My two years with EBCLC’s Education Justice clinic helped me learn and practice skills necessary to becoming a community-led and client-centered advocate. I came into my clinical experience having taken a class on movement lawyering during 1L and with a background in policy that made me want to become a lawyer with these skills. However, without having witnessed them put into practice, I had little idea of how to do so myself. The gift of the EDJY staff’s modelling of this form of advocacy and opportunity in clinic to practice myself will be something I will carry with me throughout my career.
In my first semester with the clinic, my amazing supervisor, Gloria Yi, taught me how to build trust with the young people we worked with. Each time we met with a client she demonstrated working with them to understand their goals and how to ensure those goals guided our approach to their cases. In meetings she modelled creating space to center their voices and needs. In many of our check-ins, I shared with her that this part of legal practice was where I was most nervous. To me building a relationship of trust with my clients and ensuring my client is heard are among the most important roles of an attorney. For this reason, the stakes of practicing those roles felt very high.
One of my clients that year had an upcoming expulsion hearing at which they would have to speak. Gloria pushed me to step outside my comfort zone by giving the opening statement, cross examining a witness for the school district, and helping our client prepare what they would say. Working with that young person showed me that I had taken real lessons from watching how Gloria put the principles of client-centered advocacy into practice. My client and I worked together to write their story, in their own words, into a statement that they could share at the hearing. In our regular conversations I worked to build trust, and to understand their goals and experience, and I used their feedback to guide me in writing an opening statement. That hearing was my first time speaking in anything resembling a courtroom and giving an opening statement and conducting a cross exam were huge skill-building experiences for me as only a second-year law student. However, of all my clinical experiences that first year, I am most proud of helping my client tell their own story and ultimately return to school.
I returned for a second year with the clinic to work on a more targeted set of projects focused on building relationships with community organizations and advocates. In seeking collaborative partnerships in the communities EDJY works with, I have called upon the same skills I built in my first year with clinic. Trust-building and seeking to understand and be led by the goals of communities has been an essential part of this work. As someone who hopes to be a community lawyer, I am so grateful to EDJY for starting me down this path. Through clinic, I have witnessed the work of excellent community lawyers, received their feedback and advice, and had a chance to build not merely skills but a way of practicing law that I hope to continue throughout my career.
My clinical experience has been foundational to my experience of law school. The law school pedagogy includes relatively little about the practice of law, but EDJY taught me both skills critical to being a lawyer and also how to put my values into practice in order to become the type of lawyer I want to be.
Written by Kaya McRuer
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2023
East Bay Community Law Center Education Defense and Justice For Youth Clinical Student