these women to escape abusive environments and get the protection they needed. This is what inspired me to apply to law school and pursue domestic violence law as a career.
Professor Nancy Lemon, who has done groundbreaking work in domestic violence law, was one of the reasons I wanted to attend Berkeley Law. She has been an incredible mentor and has connected me to various people in the local domestic violence space. This includes Family Violence Appellate Project, founded by former Berkeley Law students, for which I am currently a Board Director.
My desire to bring innovative energy into the domestic violence field inspired me to start BRAIV (Berkeley Resistance Against Inter-Partner Violence) this year.
In my work before law school, as well as during my summer internship at Bay Area Legal Aid’s Domestic Violence Unit, I recognized that most survivors are forced to attend court hearings, an intimidating and foreign world, completely alone. After years of abuse, they are often isolated from social networks when their abusers manipulate and sever their connections to family and friends. In contrast, abusers often have private counsel and bring in a whole posse of people, partly just to intimidate the victim in court. Abuse of the litigation system can stimulate a re-traumatizing, second cycle of abuse that happens after separation, when the victim is simply trying to get a civil stay-away order, that does not involve criminal prosecution, or to get partial custody of their kids. The fantastic team of BRAIV students is currently focused on organizing court watches to enable law students to attend these trials and be present to support these survivors in court.
Another goal of BRAIV is to promote court accountability. There are numerous survivor-friendly laws in California. But the reality is that a lot of family law judges and court administrators aren’t familiar with many of these laws, or misapply them, and ultimately are not able to prevent the litigation abuse that happens in courtrooms. BRAIV is also working to raise awareness on domestic violence within the law school community. We organized a host of events for DV Awareness Month last October, and are planning several on-campus trainings this semester.
Ultimately, I want BRAIV to be an advocacy group that recognizes the importance of intersectionality. This includes focusing on supporting what survivors want instead of criminalizing and punishing abusers. Recognizing that traditional ways of seeking support for survivors are very different when you’re a woman of color, when you’re queer, when you’re poor, when you don’t speak English. Batterers can be women; victims can be men. Maybe the best solutions don’t even need to involve courts at all, or instead involve more community voices. Many victims end up being unfairly incarcerated for crimes their abusers force them to commit under duress. There’s a whole world of complexities that relate back to domestic violence, in which we, as diverse, creative law students and future lawyers, can truly make a difference.
Home Country: Finland
University: University of Helsinki
Profession: Legal Advisor for WWF Finland
I graduated from law school in Helsinki, Finland in 1986 and made a long career at one of the top law firms in Finland. My focus area was helping international clients and real estate investors establish business in Finland. Over the course of the years the firm grew from six lawyers when I started to nearly 60 today.
I always wanted to do an LL.M. in America, but I had a young family and the firm kept me busy. I almost gave up hope. But then I turned 50 and my daughter was off at college. When we came to California for a vacation in 2015, I made an appointment with the admissions office at Berkeley Law, just to see if it might still be a possibility.
The opportunity to do it over two summers (Professional Track) is a very good fit for me. It’s an incredible experience to go back to school at this stage of professional life and fun to be around people from 40 different countries. I’m learning so much, not only about U.S. law but also from the cultures and varying legal backgrounds of my classmates.
When I started the LL.M. program last summer I was still a partner at the firm. So, I took securities regulation and other business courses. But for several years I had represented the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as a pro bono client. I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, but sitting in your office, flipping papers and writing email, you don’t get the full sense of what is happening to the planet and how urgent climate change is.
Because of my work with WWF, I also took environmental law. It was interesting to learn how the environmental matters are regulated in the U.S. That gives perspective on the different ways to approach environmental law issues and the use of natural resources.
Every time I took the BART I saw these huge Earthjustice posters: “The Earth needs a good lawyer.” It was like they were talking to me, and I kept thinking, ‘Hmm… that’s what I want to be when I grow up.’
Just a few weeks after I got home following last summer session I learned that WWF in Finland was hiring their first in-house lawyer. I remembered those signs and thought, ‘is this is it?’ I applied and was happy to find that my business law background worked to my benefit. Promoting environmental matters within an NGO requires cooperation with companies and the government. Being able to speak the language of the corporations and government officials is an asset.
So, I started in January at WWF. The work is very different. As a corporate advisory attorney you are taking the law as it is and applying it to the client’s case. But at an NGO lawyers are more like lobbyists. It’s all about changing the policies, being able to tell the lawmakers that the status quo is not sufficient and laying out a path from the present to the desired situation. It requires a new mindset.
My first summer here at Berkeley was a good exercise for changing my way of thinking. Finland is a civil law country, so learning the common law forced me to turn my head around and think in another way. This summer I’m taking a class on public policy and problem solving. It goes right to the heart of what I’m doing now at WWF and gives me the tools to structure proposals for solving environmental issues.
