Monday, October 13, 2014

Five Questions for Luz Herrera

Prof. Luz Herrera returned to her home this year as UCLA's Assistant Dean for Clinical Education, Experiential Learning, and Public Service.   She is next in our Five Questions series, and I am happy to post this conversation with my new neighbor in L.A. 

(See our previous Five Questions posts with Tamar Birckhead of UNC and Stacy Caplow of Brooklyn.)

1.     You’re returning home to Los Angeles.  How has time in other cities and other law schools informed your renewed work in LA?

Working at various law schools and in other cities has helped me understand the loving and entrepreneurial spirit of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula—the original name of the city of Los Angeles. Innovation abounds here—in the entertainment industry, the nonprofit community, through environmental advocates and the entrepreneurs of Silicon Beach. The spirit of Los Angeles is one that encourages new ideas, engagement and the use of diverse approaches. I am a product of that spirit and I am happy to return to this community.  

2.    In San Diego, you were heavily involved in moderate-means incubator programs.   What is a modest-means incubator, and how do you plan to integrate that work into your new role at UCLA?

A modest means incubator is a program that provides support for attorneys who are establishing law practices to serve low and moderate income populations. The purpose of these programs is to increase access to justice while helping attorneys become self-sustaining.  You need both components to foster success. An incubator program cannot solely focus on providing free services because it also has to balance the interests of the individual lawyer participants. If you are interested in my thoughts on the matter, you can find additional information in my last article, Encouraging the Development of Low Bono Law Practices, at

My involvement with modest means programs and my interest in incubators started when I practiced law in Compton. The belief that law schools should support graduates who start their own law practices and encourage the greater provision of services to underserved communities is part of what led me into legal education. I have been fortunate to work with individuals across the country to advance the modest means conversation, particularly as it relates to the role of the solo and small firm bar. I am proud of that work and the implications it may have for increasing access to legal services.

Modest means incubators have deep theoretical roots at UCLA School of Law, and I look forward to working together with our renowned faculty and staff as we advance and tailor a plan for the establishment of such incubators to advance the public interest.  

3.    What are your new ideas and visions for UCLA’s clinical programs, their roles in the university and in the city? 

The vision for UCLA School of Law’s experiential learning program was articulated by the faculty in 2013. It builds on UCLA Law’s strong history of innovation and pedagogical goals for clinical education, and it also offers opportunities for new models that honor that tradition. We are in the process of flushing out the details to implement the vision.

At the heart of the program is the belief that a legal education should equip students with the fundamental skills practitioners need and enable them to use the skills in advanced courses. Our plan is to offer students a sequenced approach to experiential education, introducing ideas and fostering skills that build on one another during the course of a student’s law school training. The academic and hands-on learning will begin on day one. Students will be introduced to the attorney-client relationship in their first year. They will learn critical fact-gathering and interview skills and also participate in a live-client field placement. In their second and third years, students will be guaranteed the option to enroll in each of the following:

(1)  foundational skills courses organized around discreet areas of skills of broad applicability; and

(2)  an advanced capstone experience that integrates skills, substantive law and a focus on the professional role of lawyers.

We are in the process of mapping out a curriculum and providing a breadth of opportunities that allows students to take an active role in course selection and be agents in their own professional development.

4.    What advice would you share with a clinical teacher newly moved to Los Angeles to understand the community and the ecosystem of public interest, social justice and pro bono lawyers? 

Advancing social justice has been and will continue to be an integral part of clinical legal education. However, as law schools move to a more inclusive agenda of experiential learning, we must find ways to bridge the needs of our students and those of communities that can most benefit from the increased provision of legal services.

The unmet legal needs in Los Angeles are greater than our clinical budgets and larger than what our institutional priorities enable us to tackle. For this reason, it is important to begin by mapping out existing resources, developing relationships with local partners and assessing the needs of both the community and the students.

A community assessment must complement a self-assessment and must reveal your ability to offer students a strong pedagogical framework for the work you will undertake. After all, we exist because our students entrust us with the responsibility to prepare them for law practice.

In working together with the public interest community, we also have an opportunity to focus on areas that pro bono lawyers or legal services programs do not have the capacity to address.

5.       Southern California is a rich environment for social justice causes, but what do you perceive as a bright spot in our city for the advancement of communities on the margins?  

There are many bright spots in this city, and many communities interested in partnering with law schools. Together, we can provide critical services to the community while we train the leaders and advocates of the future.

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