I spent the better part of two years in the Housing unit at EBCLC, first as an SLP participant in EBCLC’s Tenants’ Rights Workshop, and then as an SLP leader and Housing Clinic student. EBCLC shaped me as a lawyer, and I am incredibly grateful for my time there.
The Housing unit at EBCLC was an amazing place to call home for my first two years of law school. I feel lucky to have been able to begin my law school career in the kitchen above the offices at the Adeline office, talking to staff attorneys like Pedro Viramontes and Marc Janowitz over dinner during Tenants’ Rights Workshop nights. This warm and welcoming introduction to EBCLC was inspiring, and I saw in the attorneys who were our supervisors the kind of attorney I wanted to be: someone who was passionate about keeping tenants housed, someone who was empathetic and met clients where they were at, and someone who wanted to empower these clients to advocate for themselves and their own rights. This was my introduction to the philosophy of becoming a community lawyer.
I came to law school with a passion for tenants’ rights and housing justice generally, and the Housing unit at EBCLC only reinforced that. As a 1L, it is easy to feel directionless, overwhelmed by first-year doctrinal classes and unsure about how to put your passions into actionable steps. But EBCLC provided a space to do just that. The Housing unit presented a lawyering model that I was excited to emulate, and the Housing unit staff I worked with at TRW was eager to teach us the skills we would need to be effective advocates.
As my 1L year was coming to an end, then, I knew I wanted to apply to Housing Clinic because I loved EBCLC’s philosophy, and I felt inspired by the people I met through TRW. Of course, I did not expect to be applying in the middle of a pandemic, a time in which tenants’ rights were becoming more important than ever.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from both the Housing Clinic and from EBCLC generally was how to become a community lawyer, using all the tools in the legal tool belt in a way that empowered individuals and advanced the goals and needs of communities. In a pandemic that caused the usually fast-paced world of Housing Clinic to slow, it became ever more important to pursue these innovative lawyering strategies. I am grateful to my direct supervisor, Sabyl Landrum, for giving me opportunities to get involved in complex cases that showed me just how much work goes into a case outside of the courthouse. Even as court shifted to an online platform and the rate of summary proceedings slowed, the Housing Clinic exponentially expanded my knowledge of both formal and informal lawyering, and the importance of these myriad strategies in keeping tenants housed. This was especially true when individuals’ health–and, at times, their lives–depended on their ability to stay in their homes. Through my work at the clinic, I explored affirmative solutions to the affordable housing crisis like political advocacy and organizing. I also saw firsthand the importance of meeting all of a client’s needs and providing holistic services. For instance, I had the opportunity to partner with the social work team on several cases, which provided an entirely different perspective than the traditional legal one I received in my classes.
The work I did in Housing Clinic was perfectly reinforced by the discussions we had as clinical students during our weekly seminars. We discussed the underpinnings of community lawyering–empathy, trust-building (both on an individual and community level), and leveling the playing field in a legal realm that is often anything but equal. These were values embraced by everyone at EBCLC, staff and students alike, and it was amazing to be exposed to ideas seldom broached in my doctrinal classes. Even when nothing else about law school, the future, or my career seemed certain, I came back to these values. I knew they represented the type of lawyer I wanted to become.
These ideals were not only ones that the staff in the Housing Unit preached or reserved for their clients. They practiced this internally as well, creating a tight-knit, approachable, and kind environment for us to learn in, even over Zoom. The quality of supervision was amazing, and it was the first time I had a supervisor not only give me feedback but explain the theory behind the feedback. All the attorneys in the Housing Unit fully embraced the teaching clinic model, and they were always eager to answer questions and explain not only the how, but the why behind different decisions. Their openness, supportiveness, and candor inspired me to want to foster the growth of the next class of law students as well, which is why I applied to co-lead TRW during my 2L year. I was so grateful for the continued opportunity to interact with the Housing unit, and the opportunity to introduce EBCLC to other students who, like myself, may have been struggling to find their place in the law school. I truly felt–and feel–that EBCLC was where I found myself and my footing as a lawyer. I am grateful to the attorneys who helped and inspired me on that journey, and I hope to be able to do the same for others in the future.
Written by Hadley Rood
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2022
East Bay Community Law Center Housing Clinical Student