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.

Raija Ojanen ’18

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.

Raymond Asiimwe LL.M. ’18

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.

Katie Gonzalez ’19

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.

Luna Martinez ’20

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.

Erik Kundu ’19

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.

Boalt Football Club Wins Cal Intramural Finals

Boalt Football Club, left to right: bottom Alexis Romero (2L), Joe Craig (3L), Masato Tanaka (LLM), Daniel Myerson (2L); second row: Erik Kundu (2L), Javier Silva (1L), Labeat Rrahmani (2L), Jacob Gindt (2L), Mitchell Duncombe (3L), Jordan Mundell (LLM). Not pictured: Anas Ben Malek (LLM).
The Boat Football Club won the Cal intramural  6v6 Premier Soccer League on Tuesday, April 17, by a score of 2-1.

 

Captain Mitchell Duncombe ’18 scored in the 4th minute. The opposing team equalized in the 12th minute, and LLM Jordan Mundell scored the game winner in the 20th minute to give Boalt the title. It’s the first time in four years that Boalt has won an intramural soccer title. Mitchell Duncombe was named the game’s MVP.

 

The team dedicated their season and victory to the memory of former teamate and 3L Renato Puga Garcia, who passed away tragically in September 2017.

Three 1Ls Awarded Prestigious Peggy Browning Fellowships

The Peggy Browning Fund has awarded 10-week summer fellowships to 1Ls Alexia Diorio, Anika Holland, and Gillian Miller.

Peggy Browning Fellowships provide law students with unique, diverse, and challenging work experiences fighting for social and economic justice. These experiences encourage and inspire students to pursue careers in public interest labor law. Peggy Browning Fellows are distinguished students who have not only excelled in law school but who have also demonstrated their commitment to workers’ rights through their previous educational, work, volunteer, and personal experiences. Securing a Peggy Browning Fellowship is highly competitive, with over 400 applicants this year competing for the honor, so to have three among our first year class is a testament to their outstanding qualifications.

Alexia Diorio ’20 will be a fellow at Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, CA. Before law school Alexia worked as an organizer for Working Washington, where she organized low-wage workers, especially baristas. Her work contributed to the enactment of the Secure Scheduling Ordinance in Seattle. She was also a member of her staff union bargaining team and labor management committee. Alexia studied economics and public health in college, and prior to her organizing work she worked as an assistant analyst in the Congressional Budget Office’s Health, Retirement, and Long-Term Analysis division. During that time she also volunteered at the Employment Justice Center and became passionate about workers’ rights. Alexia plans to work in public interest law and hopes to continue to advocate for the rights of low-wage workers. Alexia is involved with the Employment and Labor Law Journal, and volunteers at a tenants’ rights clinic.

Anika Holland ’20 will be fellow at Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow, LLP in Oakland, CA. Anika earned her A.B. in English from Ohio University, with a focus on feminist literary criticism and science fiction. She chose Berkeley Law because of its extensive public interest and social justice program. As a Berkeley Law student, she has participated in two student-lead pro bono projects: Name & Gender Change Workshop and the Survivor Advocacy Project. As a volunteer for the Name & Gender Change Workshop, she helps trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming clients obtain identity-affirming name and gender change court orders. Next year, she will co-lead the Survivor Advocacy Project, which facilitates access to legal and health services for survivors of sexual assault and assists with Title IX case research. Anika is a production editor for the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice and an executive editor for the Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law. Her favorite things about living in the Bay Area are the friendly neighborhood cats and the wide array of local produce.

 Gillian Miller ’20 will be a fellow at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, DC. Prior to law school, Gillian worked at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where she organized programming for Council members around the world. Through planning these meetings, she became interested the impact that workers issues have on international and domestic policy, and vice versa. She is particularly interested in the intersections of workers’ rights, race, and gender. Gillian studied international relations with a concentration on gender and culture at the University of Southern California. At Berkeley Law, she participates in restorative justice circles at San Quentin and is a member of the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law. She sings with the law school a cappella group, the Pro Bonotes, and next year will be on the boards of the Women of Berkeley Law and the Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society. Gillian chose Berkeley Law because of the strong community of students and faculty and its great clinical programs. She has loved her first year at Berkeley Law, especially because of the passionate and supportive community of students at the law school.

