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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rising 2L Blends Faith, Legal Training on Behalf of Children in Dependency System

"Children don’t need lawyers. They need child advocates with law degrees. My passion to create positive change is deeply rooted in my faith.” --Rising 2L Grecia Ceja

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She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25

Editor’s Note: Below is the application essay that won Rising 2L Grecia Ceja one of 25 grants for public interest work from the Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation (HPILF). In June, Ceja begins work at the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Alameda County.

This summer I will have the pleasure of interning at East Bay Children’s Law Offices, Inc. (EBCLO), a nonprofit organization, which provides free legal representation to children and youth who are the subject of abuse and neglect proceedings in Alameda County Juvenile Dependency Court. EBCLO also provides representation to youth in delinquency and probate guardianship proceedings in Alameda County by court appointment.

While looking for prospective internship locations I was thrilled to find and secure a position at EBCLO because they perfectly embody the picture of the type of legal professional I aim to become—a vigorous and compassionate legal advocate. The mission of the East Bay Children’s Law Offices, Inc., is to protect and defend the rights of children and youth through effective legal advocacy. EBCLO strives to provide a voice for children in the juvenile dependency system and promote positive outcomes for them. EBCLO represents approximately 1,700 youth at any given time, with a staff of 17 attorneys and six social workers.

The blend of both attorneys and social workers in the office is of particular interest to me because I had originally sought a career as a social worker. During my undergraduate studies I quickly realized that although social workers could greatly impact the lives of children, they are limited in the change they are able to make because of their lack of ability to change our current laws. Instead of continuing to pursue a career as a social worker, I chose to come to law school in order to make a greater impact and help children from a legal standpoint. I respect and admire the work that both social workers and lawyers do in advocating for children and I am very excited to be a part of a learning environment that will expose me to the aspects of how these two professions work together to better the lives of children.

Long before I knew I wanted to become a lawyer, I had a passion for helping children. I am pursuing a career in which I will be able to protect children, defend their rights, and make change. I devoted my undergraduate studies to Research and Public Policy in Child and Adolescent Development. During my undergraduate studies I was introduced to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), both of which sparked my interest to make change here in the United States and eventually around the world. The CRC is a human’s rights treaty which sets out civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. UNICEF is an organization whose mission is to advocate and protect children’s rights all over the globe based on the principles of the CRC. I have recently been accepted to study abroad at Leiden University where the university is scheduled to host a weeklong convention celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the CRC during the 2014 Fall Semester. The convention will be headed by law school Professor Dr. T. Liefaard who also happens to be a UNICEF chair. During my time abroad I will take a Children’s Rights Course taught by Professor Liefaard, which highlights key-principles of the CRC and provides an introduction to children’s rights as part of international human rights law.

Faith in Action

Though I have devoted my studies to helping children, my drive to impact their lives extends past academia. My passion for creating positive change in the lives of children is deeply rooted in my faith. As a follower of Christ I find purpose in loving as Christ does and bringing contagious hope and inspiration wherever I go. I feel not only an urgent need for the presence of positive role models for children but a need for stability in those adult- child relationships. As a leader in children’s ministry at Liberty Church, my home church in Fairfield, CA, I strive to help the children in my community by being a mentor and spiritual leader. Building relationships with children is important to me. Children are not all the same and they cannot be lumped together by age and generalized. Children are beautiful individual beings with their own sets of dreams, needs and feelings. A relationship with a child requires investing time and gaining their trust. My personal experience with children has led me to create a philosophy that has kept me focused on my mission to becoming a lawyer; children don’t need lawyers, they need child advocates with law degrees.

This is precisely what I see at EBCLO, an office full of child advocates with law degrees. This love that I have for children individually as well as in general aligns perfectly with the heart of EBCLO. EBCLO is an exceptional office of passionate people who love what they do and do not cut corners in providing help for children. Lawyers here are assigned to children not to specific types of cases. This is done in order to allow children to build real relationships with the lawyers and not only gain services from them but also a positive mentor and role model.

The summer law clerk program is a fulltime 10-week program. EBCLO provides comprehensive training at the beginning of the summer program for the interns. I will have opportunities throughout the summer to participate in additional trainings through the office as well as through partnering law firms. My assistance will be utilized in all aspects of representing children in varying stages of juvenile dependency proceedings. I will assist staff attorneys with trial preparation and client contact. My responsibilities include client face to face and telephone interviews; preparing for and participating in court hearings, mediations and alternative dispute resolution efforts, and other methods of advocacy on behalf of clients. I will be assigned legal research and writing projects and may also have opportunities to work on projects involving delinquency matters, probate guardianships and education advocacy.

There is only so much that can be learned through books alone. I have spent years learning about children’s rights and this internship has become a window of opportunity to gain a more tangible experience. This summer will be an enriching experience that will aid me in becoming a vigorous and compassionate legal advocate for children. I would greatly appreciate the financial help as I embark on this journey.

Read more about HPILF here.

--May 27, 2014

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