April 17, 2024

I had the honor and privilege to work with the incredible Health and Welfare clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center for two semesters during my time at Berkeley Law. I worked with the amazing advocates Milo Beitman, Erin Le, Sun (“Sunny”) Young Lee, Ingrid Murillo, and Donzahniya Pitre to support clients with their public benefit appeals to establish vital medical, food, and cash benefits. This group of passionate attorneys and advocates became some of my greatest mentors and role models during my time at Berkeley Law. I constantly found myself wanting to model and emulate the kindness and empathy with which they approached their work and clients. They all had strong, trusting relationships with their clients and often would go above and beyond to make sure their clients’ needs were holistically met whenever they could. They were also incredible teachers! Not only did they help me learn the complex nuances of public benefits law in such a short timeframe, but they also provided multiple opportunities for me to take the lead in cases while providing critical feedback that only helped me grow as an advocate. I am so grateful for my team’s mentorship and support during my time at EBCLC; their guidance was invaluable to me as I learned how to best advocate for low-income communities of color like my own.  

Although there were many lessons I learned through the work that I accomplished with the Health and Welfare team, the lesson that will always stick with me is just how important it is to provide our clients the space to be heard and validated through a client-centered approach to lawyering. Not only does this help build rapport among you and your client but it can also help your client regain the agency they often feel like they have lost from navigating complex and often dehumanizing systems. The vast majority of clients I worked with were women of color who carried the burden of navigating the complex public benefit system for their children and loved ones. This often meant that women of color were also the ones most exposed to the system’s harm and dehumanization. Whenever I would talk to my clients about their past experience navigating Social Security or their county social services department, they would frequently tell me about the yelling, apathy, and lack of consideration they were subjected to by the same systems that were supposed to help them in their hour of need. Given this past trauma, I would often try to make space during intakes, phone calls, and hearings for my clients to check in about how they were feeling with the process and provide them with the opportunity to direct the type of services they wanted. I learned that for many of our clients, working with us was the first time they genuinely felt like they had a voice. As a future attorney who hopes to work primarily with clients with marginalized and intersectional identities, I realized how important it is for me to see my role as an advocate not as someone who is replacing the voice of my clients, but rather someone who is amplifying and uplifting their voices. 

I am so incredibly thankful for the amazing experience I had during my time at EBCLC. I hope to put all of the skills and knowledge I have acquired to good use as I pursue public interest law after law school. 

Written by Jocelyn Gomez 

University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Class of 2024 

East Bay Community Law Center, Health & Welfare Clinic 


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