Youth Defender Clinic Student Reflection: Jeremy GrossMonday, May 9, 2022
When I joined EBCLC, I already knew I wanted to be a public defender. Before law school, I worked for almost three years as an investigator in a public defender office in the Bronx, New York, so I felt like I had a good sense of what it would take. But not until the Youth Defender Clinic with EBCLC did I truly understand what it meant to represent indigent clients facing a criminal legal system designed specifically to oppress people living in poverty and people of color. EBCLC gave me the firsthand experience I craved but could not get in a classroom, while at the same time providing valuable tools and mentorship that I know I will take with me throughout my career as I work to be the best advocate I can be.
Specifically, EBCLC gave me the opportunity to work directly with clients, which is what drew me most to public defense. Initially, although certainly thrilled to have my own clients, I was also terrified to act as the primary advocate for young people caught up in the Juvenile Court system; while it was an incredible learning experience for me, the stakes for them were very real. But that fear quickly dissipated, as the intelligent and passionate supervisors at EBCLC were there to both empower me to problem solve on my own, and simultaneously provide the guidance I needed to make sure everything I did was truly in the best interest of the clients. I will never forget my first client meeting without a supervisor present, as it was the first moment of law school where I could actually picture myself as a full-fledged attorney.
Beyond client interaction, the Youth Defender Clinic also provided me several chances to appear in court before a judge, a unique experience that truly cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of fighting for a client before a room full of people, and it served as a great reminder of why this work is so important. Again, while certainly nerve-racking, thanks to my EBCLC supervisors I could not have felt more prepared. And I was lucky enough to get my first courtroom win during my time in clinic, and having the chance to talk to and celebrate with my client afterward was as rewarding as I could have hoped.
Just as important as the concrete lawyering skills I learned during clinic, EBCLC also gave me new perspective on what it means to fight for a more equitable and just world. It inspired me to reflect on my own identity and how that might shape my role in that fight. It motivated me to understand the identities and communities of my clients and truly engage in client-centered advocacy. It opened my eyes to the concept of movement lawyering, and the public defender’s role in making broader, more sweeping social change. It taught me how to think both critically and compassionately, and it introduced me to incredible advocates I hope to model myself after as I embark on my legal career.
EBCLC is an amazing organization, and participating in the Youth Defender Clinic was a formative and crucial part of my law school experience. I feel more prepared to be an attorney, more confident in the kind of advocate I want to be, and more equipped to fight against the injustices that led me to law school in the first place. For all of that, and the opportunity to work with the other students and fantastic advocates at EBCLC, I will always be grateful.
Written by Jeremy Gross
University of California, Berkeley School of Law Class of 2022
East Bay Community Law Center Youth Defender Clinical Student