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.

Anna Lyons ’18

Hometown: Des Moines, IA
Education: Tufts University 2015
Affiliations: Board of Advocates, Berkeley Law Women’s Association, Queer Caucus, Berkeley Business Law Journal

Mock trial was a big reason why I came to law school. I started in junior high and continued all through college. At some point it seemed like I had been pretending to be a lawyer for so long, maybe I should try the real thing.

But after ten years of mock trial, I was ready for a change in law school. I chose moot court instead and now I’m one of the directors for our program at Berkeley Law. But I missed mock trial. Moot court involves briefing an issue on appeal and then delivering an oral argument and sparring with a panel of judges. Mock trial teams put on a whole trial, from opening statements through directing and crossing witnesses to closing arguments. Mock trial is much more of a show – it’s legal theatre.

When I learned about the Center for Youth Development through Law (CDYL) program it seemed like a great way to return to the activity and help underprivileged youth.

CYDL brings attorney coaches to six diverse and disadvantaged high schools in Contra Costa County to help these schools compete at the county competition.

I worked with a team of high-schoolers from Hercules High School. Our team brought together kids from all grade levels. Some had participated in mock trial before and others had never had any exposure to mock trial or the legal system in general.

The progress we made over the course of the season was phenomenal! Some students went from having no idea how a trial worked or what a direct examination was to arguing hearsay objections like pros. We worked on other skills they’ll be able to continue to develop after the mock trial season too. Things like public speaking, working as a team, and how to present yourself with confidence are not only foundational for mock trial but also important life skills.

It was also great to see our team bond and grow together as friends. Mock trial brought together kids that otherwise would’ve never crossed paths and gave them a common goal to work toward. Being accountable to each other kept everyone motivated and brought them closer as a team. I’m incredibly proud of our team’s performance and all of the hard work we put in over the course of the season. Even though many of these kids won’t go to law school or have any other involvement in a legal field, they’ll be able to carry these skills and friendships forward – the real reward of participating in mock trial.

Richard Treadwell ’18 & JoAnna Tonini ’18

Co-Editors-in-Chief, Berkeley Journal of Employment & Labor Law

Richard: Work is so central to everyone’s life, it’s how we define ourselves. It’s closely tied to our identity, so it’s important to have advocates trying to make that sphere of life better.

JoAnna: Before starting law school I worked for the Department of Labor, so that was my introduction to employment law and I found it really compelling because it’s so relatable. Everyone either works or knows someone who works, and usually among them will be people who have experienced workplace issues, whether they be excessive hours or not getting paid on time.

What makes Berkeley Law so great is that it allows 1Ls to get involved right away in areas we are most interested in. So I joined the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law (BJELL) and the Workers Rights Clinic (SLPS) during my first year. Those two organizations really complement each other.

We’re super fortunate to have Professor Catherine Fisk as our faculty advisor. She has so much expertise and knowledge, and she knows so many incredible people in this field.

Richard: The BJELL community as a whole is amazing. We attract the best people who take the work seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Everyone wants to do more and help the organization grow and support each other. It’s really a privilege as co-editors-in-chief to enable their ideas.

JoAnna: And work law is a super exciting topic! The employment landscape is constantly changing. As technology evolves, that changes how the workplace operates, it changes how we do work. Uber and Lyft didn’t exist 10 years ago, and that has spurred all sorts of on-demand services like cleaning and errands services. People just work differently now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as many people enjoy that flexibility. But trying to fit these new roles into the current law can be a challenge.

Richard: I think that’s one of the coolest things about BJELL, we’re publishing articles on the forefront of what’s going on in labor and employment so that practitioners and judges can look to us as a resource for issues relating to, say, independent contractors, or other contemporary workplace issues that may not be clearly defined in the law. For example, in our next issue we are publishing a study on sexual harassment training in the workplace and whether they are effective. We also recently hosted a conference on age discrimination in partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

JoAnna: I’m probably biased, but because work is so ubiquitous in our lives I really believe there are growing opportunities and career pathways in work law. Employment law is applicable to every industry no matter how small or large and it transcends socio-economic status as well. It affects literally all of us.


Wai Wai Nu LL.M. ’18 Receives HRC Award

Wai Wai Nu ’18 participates in a conversation with Sec. Clinton and fellow award recipient Nadia Murad at Georgetown University. Photo courtesy of Wai Wai Nu.

Wai Wai Nu, who will return to Berkeley this summer to complete her LL.M., was honored as one of the recipients of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security on Monday, February 5, 2018 at Georgetown University. Read more about the ceremony here.

