Clean Slate Clinic Student Reflection: Kate Mather

May 11, 2021

My experience at EBCLC reminded me why I wanted to become a lawyer.

Like many law students, I ended my 1L year craving something more. My classes were interesting, but I came to law school to help people. I didn’t feel like I was doing much of that while sitting in a classroom.

That changed when I joined EBCLC’s Clean Slate Clinic. There, I met with clients regularly, performing intake services for folks seeking criminal record remedies or help with traffic fines and fees. Most of my work focused on decriminalizing homelessness in Berkeley, a mission that took me from encampments along I-80 to City Hall. The work was challenging at times, but deeply rejuvenating. Meeting directly with clients and learning about their experiences motivated me, not only to try to help them, but to help reform a deeply flawed criminal legal system.

The Clean Slate team is deeply committed to this work. Jael, Maureen, Osha, Asher, Rebecca, and Juan help change lives, both by assisting individual clients and by pushing for broader policy reform. Chipping away at the criminal legal system can be a daunting, demoralizing task. Yet they tackle it with a ferocity that is truly inspiring. They also showed me the importance of finding a good team—colleagues who care about you as a person, and who will support and sustain you in this work.

Of course, I can’t talk about my time at EBCLC without talking about Osha. I feel immensely lucky to have worked so closely with Osha and to have played a small part in his years-long battle to decriminalize homelessness in the East Bay. Osha is a legend at EBCLC and in Berkeley, and rightfully so.

Osha taught me so much about how to be an attorney. Osha puts people first, always. He showed me the value of what I’ve come to call “creative lawyering”—the work and advocacy that doesn’t fit into a tidy box of courtrooms, motions, or suits. Connecting people with resources. Helping them move belongings from one encampment to another. Meeting clients where they are most comfortable—which for us, that often meant sitting on the ground outside of their tents. Osha taught me how to really listen to your clients—their needs, wants, and lived experiences—so that you can meaningfully advocate for change. Attorneys shouldn’t project onto our clients what we think they need. Their voices must drive our work.

Most importantly, Osha showed me there was room for compassion and authenticity in lawyering. If you know Osha, you know that he charts his own path in everything he does. He showed me that I wouldn’t have to change who I was or how I worked in order to be an effective lawyer.

Osha is one of my heroes.

I am so grateful for my year at EBCLC, and the tangible skills and substantive legal knowledge that I developed during that time. Most of all, I am grateful for the people I met through EBCLC. My clients reminded me why I wanted to become a lawyer. My colleagues showed me the type of lawyer I want to be.

Written by Kate Mather

University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2021

East Bay Community Law Center Clean Slate Clinical Student