Tom Cormons (Class of 2006)
Executive Director, Appalachian Voices
“Since deciding to attend law school, I have been committed to a public interest career focused on environmental issues. The Public Interest Program, which is what drew me to UCLA School of Law, supported this commitment every step of the way. Because the culture and support structures of top law schools generally focus on preparing students for careers with large corporate law firms, the Program’s robust support for a public interest career path is a unique and very important asset. From the start, the Program gave me access to the experience and perspective of a wide range of accomplished faculty and alumni focused on using the law for positive change. Beginning with my 1L year, I also benefitted tremendously from the Program’s career counseling and commitment to helping students seize the best job opportunities to build experience in our chosen fields. In combination with the School of Law’s excellent course offerings in environmental law, the Program laid the foundation for a fascinating and rewarding public interest career focused on the issues that first motivated me to become a lawyer.”
Julie Farrell Curtin (Class of 2005)
Director of Legal Services, Vermont Land Trust (Montpelier, Vermont)
“The Public Interest Program is the reason I applied to UCLA School of Law. When I received my acceptance into the Program, there was no question where I would go. Having a cohort of dedicated, social justice minded, experienced and active classmates met my high expectations for an invigorating and educational law school experience. The commitment of the Program faculty and staff made my experience truly extraordinary. From the staff’s academic and career counseling to Professor Scott Cumming's mentoring me through the world of community economic development, and staff and faculty’s extremely generous support toward my fellowship applications, I can cite hundreds of examples of the support that the Program provided me. I do not think I would be where I am today in my career without the Program. I now serve as the Director of Legal Services at the Vermont Land Trust (VLT). Here at VLT we conserve thousands of acres of Vermont farm and forest land for the people who live, visit and play in the state.I work on community projects that protect the special places that define many ofVermont's towns and cities. We partner with housing organizations to ensure that the affordable housing needs of Vermonters are addressed and to build a comprehensive plan for the state's sustainable future. I feel grateful for the diverse points of view that I was exposed to as a PILPer and feel that my deeper understanding of social justice issues gained from my three years in the Program makes me more effective in my career today.”
Natalie Bridgeman Fields (Class of 2002)
Executive Director and Founder, Accountability Counsel (San Francisco, California)
“It was because of its Public Interest Program that I was initially attracted to UCLA School of Law; it is because of my experience in the Program that I remain committed to the School today. Among top law schools, UCLA stood out with its commitment to public interest law, students and well-designed and implemented program that supports those students in law school and beyond. I have had a varied career constantly applying the knowledge and skills I learned through the Program. My experience as a student prepared me to work as a lawyer at a large corporate law firm working on cutting edge and historic human rights cases through the firm's pro bono program; later as a solo practitioner taking on some of the most pressing domestic human rights and corporate accountability issues of our age; as a consultant on policies of a major European bank where I was tasked with the design and creation of a system of accountability; and as founder and Executive Director of an award-winning, internationally-recognized non-profit organization, Accountability Counsel, that represents client communities all over the developing world. I often do public speaking about my career, social entrepreneurship, innovations in law practice and corporate accountability. I have always been incredibly proud to share that I am an alumna of the School of Law’s Public Interest Program and am grateful to count my Program alumni peers as some of the most successful, creative and bright public interest lawyers in their respective fields.”
Francis V. Guzman (Class of 2012)
Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow, National Center for Youth Law (Oakland, California)
“I was drawn to UCLA School of Law because of the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. As a former ward of the state of California with a history defined by disadvantage and injustice, I committed my life and career to serving the public interest, specifically low-income communities, especially children, to ensure they have the resources, support, and opportunities they need to live healthy and productive lives. The Public Interest Program offered me a legally and socially relevant curriculum, taught by experienced and accomplished administrators and faculty members who possess the creativity and the will to make a positive difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.
Furthermore, the Public Interest Program provided me with a premier legal education in a supportive and nurturing environment, surrounded by advocates who became my friends and members of my extended family. The Program community supported me through my personal struggles and encouraged me to pursue my highest, seemingly unattainable, dreams and aspirations of becoming an attorney and helping my family and community. With the help of my Program family and community, I have grown and developed as a person and a legal advocate and have developed the knowledge and skills necessary to help others in need.
Ultimately, UCLA School of Law’s Public Interest Program taught me to step outside of the traditional role of attorney and advocate and think creatively to identify and develop solutions to difficult and complicated legal and social issues. Using a variety of tools and strategies in law, policy, education, and organizing, I have now attained my dreams and have begun to make a positive impact on poor communities, and especially in the lives of underserved and vulnerable children.”
Michael Marsh (Class of 2004)
Directing Attorney, Salinas Office and Project Director, Agricultural Director Health Project
California Rural Legal Assistance (Salinas, California)
“I knew when I graduated from high school that I would be an attorney. I didn’t know that it would take me more than 20 years to get there. But it wasn’t time wasted. Unlike many, I knew precisely why I wanted to be an attorney, to assist Spanish-speaking low-wage workers in California. In large part, I went to law school to acknowledge and respect the sacrifices of the farmworkers who put food on my plate and the janitors who cleaned my office long after I was home and in bed.