I feel like I’m living the cliché that “life starts again at 50.” I did one career, the mandatory stuff, now I can choose what I want to do. That includes taking leave for two summers and coming here for the LL.M. program and riding a bike to school every morning.
People keep saying it was courageous to make such a big change after 30 years. To me it feels like I got very lucky. Being in the saving of the world business is so inspiring that it doesn’t even feel like work. It is all about working together for a future where people and nature are in harmony.
Home Country: Uganda
University: Makerere University
Profession: Founding and managing partner at Bytelex Advocates
My parents are both teachers, a university lecturer and a secondary school teacher, they took education seriously, so it was important to them that I went to the best schools. This was challenging for them given that teachers don’t make much money. A turning point in my life was when I began secondary school and discovered the computer. I began spending most of my time in the computer lab and picked up skills in web design and then app design when I got to university.
When I began law school I did everything possible related to computers and technology. Around the same time, the tech ecosystem was picking up in East Africa because of the SEACOM cable (a high speed internet network). Many incubation hubs began setting up and I spent most of my time after class in these incubators and attending startup-pitch sessions.
Having a tech background at that time was a big advantage because no one was thinking about how to represent startups, investors, and the critical technical issues that all the parties required.
So that’s how Bytelex Advocates was born. It wasn’t easy to convince my classmates to start a small firm focused on tech startups that don’t have any money at first and often fail. But we discovered that most of them were failing not because of the idea or lack of investors, but they just didn’t have the business and legal advice to structure and run a startup the right way.
The law in East Africa is not designed for startup companies, so you have to adapt the law in a way that will work for the clients. It’s very challenging. You have to think differently, but at the same time make sure what you are doing is legal and effective.
That’s one of the main reasons I came to Berkeley. A lot of the startup financing instruments and tech law as we know it has been developed in Silicon Valley. So, coming here to learn how these laws work and bring that knowledge back and apply a comparative analysis to develop strategies that can actually work for startup companies in Uganda and East Africa generally has been extremely valuable.
Also, since we are one of the very few tech startup law firms in East Africa, we work across many different technical industries—fintech, biotech, artificial intelligence. This is some cutting-edge stuff for lawyers that do not have deep training in technology. So coming here lets me learn from professors who are experts in these areas and develop partnerships with professionals that I can reach out to for advice.
Berkeley is known around the world as a leader in the tech space and is close to Silicon Valley, the world’s most advanced startup ecosystem, so earning my LL.M. here really benefits my firm back home, both in reputation and connections.
During my first summer, I was able to identify several startups who were doing work in East Africa that had headquarters here in the Bay Area. Adam Sterling (director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Business – BCLB) invited me to a few sessions organized by BCLB where I met alumni and other startup-industry professionals. That’s how I connected with Zipline.
Zipline is a startup based in San Francisco that uses drones to deliver medical supplies, like blood and vaccines, to remote areas in need. They wanted to expand services to Rwanda and Tanzania. So they needed lawyers that could work with the governments of those jurisdictions and handle the regulatory process relating to drone technology. We have been able to meet this need by expanding services to those countries.
It’s been extremely challenging, but looking back, I would do this over and over again. It’s very rewarding to help build companies from scratch in a region that needs innovation that will hopefully lead to jobs. It’s equally satisfying to adapt the law in East-Africa to meet the dynamic needs of startups. I hope that my connections from my time in Berkeley will help build a pipeline between bigger international tech companies and the budding unicorns that are serving East Africa.
Hometown: Watsonville, CA
Education: UC Berkeley 2011
Affiliations: Foster Ed Project, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Boalt Parent Network, La Raza Worker’s and Tenants’ Rights Clinic, La Raza Law Students Association
I always wanted to go to Berkeley Law, but as a parent, it was difficult to make that choice. My son had a community in our hometown, so I decided to attend the local school, Santa Clara Law, my first year.
Staying close to home during 1L allowed me to have the support of my family during that difficult first-year experience. But I knew second year would be more flexible, and I decided to transfer to Berkeley Law. Since I am able to arrange my schedule into a few days per week, I did not have to uproot my son from his school and our family.
I wanted to transfer because Berkeley Law has more opportunities in terms of courses to choose from, student organizations, clinical work, and access to jobs. Berkeley is also great about providing support for student parents.
As a transfer student that is only on campus a few days per week, getting involved in student groups has really helped me meet people and build a community. I joined the La Raza Workers’ and Tenants’ Rights Clinic and the Foster Education Project and met people that share similar interests and professional goals.
I think my experience at Berkeley is a little different than other law students’ experience. Parents have to find a school-life balance, and it takes time to do that. My son is eight, so I’ve had some time to figure it out. Now, I’m able to manage my time well, and I feel like many student parents are able to find that same balance.
Plus, I have my son as motivation. He gets to see me work my way through law school, and he’s encouraged to work towards his goals too. He loves Berkeley Law, and we get to experience it as a team.
