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.

Alexandra Havrylyshyn JD, Ph.D. (JSP) ’18

Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Education: McGill University B.A. 2008, M.A. 2012
Affiliations: Student Director, Berkeley Law Mindfulness Group

There are many different ways students can do the J.D. and Ph.D. in Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) programs simultaneously. For my part, I tookall of the JSP coursework first—which is seminar-based, interdisciplinary law and society work. That took four years. Then I took my qualifying exams and wrote my prospectus for my dissertation. Then I did the J.D. courses for two years.  This year I am writing up the results of my dissertation research.

When I started the J.D. courses I found them to be stressful in a different way than any of my Ph.D. or Master’s or undergraduate work had been. It’s like being immersed in a totally different way of thinking, almost a different language. The cold calling was especially scary, and didn’t fit with the way I learned. I was judging myself a lot. I had to learn to take care of myself so that I could keep up endurance and finish it all.

I joined the mindfulness group to learn tools to manage stress and increase focus so I could better process the cases and readings for my first-year law classes. The practice has helped me find a sense of peace and equanimity in situations that would normally be very stressful. I also truly believe mindfulness makes our minds more efficient. I never sit down and think,“I feel like writing!” Mindfulness has helped discipline me to write whether or not I feel like it, much like the way I have a daily meditation practice.  That kind of discipline also permeates into other areas of my life.

Berkeley Law Mindfulness Group gave me a community of people who are like minded. Some of my peers grew up practicing meditation.Others, like me, were new to it. Faculty and staff here have been forward thinking about using mindfulness in the legal profession. It’s made me feel like I have a home at Berkeley Law.

Jacob Canter ’18

Hometown:  San Francisco, CA
Education: Reed College, 2014
Affiliations: Founder of Election Law@Boalt; Co-founder of the Political and Election Empowerment Project (PEEP); Board Member, Friday Activities

I’d like to think that students who were impacted by the 2016 election and want to do something about it think of ElectionLaw@Boalt (EL@B) as an avenue to take action.

Even though many EL@B members are on the left side of the political spectrum (it is Berkeley, after all) we work hard to ensure that the organization focuses on the general benefits of fair and legitimate election and political laws for the country and its citizens, not for one party or another. One of EL@B’s goals is to show that changes to the structure of our political system can improve many of our country’s political problems, and that politics does not have to divide us – so polarized, so unproductive – but can bring us together.

I decided to complete the UCDC law program this semester (fall 2017) because I wanted to help an organization that is doing substantive work to promote democracy in the United States. The nonprofit I’m working with is called Making Every Vote Count. Our mission is to improve the Presidential selection system in the United States. We work towards this mission by advocating for the passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under the Compact, states pass legislation to allocate their Presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote. When enough states to win the Electoral College pass the necessary legislation (that is, 270 electoral votes) all the legislation goes into effect. This functionally will turn the Presidential race into a national popular contest, unlike how it currently is, where more than 4/5 of the states and their citizens are ignored during the general election.

The organization is very small, so I have been involved in just about every facet of the work — from developing state-based strategies, to drafting arguments, to writing legal memos, to creating the website, to participating in major strategic meetings with outside organizations.

The experience has been challenging and educational in a way that is totally different from the classroom. The pace of work; the types of work product; the team environment; the client contact; the legislative advocacy – these are all skills that will be valuable as I develop as a lawyer (and especially as a lawyer that does political-related work).

I thought I knew how important the laws that govern democracy were before the 2016 election, and now I realize how little I knew. There are many problems with elections in the United States that span from high principles like how we conceive of and protect the right to vote in the Constitution, all the way down to how we print and post sample-ballots in local districts. But there are good people – on both sides of the aisle – working hard to resolve these problems. Even the greatest challenges: those severe, intractable issues that seem impossible to handle – we can fix those, too. It takes a long time and a little luck, but no politician and no judge has more power than the people united behind a belief.

Nestor Cerda Gonzalez ’20

Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Education: City College of SF, UC Santa Cruz 2014
Affiliations: BHSA 1L rep, La Raza Tenant & Workers Rights Clinic, La Raza Law Journal

One of the things I’m really passionate about is trying to even the playing field between the pharmaceutical companies and the insurers and the people who need health coverage. The system is so complicated. In my job before law school (as an advocate for people trying to secure Affordable Care Act benefits), I had to call the insurance companies to find out what the hold ups with the claims were, and most of the time I would just get the runaround. ‘You’re being transferred to this department and this department and this department.’ There was no accountability or solution for some of these people. It really angered me because it’s contrary to public policy and to the law about accessibility to health care.

