Being a clinic student (and just being a person!) during 2020 and 2021 was rough. It was a time filled with grief and renewed anger at the injustice occurring in our country and our communities. Early in September, when we were just diving into our first assignments, wildfire smoke covered the Bay so densely it seemed like night. We had a meeting that morning with one of our clients, a non-profit developing a new restaurant business structured around principles of cooperative ownership and social justice. We were going over details of their corporate form, but what I remember most was sitting with everyone on Zoom and talking from our hearts about the pandemic and fires, and our grief over all of it. That morning encapsulates my experience with EBCLC’s Community Economic Justice (CEJ) clinic: sitting in community, acknowledging the ongoing horror of late-stage capitalism, and working to implement new versions of ownership that center workers, communities, and the environment.
The first year of the pandemic was hard in so many ways, but being part of CEJ brought me a lot of hope and joy. Being surrounded by the creative energy of clinic staff and our clients transformed my view of community lawyering. For the first time in law school, I felt like the work I was learning to do was changing the direction our world is headed in. Our clinic assignments connected us with community coalitions and nonprofits engaged in policy and organizing fights around stable jobs, housing affordability, and anti-displacement. Through CEJ’s participation in these coalitions, we learned how and where lawyers can support community organizing. Rather than just teaching us what the law says, CEJ taught us to identify and use legal processes as leveraging tools for our clients’ goals. And because good lawyering isn’t just about using the law, we also learned how to make effective public comments, how to conduct the non-legal research that our community partners needed, and how to support clients in making business decisions where there weren’t clear legal answers. Through this focus on skill-building, CEJ taught us to think creatively about how to use our time, training, and resources to uplift community organizing efforts.
Being a clinic student with CEJ was an experience I couldn’t have found anywhere else. Through CEJ’s connections to local organizers and community coalitions, I learned so much about Berkeley and Oakland’s long history of activism and organizing by communities of color. I am especially lucky to have had the opportunity to work with small businesses changing the relationship between labor and capital. Seeing our clients’ businesses flourish as radical community spaces has been one of the lasting joys coming out of my time with CEJ.
Although the year I spent with CEJ was entirely remote, I felt a powerful sense of community with my classmates and clinical supervisors. The CEJ team structured our assignments so that we overlapped on work and actually got to know each other. They carved out time each week to talk about the impact of the work we were doing, the history of ourselves and our communities, and how we envisioned moving the law forwards. Most importantly, they made time to just be silly and lift each other up. I am so grateful to have been surrounded by such a wonderful group of people during what would have otherwise been a very lonely year.
Thanks to the wonderful staff at CEJ, I feel ready to show up for the communities I will represent with humility, passion, and hope.
Written by Evvy Archibald Shulman
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2022
East Bay Community Law Center Community Economic Justice Clinical Student