 

Josh Ephraim JD/MBA ’18

Hometown: Boston, MA
Education: UC Berkeley 2011
Affiliations: Dorm Room Fund Managing Partner, InSITE Fellows Founder, Haas Venture Fellow, Berkeley Startup Central Founder

I was thinking about law school as an undergrad. I wanted to make sure my decision to go to law school was thoughtful, so after I graduated from Berkeley, I moved to New York and took a position consulting for biotech companies. After that, I went to work at a startup accelerator focused on digital health. Through that experience I realized that for entrepreneurs, I could add more value if I went back to school.

When I got into Berkeley Law, I applied to Haas and was lucky enough to get in. After talking in depth with Adam Sterling and several other grads from the program, I decided to pursue the concurrent JD/MBA. Haas is unique among business schools because there is a large proportion of students going into tech and pursuing entrepreneurship, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

For someone who wants to be a corporate lawyer, especially for startup companies, you’re helping clients evaluate legal challenges within the broader context of the business. So having a better understanding of the business side of things and the decisions that the CEO of the company needs to make will lead to better legal advice. So I hope getting both degrees is valuable in this regard.

Berkeley also has a vibrant startup ecosystem on campus and a ton of opportunities for real-world experience. In my first year I started a Berkeley chapter of InSITE Fellows. It’s a national organization that does pro bono consulting for startups. We’ve put teams of law students and MBA students together to help entrepreneurs with pitch preps and anything an early stage startup might need.

Then in my second year I launched website called Berkeley Startup Central, which is a database of the enormous list of startups and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs across the Berkeley campus. I also joined the team at Dorm Room Fund, which is a student-run VC backed by First Round Capital, we invest in student run companies started by Berkeley undergrad and graduate students.

This year I participated in the new Blockchain, Cryptoeconomics, and the Future of Technology, Business and Law course. It’s really amazing that the law school, the business school, and the school of engineering could come together to teach a class on this hot topic so quickly. I’ve been writing about the classes on my blog and have been learning a lot.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to contribute to the startup ecosystem here and I’ve learn so much. I’m a triple Bear now, so Ive been in Berkeley a long time and it’s going to be a little sad to move on. But I’m ready for the next phase. Thanks to some alums who are also JD/MBAs, I made some great connections and I’ll be joining Gunderson Dettmer in their startup and venture capital corporate practice in San Francisco. So I’ll be close enough stay involved in the startup world here at Berkeley.

Editor’s note: Josh is happy to connect with Cal students or grads starting their own companies. Connect with him on Twitter @JoshEphraim.

Big Year for Board of Advocates

The Jessup team (along with coach, JSP student Alvaro Pereira, bottom center) holding their winning plaques!

Submitted by Sarah Wright-Schreiberg, director of the Advocacy Competitions Program at Berkeley Law.

At the National Trial Competition regionals in Sacramento, Natalie Winters ’18Jordan Fraboni ’18, and Evan Larson ’20 scored in the top two teams overall, securing their spot in the national competition in Austin, Texas in April. Also, following the correction of a scoring error, Natalie Robinson ’18Dustin Vandenberg ’18, and Brandon Hughes ’19 will also advance to nationals. (Ed. note: only two teams from each region advance to Nationals, so Berkeley Law will fill both spots!)

At the The ABA Law Student Division National Appellate Advocacy Competition (NAAC) regionals, teammates Kelly Seranko ’19 and Drew Washington ’19 advanced to the final rounds and are headed to nationals in D.C. in April. Drew and Kelly were also recognized for their individual advocacy skills, respectively placing 6th and 10th overall in oral argument.