I only applied to law schools with strong public interest programs and I was accepted at every school to which I applied. I chose UCLA School of Law because of the strength of its Public Interest Program. I believed that the Program would teach me what I needed to learn to be the most effective attorney possible for working class clients, and I was not disappointed. The Program was challenging, but the content was exactly what I expected. It emphasized creative thinking, rebellious lawyering and client-led advocacy.
Today, every day,I put into practice what the Program taught me. For as long as I am an attorney, I will be thankful that I was part of the Public Interest Program and the Program will always be a part of me and my advocacy.”
Thuy Thi Nguyen (Class of 2000)
General Counsel, Peralta Community College District (Oakland, California)
“As a member of the inaugural class of the Public Interest Program, I am forever grateful to the faculty and staff of the Program for helping shape my perspectives of the legal profession and the direction of my legal career. I was not initially accepted into the Program, but found myself continuing to be drawn to the work Program students were doing even as 1Ls. They were seemingly a group “set apart” from the rest of the UCLA School of Law community, with such a strong sense of community and social justice that I knew I had to reapply. I am so glad I did.
The study of law during 2L and 3L years then had a meaningful framework for me, part community lawyering and part public policy, thanks to the Public Interest Program. As a Program class, we collaborated with the ACLU on the initial stages of the Williams case – a seminal case in equity financing of K-12 education today. We worked on an environmental justice case, and learned beyond what any law book could possibly teach: empathy for our clients, creative legal thinking, creative non-legal solutions, and the importance of perseverance. These lessons are incredibly valuable to me as a lawyer today.
I am now General Counsel for the Peralta Community College District. My practice involves education law, community relations, public policy, and legislative affairs. My responsibilities require not only addressing legal issues and managing litigation, but also initiating new legislation and developing legal strategies with sensitivity toward the needs of the larger community.
I am a Vietnamese refugee from East Oakland who was given the opportunity to serve the community from which I came. I became General Counsel when I was 28 years old – barely three years out of law school, and I am grateful that the Program prepared me well for this career in public service.”
Stacey Rolland (Class of 2005)
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Tax Policy, U.S. Department of the Treasury
“While the incredible curriculum, inspiring faculty and, it goes without saying, the encouragement and support of the Public Interest Program staff, made being a student in the Program an experience valuable beyond measure, I believe it was the Program community that made my experience so fulfilling and inspiring. It made a profound impact on me to be surrounded daily by intelligent, creative, caring and ambitious peers with diverse backgrounds, interests and goals, but all devoted to working toward a more just and equitable society. It was empowering to see the many innovative ways we all sought to make the world a better place on many levels, while challenging each other and pulling each other up in the process. I was privileged to be a part of the Program, and I am so proud of the achievements of the entire Program community!”
Paul Seamus Ryan (Class of 2001)
Senior Counsel, The Campaign Legal Center (Washington, D.C.)
“The existence of the Public Interest Program at UCLA School of Law is precisely why I applied for admission to UCLA. I had decided, years before applying for admission to law schools, that I would pursue a public interest legal career specializing in voting rights, campaign finance reform and other democracy-building aspects of law and policy. While exploring law schools, I quickly determined that UCLA’s Public Interest Program would be the perfect fit – and it was. I was admitted to UCLA through the Public Interest Program. The Program provided me with support and encouragement to pursue the public interest legal career to which I was committed. The Program provided me with funding to work at election law-focused nonprofits during both of my law school summers, which led one of those nonprofits to offer me paid part-time work during my 3L year and a full-time job upon my graduation from UCLA. Public interest law jobs are incredibly competitive; the Program enabled me to get my foot in the door and demonstrate my capabilities at nonprofits that lacked the resources initially to pay me. Fast forward a dozen years. I am now Senior Counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, where I have been employed since 2004. Driving to my office moments ago, I heard a recorded interview of me on NPR’s All Things Considered discussing an unfolding campaign finance scandal, and it made me think ‘how did I get here?’ UCLA School of Law’s Public Interest Program is a big part of how I got here, and I will forever be grateful.”
Laura E. Sanchez (Class of 2004)
Chief Executive Officer, New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce
“Being the first person in my family to go to college and law school and the only lawyer in the family, I understand how critical the Public Interest Program was to my professional development. Program staff, faculty and alumni have provided me with sound counsel, unwavering support and encouragement, and a connection to my core values. More than anything, the Program has given me confidence and community. My Program community has pushed me when I needed a push and supported me when I felt otherwise unsupported. The Program gave me the foothold into legal discourse and consistently challenged me academically and intellectually. I have grown because of the Program community both as a professional and as a person, and I am the advocate and leader I am today.”