A Rohingya human rights activist and former Burmese political prisoner, Wai Wai also recently participated in the Davos World Economic Forum and was named one of 2017’s Next Generation Leaders by TIME Magazine. Read more about her incredible accomplishments here.

Board of Advocates Trial Team Heads to Regionals

Dustin Vandenberg ’18, Natalie Robinson ’18, and Brandon Hughes ’19 are one of three Berkeley Law trial teams who will compete in the regional competition in Sacramento the weekend of February 10 for a chance to advance to the national competition for their second consecutive year as a team.

Dustin: Both these guys are the best trial advocates I’ve ever seen. It’s just great to get people who have different backgrounds, who did different roles in the past, and were taught mock trial in different ways. We each have very unique styles and I think they all work very well together. Now we’re in our second year of competitions together and we’re sort of like super team. It’s really exciting to work with both of them.

Natalie: The Berkeley Law trial competition program does an amazing job of creating opportunities for us to practice. Other students from the program prepare the case and we’ll actually run through the trial in what we call “scrimmages.” The students in the program are outstanding, so scrimmaging against our own teammates prepares us for some of the toughest competition.

Brandon: We have to be prepared to argue both sides. Dustin’s doing both openings, and Natalie and I are each closing one side. It’s always interesting competing against other schools because you don’t know their case theory until the trial starts. So, there’s a lot of thinking on your feet. But it helps to prep as much as you can.

Dustin: The time commitment can be large, especially when you’re first starting up. Learning all the rules of evidence, having to learn how to do trials—it’s not necessarily the most natural thing. But it’s definitely worth it. Personally, I think it’s better than any class I’ve taken, by a pretty wide margin.

Natalie: For students like us who are planning to become trial lawyers, there aren’t many opportunities outside of the competition program to actually practice trial skills. So being able to practice and get coached and get feedback throughout law school is going to be hugely beneficial to our careers. But it’s also fun, because it’s just a competition. It’s not real clients. So it’s lower stakes than it will be in the future.

Brandon: It’s so useful, even if you don’t intend to go into litigation. I joined the trial team just to get more comfortable with public speaking. It’s been really helpful in terms of learning how to communicate in an organized, persuasive manner. Making sure that your narrative and message translates. Those skills are useful anywhere.

Dustin: Doing trial competitions is also better than a job interview. If you want to impress someone, them seeing you perform in an actual trial like this is going to speak volumes for you if you want to go work in their D.A.’s office.

Brandon: In terms of making connections and getting top-notch instruction in the art of trial advocacy from practicing litigators, trial team is the best experience a law student can get.

Vanessa Godinez ’18

Hometown: San Pablo, CA
Education: UC Santa Cruz 2014
Affiliations: Death Penalty Clinic, First Generation Professionals, California Asylum Representation Clinic

As an undergrad I was a legal studies and literature double major with a passion for creative writing. So when I came to law school I didn’t know specifically what area of the law I was interested in. Initially, I thought I wanted to pursue civil rights litigation. Yet, for my 1L summer internship I decided that the Contra Costa Public Defender’s office would be a good fit for me both because I grew up in the county and becuase it gave me a chance to explore criminal law while serving my community. I fell in love with the client-centered focus of the work and the immediacy of results—some of which were good and some of which were bad.

One of my fellow interns was a 2L, and they highly recommended the Death Penalty Clinic (DPC). It seemed like a unique opportunity to work on client cases at the peak of urgency—worst case scenario—and learn about the potential consequences of the choices we make as trial attorneys.

In capital postconviction cases, innocence doesn’t matter most of the time. Often a postconviction petition is based on ineffective assistance of counsel claim or a Brady violation, where the state withheld critical evidence from the defense. Sometimes these things seem minor, and other times the errors are huge, and you are just shocked reading the trial transcripts. That stuff really gets you fired up because, regardless of what the client did or their history, something went wrong and it deserves to be addressed because it severely affected their right to a fair trial.

The justice system is incredibly stacked against capitally-charged clients. The clients are charged with terrible crimes, which often involve heinous facts. This is hard to deal with not only emotionally, but also in terms of a litigation strategy. It’s human nature to have sympathy for the victims, and judges are humans too and are not as impartial as they make themselves out to be – they want to do right by the victims. Oftentimes that can tip the scales against the defendant, and it makes it incredibly difficult to persuade the judge to rule in the client’s favor even if, for example, we succeed in making a showing that the prosecution violated the law. And that’s not right for the defendant or, arguably, the victim.