At the Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, our fabulous team (Candice Youngblood ’19Angela Lesnak ’19, and Jack Siddoway ’19) made it to the semifinals round at the national competition. Candice was also recognized for her advocacy skills, earning a Best Oralist nod.

At the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, our team (Griselda Cabrera ’18Michael Riggins ’18Nathalie Alegre ’19, and Madeleine Wykstra ’18) placed second at the Pacific Regional in Portland and will go on to rep Berkeley Law in the final/international rounds next month in D.C. Teammates Nathalie and Madeleine also placed in the top ten best oralists!

At the ABA Mediation Competition, teammates Anna Williams ’19 and Michelle Marshall ’18 advanced to the final rounds and took second place overall.

At the Saul Lefkowitz Moot Court Competition regionals, the hard work and preparation of Noro Mejlumyan ’18 and Tiana Baheri ’19 paid off, as the judges commended them for their poised and passionate advocacy. Thao Thai ’18 and Kelsey Schuetz ’19 also impressed the Lefkowitz judges with their skills—they placed first during oral arguments and won best brief. Thao and Kelsey went on to place second overall and win best brief at nationals in D.C.

Tt the International Academy of Dispute Resolution’s International Mediation Tournament, teammates Kate Bridge ’18, Colette Gulick ’18, and Paula Gergen ’19 took third place. Collette and Kate also earned individual recognition for their mediation skills, winning third and 10th place, respectively.

Of the Berkeley Law students who were recognized as individuals for their oral argument skills, all seven are women and three are women of color!

BOA and competitions are not all about winning, of course—but how wonderful for these teams and individuals to be recognized for their amazing work!

Tar Rakhra ’20

Hometown: Yorba Linda, CA
Education: Cal State Fullerton
Affiliations: Asian American Law Journal, Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, Berkeley Business Law Journal, student representative for the SF Asian American Bar Association

I always thought I’d come to law school and be involved in M&A and negotiations. I never thought I’d do something like representing the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) in the Boalt name debate.

But during undergrad, I got involved in advocacy at the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) under the Obama Administration. I was a youth engagement intern, so I worked on projects to empower, educate, and inform youth on all the ways they could get involved in their community and tackle certain issues we’re facing.

That’s one of the things that drew me to Berkeley, because we’re one of the few law schools that have a journal that focuses on AAPI rights. But it was also the place where I felt the most comfortable, in terms of the accepting environment.

So when I found out about John Boalt’s racism against Chinese Americans right after we got here as 1Ls it was a lot to process. I remember talking to my fellow AAPI classmates about it, applying textualism, religionism, and legal perspectives, and I think we really grew in the way we tackled this issue. I wish it didn’t have to happened but I’m grateful it happened.

For the town hall, I decided a video was the best way to humanize the debate. I asked for Chinese American students who felt connected or had strong feelings about the paper to bring a quote and sit down in front of a camera and read it. It was important for us to capture their voices and the pain these words cause them so that people who were arguing to keep the name could see how going to school in a building with this man’s name on it affects them.

Walking into the forum I was a little bit nervous. I knew older alums have very strong feelings about the Boalt name. But the way the panel handled it and the civil conversation between young and old alumni was really productive. I also thought it was great to do it in Booth Auditorium. It was as if everyone there was sharing the same home. I learned a lot about why some people strongly oppose changing the name. I understood their points and their beliefs. I may not agree with everything they said, but at least I got a wider exposure from my narrow view on it.

I think John Boalt should be preserved in this school like the way we preserve Earl Warren, who was also not without fault. We should recognize all the good John and Elizabeth Boalt did for us, because the endowment did give us the opportunity to build the school and become the place it is today. But Berkeley Law and the students here today represent new ideals that aren’t reflected by the name Boalt. Therefore, I think it should be changed to something that’s more fitting of our institution. We should also make sure people read that paper.

I’m not looking to erase history. I’m not looking to change the past. I’m looking to build a space for a better future. I think we have a really beautiful opportunity to redefine ourselves and set ourselves up for the next 100 years.

Watch the town hall and Tar’s video here.