As the pandemic wanes, the devastation it has inflicted on students and youth only intensifies. Many find themselves grade levels behind in reading, math, and more as the opportunity gap and cracks in our public school system expand. Entering education law as a soon-to-be-lawyer suddenly feels more urgent and challenging than ever before. I am grateful to EBCLC for giving me the chance to make an impact in the education field among a brilliant community of lifelong role models, and for showing me that effective lawyering requires connecting the dots between disparate areas of law and expertise as much as connecting with individuals.
EBCLC first taught me that the law exists not in categorical siloes but is tangled together. “What is education law?” is a question that I often receive. The answer is not so simple. At EBCLC I dove into the intersection between the special education and juvenile justice systems, weighing how to communicate with my client’s teachers in front of his probation officers; examined loopholes in students’ privacy rights that could be manipulated by law enforcement; and researched how COVID-19 public health mandates impacted families’ abilities to obtain disability assessments for their kids. Such an interdisciplinary space demanded rigorous perspective-shifting, communicating with stakeholders and activists, and identifying gaps and potential.
EBCLC also showed me that our legal system, although it is adversarial, benefits from sympathy and solidarity. Civility and respect gave rise to greater negotiation and compromise from opposing counsel at IEP meetings. Connecting with my client and not focusing solely on his legal issues deepened the quality of our advocacy. My supervisor and I featured humanizing details in the letters that we wrote to the D.A. and judge—small things that may have helped contribute to his release from juvenile hall. So often in law school we are encouraged to prioritize our intellectual selves, but my time at EBCLC revealed how legal advocacy is enhanced when we bring our full selves to the table and see the full selves of others.
I am thankful to have experienced the power of this inspiring community and know that its spirit of resilience and justice will follow me long into the future.
Written by Julia Choi
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2022
East Bay Community Law Center Education Justice Clinical Student