After two and a half years serving as the UC Hastings Civil Justice Clinic Fellow in Individual Representation, Anna Kirsch '13 is leaving to join the East Bay Community Law Center – the clinical program affiliated with Berkeley Law where she’ll be working in the public benefits and health units.
During her time as an IR clinic fellow, Kirsch worked closely with students and professors on wage and hour, clean slate and disability cases, doing any task that was needed. And when students left for exams and breaks, she took the reins and brought the cases to completion. “One thing I love about this job is that every day is so varied with the opportunity to work with so many different types of people and on so many different types of cases,” she said. “It requires a great deal of flexibility and can be challenging but it was such an amazing learning opportunity.”
Beyond managing her own case load, Kirsch also spent her time interviewing and reviewing potential clients, reviewing case files and maintaining relationships with referring agencies. She also drafted and updated student training materials, assisted in workshops and trainings for students, and conducted legal research.
Professor Gail Silverstein, who helped to create the fellowship in early 2012 along with Professors Miye Goishi, Eumi Lee, Ascanio Piomelli and Mark Aaronson, said that the fellowship's dual purpose is “to help mentor and more fully prepare a recent alumnus for excellent lawyering practice and to support the work of the Individual Representation (IR) Clinic so we can most effectively teach our law students and provide greater service to the community.”
The 1-2 year fellowship is funded by attorneys’ fees that the CJC secured while litigating John Paul Murphy v. Kenneth Cole. CJC represented Murphy in this landmark California Supreme Court wage and hour case that IR students won at trial. Then, IR Professor Donna Ryu, with the help of Dean Nancy Stuart and others, appealed it all the way to the California Supreme Court where they were successful and awarded a hefty attorneys’ fees award.
“Funding the fellowship from these fees seemed like a perfect tribute to the work of the clinic that the case represented,” Silverstein said.
Kirsch said that the cases she worked on during her two and a half years in the fellowship were similarly inspiring. “Helping clients dismiss felony and misdemeanor convictions in order to secure better jobs was extremely fulfilling,” she said. “These clients wanted to be recognized as more than just what was reflected on their RAP sheets and they had made significant changes in their lives. To see those changes finally recognized by a court was amazing. They still have a long way to go in re-entry law in California, and by no means does a dismissal lift the dozens of collateral consequences clients face post-conviction; however, it’s a start.” She also recalled a poignant case of a Burmese refugee truck driver who was owed back pay from his employer that she helped secure.
Now Kirsch is passing the baton to the new fellow, Nancy Ly ‘14. Ly was a natural fit because of her background as a community organizer before law school. “I loved being on the ground, and I really missed that when I came to law school. The IR Clinic was the first opportunity in law school where I got to, in a sense, be on the ground again.” But she also has the opportunity to learn many areas of the law. “I’m learning criminal, employment, and disability law. I think this will help me be a better advocate because clients usually come to you with more than one legal issue. I can better issue spot and advise,” she said.
She’s also developed an understanding of the greater truth about the clinic, which may give a newly minted lawyer pause. “Clients have complex lives with varying interests. What may be the best legal option for a client may not always be the best for the client’s overall life. Clients may not have legal training, but they know their lives better than you do and are often in a better position to decide what’s best for themselves,” she said.