Especially with death penalty cases, the law often ignores the dignity and the humanity of the person who is charged with the crime. It is essential for the defense team to be invested in these people’s stories, especially in terms of thinking about mitigating evidence and how it was presented (or was not presented) in the trial court. Telling a client’s story to the judge is so important because often the client’s story was not presented at trial at all, or if it was presented, it was done so very poorly.

An important part of our job as clinical students in the DPC is learning how to be effective storytellers for capital case clients. This involves helping the postconviction team explain to the court what was going on in the client’s life before the incident happened. Many of our clients’ lives were filled with incredible struggles, including family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, extreme poverty, intellectual disability, and trauma. This is not an excuse for what happened, but rather an explanation of why the crime occurred that neither the judge nor the jury ever heard the first time around. As clinic students, we get to know the clients in various ways, by reading the trial transcript files and all the records about the client’s life, by interviewing witnesses, and sometimes even by meeting the client personally.

The work can be very heavy. But the DPC community is so invested in helping our clients and supporting each other in navigating these difficult cases, and that really motivates our work. The DPC’s staff and resources represent the ideal of how these cases should be handled. That way, when we go out in the world, we have this model to aspire to to assure that our future clients will get the quality representation they rightfully deserve.



Nick Maricic ’18

Hometown: Alta Loma, CA
Education: Yale 2013
Affiliations: Executive Editor, California Law Review; Board of Advocates Trial Advocacy Team; Associate Editor, Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law

I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the unique opportunities spending this semester in DC has both expectedly—and unexpectedly—provided.

Expected: I have had a fantastic experience working at the Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section (National Security Division). I decided to take the internship because I had long been interested in national security work, but had not previously had the opportunity to try it out. The Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division provides expertise to United States Attorney’s Offices all around the country on their terrorism cases. This semester I’ve had the opportunity to work on high-profile, ongoing cases, and engage substantively with the relevant statutes and case law—just as I had hoped for.

Unexpected: last week, I was reading SCOTUSblog and saw that an attorney friend I had previously worked with at a prior job was going to be arguing in the Supreme Court that week! Causal. Obviously, I had to go watch. So, along with a couple other UCDC law friends, we got in line to see the argument at 7:45 am and were able to snag the very last three seats. Walking into the room and seeing the Justices in the flesh, I was as excited as a 12 year-old at a Taylor Swift concert. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Second unexpected surprise (and origin of the picture above): last month, another UCDC law friend who was spending the semester externing in Congress gave me a tour of the deserted, late-Friday-afternoon-before-a-long-weekend Capitol. As we were walking by Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, one of his staff members asked us if we wanted to go out on the Speaker’s balcony before he had to lock it up. Obviously, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what many have hyped up as “the best view in DC.” It didn’t disappoint.

Originally published by University of California UCDC Law Program, Dec. 4, 2017.

Dixon Anderson ’20

Hometown: Oakland, CA
Education: UC Berkeley 2011

I played baseball for Cal as an undergrad. During my senior fall, baseball was cut along with a number of other athletics programs. We (the team), along with the help of alumni, donors and sponsors raised $10 million to reinstate the program and ended up making it to the College World Series. It was a wild experience.

After I graduated, I signed with the Washington Nationals and played professionally for four years.  I always tried to be honest with myself throughout my career and when I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues, I decided it was time to do something else. Even while I was playing, I had always had an interest in the athlete representation side of the business.

I went to work for a sports agency in Dallas. That was a great experience. It gave me a close look at what a sports agent really does, what’s necessary to stand out in that field, and what the skill set of a good agent is. I realized being an attorney is a huge advantage, both for the agent and their players. In an industry replete with hundred-million dollar contracts, there are surprisingly few agents who are lawyers.

So I made the decision to go back to school. Fortunately, I got into Berkeley Law because I was ready to come back to the Bay after three years in Dallas.

The transition from the professional world to law school has been a little surreal, especially being back on campus, since I haven’t been here since I was in my early 20s. Having worked in an industry that doesn’t really have “down time,” managing the workload hasn’t been a huge adjustment—don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard, I am reminded daily that I am far from the smartest person here. My classmates are truly impressive. But, it has been great to be back in an academic setting because in the professional world very seldom do you have “end zones,” goals, targets you are actively moving towards. It’s exciting to have the J.D. ahead of you and to feel like each semester is another step towards that goal.

I think the basic rational thinking skills we’re gaining as 1Ls are applicable to any job. But Written and Oral Advocacy is probably the most applicable to the role of a sports agent because arbitration is a huge part of being an effective representative for professional baseball players. So learning to write an effective advocacy brief is a skill I’ve really enjoyed developing.