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
Education: Prescott College ‘14
Affiliations: Peer Wellness Coalition, La Raza Law Students Association, Coalition for Diversity
One of the reasons I came to Berkeley Law is because Berkeley prides itself on providing a collegial atmosphere and having a collaborative student body, in contrast to other law schools where the institution itself might foster a highly competitive environment.
Alot of us come to law school because we have a commitment to social change. But the very nature of 1L curriculum is designed to substitute any original thought and analysis with a very narrow box of what we’re supposed to be and think as lawyers. We come into class the first week not knowing how to read a case or how to put it into context. We study doctrine in the abstract and there’s hardly an opportunity to connect that doctrine with real world issues and to understand its implications to the things we are passionate about. It can be very demoralizing and lead students to feeling depressed and alienated.
My peers are proactive people who want to stand up for each other and improve the mental health and wellness of the collective student body. We found the resources available through the school to be inadequate, which unfortunately means that students have to carry the brunt of the work that the school itself is not doing. Following years of students organizing around these issues, the idea for the Peer Wellness Coalition (PWC) came up. Central campus was offering a grant for student wellness initiatives, so we submitted a proposal and were approved after a couple of months.
Following an application process, we finally selected the eight student members who will comprise the PWC, with one spot available for an incoming 1L. The group will focus on different “pillars” of wellness. The programming will focus on things like stress, anxiety, accessibility, food access, nutrition, and substance abuse. In addition, we want to offer workshops on interpersonal skills and conflict resolution in order to reduce some of the toxicity of the law school environment.
Part of our funding will also go toward helping students identify signs of distress in themselves and peers, working to destigmatize mental health, and providing resources for students to find support through central campus or by connecting them with outside counselors.
I think that just five years ago, something like this would have been impossible. We’ve come a long way toward destigmatizing the shame associated with mental health struggles in law school, and Berkeley is a good place to start changing this culture. From what I’ve seen, students are interested in seeing how they can benefit from or contribute to this project.
Our plan is to start working next semester and provide incoming students with resources before they start classes. We’d like to have a pilot slate of programming ready for the fall semester. Ultimately, the goal of the PWC is to provide evidence and data to the administration to show that this kind of support is needed and utilized, so they recognize how important it is and allocate institutional funding and resources beyond the duration of our program.
Hometown: Lake Stevens, WA
Education: University of British Columbia 2016; 1L year at William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Affiliations: Articles and Essays Editor, California Law Review; Environmental Law Quarterly; Boalt Football Club
One of the reasons I initially decided to go to law school in Hawai’i was because of my interest in environmental law. Honestly, I had not really thought about transferring until after my first semester of 1L. When I started to look into the transfer process, I was very attracted to the courses and opportunities offered at Berkeley Law.
Berkeley’s admissions team was very helpful and informative during the transfer process. They answered my questions, provided resources, and helped make the transfer application process a breeze. The admissions team was also really great about providing information—before we even got here—about Early Interview Week and California Law Review’s Write-On Competition. For me, applying as a transfer student was not as daunting as applying to law school initially because I had already been through the application process once and had just survived my first year of law school.
It is part of the law school experience to form close relationships during first year, so at first I was pretty intimidated coming in not knowing anybody. But transfer students immediately have a network in each other and everyone else is very open and welcoming. I would say the best thing you can do as a transfer student is get involved. Join journals, clubs, and social organizations that align with your interests. I ended up joining the Boalt Football Club and felt like part of their community right away. It was nice because peers went out of their way to invite me to things because they knew I was a transfer student and did not know anyone.
As far as doctrinal knowledge, I believe 1L curriculum is pretty similar everywhere, so I did not feel like there was any gap for me, personally. But the caliber of discussion in some of the classes, and the viewpoints and backgrounds of some of the students, was immensely different than my 1L year. All of which has been beneficial to my legal education as a whole.
One thing that is a little challenging about being a transfer is the shortened time you are here. There are so many classes that I am interested in, and clinical work that I would like to do, that I do not think I will have time for. Even though there was a lot I wanted to take advantage of here on campus, this spring, I decided to accept a full-time externship with Judge Marsha Berzon ‘73 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
It has been an immeasurable experience. I have been exposed to a broad variety of topic areas and directly involved with the creation of the law. I meet with the judge and clerks daily, so I have been able to get pointed insight into their decision making processes. The clerks were also recently in a similar spot that I am in now, so they have given me career advice and information about the clerkship application process. It is also a very exciting time to be working at the Ninth Circuit, with a lot of monumental cases coming across our desks.
One of my favorite things about my transferring experience has been the people that I have met. Getting involved with groups helps make connections and build a network that will support and give you advice, whether it be what classes to take, what professors to talk to, or anything else. The students here are some of the most intelligent people and successful people I have ever met. They will all go on to do great things and change the world in many different ways. Definitely take advantage of the great Berkeley Law community.