Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Five Years in the Community Justice Clinic

We just wrapped the final class for the Spring 2019 iteration of the Community Justice Clinic. At the close of its fifth year, I’m feeling reflective, maudlin, and proud. 

I joined the law faculty at Pepperdine in July 2013, took a year to take the bar and get a California license. For Fall 2014, I had the rare gift of launching a new clinic from scratch. I had thirteen years of experience in civil litigation, trial, and appellate practice in various forms and venues, and I was ready for a change. Through our curricular processes, we saw a need for a clinic that was not seated in litigation and for a practice that was not focused on advocacy for individuals. This process resulted in the Community Justice Clinic.

The Community Justice Clinic was an exciting departure for me professionally. The Clinic serves as general counsel for nonprofits, NGOs, religious and community organizations that are dedicated to human rights, social justice, and community economic development. We focus on clients who are part of the communities they empower or who have deeply rooted, cultural sophistication and humility among the people they serve. Our Clinic provides corporate legal services (incorporation, governance, tax exemption), policy and legal research and advocacy (studies, surveys, and projects in the field), and general legal services (leases, contracts, IP, internal policies, problem solving).

Most of our clients are at work in Southern California, but several are national. At least a third of our clients are NGOs at work globally. Our work with our clients have touched communities in Ecuador, Uganda, India, Nepal, Rwanda, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nicaragua, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom, so far. Our policy research has addressed another dozen nations.

As clinical professors, our greatest gift is practicing law alongside brilliant, eager, creative students. They make me a better lawyer and better teacher. At the launch of the Community Justice Clinic, I started a tradition to build a monument to the students who would join this work. Being new to the West Coast and excited about our prospects, I bought a California state flag and asked the students to sign it. I confessed to them (and all the rest to come) that it might be corny and sentimental, but I wanted to mark our commitment to our community, to build a reminder of their work and our collaboration together. I wanted to remember them, and I wanted them to remember this work, these clients, their causes, and their profound power in the world as lawyers. In their moments of professional crisis, I wanted the students to be able to spot a symbol that reminds them of their commitments and capacity.

Here is the flag tonight, bearing the signatures of students across five years and ten semesters, nearly a hundred students in the Community Justice Clinic. They have served at least fifty clients on multiple matters around the world and in our neighborhood. The flag also bears the signatures of twenty more students who served several score clients in the Disaster Relief Clinic. 

I’m proud to be their teacher and to practice law with them, playing a small role in their education and helping launch them into the world to serve and lead. They have done mighty work to empower our clients to make the world better.  I'll post an update in Spring 2024.

Flag. 4.17.19 (Five Years of CJC) jrb

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