Student athletes are well suited for law school because they have a unique ability to balance time management. As a D1 athlete, first thing in the morning you have practice, then you go to class, then after class you’re back on the field. You’re constantly juggling two important priorities, both of which you can’t come up short on. I think that certainly helped prepare me for the heavy workload of law school. I’ve also played in front of 30,000 people. That might give me a slight edge in oral advocacy when the time comes. Though, I didn’t have to speak from the mound, I just had to pitch.

Michael Harris ’20

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: Emory University 2013
Affiliations: Boalt Association of Military Veterans, Law Students of African Descent, Community Restorative Justice Project

I’m all about diversity of experiences. Not a lot of people join the military after graduating from a private university. I studied abroad in Germany for a year. It was during the Euro crisis and I got to know people from across Europe and I learned so much about what they were going through. I became really passionate about having some sort of influence on the world. I was attracted to the practical experience and team environment of the military and I wanted to push myself physically and mentally.

I decided to join the Army Reserves and at the same time I got a job as a civilian for the Department of Defense. My job was kind of a catch-all position supporting reservists. Training and preparing them for deployment, logistics of making sure supplies were in place and vehicles were in order. There was also administrative work, helping with substance abuse issues, sexual assault and harassment claims, onboarding and retirement paperwork. It was a lot of responsibility quickly, and I think that’s what I wanted and needed. You’re never sure how far you can go until it’s pushed upon you.

After that I wanted to help change some policies and the efficiency of bureaucratic institutions that I thought could be improved. So, I started on the law school journey. I was strategic and tailored about applying only to schools where I could see myself doing well academically and personally. Berkeley stands out as very public-service oriented and for the ability to start doing real client work in the community right away.

I’m still in the reserves and report to my unit one weekend a month. But now I’m a paralegal, which is great because that’s how I can best contribute. A lot of that work involves disciplinary action. We pride ourselves on having an all-volunteer force as opposed to a draft. So one of the great parts of my job is helping make sure people who are willing and able to serve can serve and that we’re not excluding anyone in an unfair way.

The transition to law school has been a little bit hard. The studying part is not too bad. But having tasks and responsibilities linked to people’s livelihoods and their readiness to go defend our country in war is a different world than reading cases from 100 years ago. It’s also a different mindset, where everyone is free to speak your mind and there’s less deference to authority. But being a part of the Boalt Association of Military Veterans has been a great support network where we share the same military values—rise together fall together.

In the military, people have very different political and ideological beliefs and ideas about what’s right. But when you start a mission, all of that is put to the side. Instead you’re all thinking, ‘how do we get this done together?’, ‘how do we make the team more effective?’ I think a law school, a city, a community, and a country should also keep those values in mind instead of saying ‘we can’t work together because we have different beliefs.’

Karen Seif, J.S.D. candidate

Education: LL.B. & Masters, Universite Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, Paris; L.L.M., Queen Mary University, London; LL.M., Berkeley Law 2015
Affiliations: BHSA JSD rep, Officer of the International Bar Association – Public Law Committee

My area of focus is on international commercial courts with a particular emphasis on Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I’m from the Middle East, so I have a natural interest in doing research that highlights what goes on there and how it relates to the international scale.

The strength of the JSD program is that most of its scholars are experienced attorneys, who have studied law in the states as well as internationally. That makes us uniquely positioned to do comparative legal research.

Obviously, this is an excellent law school. But excellence is a given at any top law school. What distinguishes Berkeley Law is the people that are here. There’s a particular culture that is incredibly generous and supportive of research and self-growth. I have benefitted so much from the mentoring of my academic advisor, Professor Laurent Mayali, and other professors at Berkeley.

They are great examples to follow. Not only do they generate knowledge through research, but they are equally committed to disseminating it through teaching and connecting it to legal practice. I similarly balance my research with teaching, which I really enjoy. I have taught every term of my doctoral program, both at Berkeley and abroad.

Being at Berkeley is stimulating because it is a place where important conversations happen that affect the country and the world. It’s really something to listen to discussions going on right on your doorstep. From the Black Lives Matter movement to free speech, Berkeley is at the forefront of the conversations that matter.

Editor’s note: Karen was recently selected as an American Society of International Law student fellow. She will represent Berkeley Law at the annual conference in Washington, DC, which brings together academics, practitioners, policymakers, and legislators, to discuss a topic relating to international law in practice.