The pharmaceutical and insurance companies are so focused on making a profit. And that’s fine, they’re a business. But they don’t get to put profits over people. That is something that needs to change, and it’s something that could be fixed through law.

Especially with an administration that is not making consumer rights a priority, as lawyers and advocates, we have to be the ones to push the boundaries and demand accessible health care.

Zainab Ramahi ’19

Hometown: Ontario, Canada
Education: University of Waterloo 2015
Affiliations: Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley Middle East and Islamic Law Journal; Equity and Inclusion Chair, Coalition for Diversity; Prisoner Advocacy Network

[Editor’s note: Zainab is the recipient of the 2018 Miller Institute-American Society of International Law (ASIL) Student Fellowship and the Reed Smith Diversity Fellowship]

I was one of the co-founders of an organization called Muslim Social Services. The area where I lived in Ontario was one of the main resettlement sites for refugees. With that comes the need for a whole slew of services to help them live healthy, successful lives. So we did a lot of work relating to spiritually and culturally sensitive counseling and education. You have to meet people where they’re at, and accommodate them in their language and not just expect them to immediately assimilate. That experience taught me a lot about communicating and prioritizing the people who we purport to serve, and it definitely impacts how I think about the role of a lawyer.

My efforts with the Coalition for Diversity are focused on affirming people in the spaces in which they exist and making sure marginalized students are able to have a positive and enriching experience here. I fundamentally believe that our solution spaces are enriched by diversity. If everyone is not meaningfully at the table—not just nominally in a token capacity—you are not going to reach the best outcome.

It’s a constant struggle, even here in Berkeley. But I’ve never been so inspired as I am by my peers here. I’ve made so many strong friendships based on shared goals and values. I love how rich the diversity of experiences are among the people who come to Berkeley Law. We could do better on racial diversity, that’s no secret. But the communities I am part of are so dedicated to improving the institution, so that’s really exciting and positive work.

Universities are almost like small scale worlds in-and-of themselves. It’s a good dry run for thinking about changemaking on a bigger scale when we leave this institution. In learning how to deal with the challenges we face here and collaborating with the administration and community as a whole will help us all be better advocates in our professional lives.

Yarden Kakon ’19

Hometown: Davie, FL
Education: University of Florida 2016
Affiliations: Founder, Women in Tech Law; First Generation Professionals

When I first got to Berkeley, I attended a BCLT introduction session, and as all the different groups came up to present, I realized there was nothing focused on women. It felt so obvious since the inequalities of women versus men in leadership roles in the technology and startup space is such a big conversation right now. I started doing some research and discovered that there were almost no organizations focused specifically on women in tech law. It wasn’t even a suggested term on Google.

So that’s how Women in Tech Law (WiTL) at Berkeley started. Even at the first meeting, people came up to us to say thank you for creating this community where we can talk about the struggles that come with being a woman in this area of law. It’s also given a lot of support to women like me — who don’t have a tech background — in saying that you can succeed in tech law without a CS or engineering degree.

Our “It’s LIT” (Ladies in Tech) lunch talks bring in women from in-house, public interest, corporate, and firms to talk about their experiences. We don’t focus on the practice itself, but rather on them as women in the field. We’ll have the General Counsel of Uber or another big company sharing stories of how it feels to be the only woman in a board meeting and being otherized as a female lawyer. It’s remarkable to sit in the audience and relate so deeply with these inspiring women and realize we’re just like them, that it’s ok to feel this way, and that there’s ways to navigate it and empower yourself.

We have needs and concerns that are unique to women. A male associate is not going to need the same time off as a woman who is pregnant or has to care for her kids. This is not something to hide from or ignore. By reclaiming and embracing the needs of women, that’s how we are going to show the world that we’re not more fragile, but rather that we operate differently than our male counterparts. Women have so much to offer in totally different ways than men. We have a different perspective, a different way of approaching a conflict or a problem, a different demeanor in dealing with colleagues and clients and challenges.

So one of the goals of WiTL is to flip the narrative about these differences being negative. We’re saying: ‘We have a perspective and value that you need. You should show us why we should work for you.’

We’ve attracted a lot of attention from law firms. Basically all of the tech law firms in the Bay Area have reached out to get involved with WiLT and help us and even recruit our members. It means that firms recognize the value that comes from having more women in the tech law field and how the difference in perspective women bring is helping build and grow their law firm to become an even more successful entity. It’s really encouraging.