David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy

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About the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy

Overview

The David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy is one of the nation’s most innovative and successful law school public interest programs. Since its inception, the Program has set a high standard for training the next generation of public interest advocates and leaders.

At UCLA Law, students will find a dynamic environment that brings together faculty, administrators, students and alumni to explore critical issues on a local and global scale. The Program curriculum offers an innovative and rigorous approach to legal education that enables students to refine their own career goals while educating and training them to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally underserved individuals, communities and interests. Program faculty has an unparalleled depth and breadth of knowledge and experience representing a wide cross-section of topics in social justice. They work with Program administrators to counsel, guide and support students and alumni as they pursue impactful public interest careers.

Through its speaker series and other colloquia and symposia, interdisciplinary collaborations and active engagement in the community, the Program helps advance sustainable solutions to some of our society’s most pressing challenges.

Public Interest Law and Policy Specialization

The Program Specialization strives to provide an innovative and intellectually ambitious curriculum that trains students to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally underrepresented individuals, communities and interests while utilizing a range of problem-solving tools.  Thus, Program students are required to satisfy the general requirements for a J.D. degree while also satisfying the Program’s specific curricular requirements.

The Program curriculum is intended both to address fundamental questions about public interest lawyering that affect all areas of practice and to allow students to pursue a curricular path tailored to their individual interests and career goals.  The Program curricular requirements include a first-year seminar, a special section of the first-year Lawyering Skills course, a second-year “problem solving” seminar, an additional four advanced courses from a designated menu of courses, and a writing requirement.

Program students also have ample opportunity to select from the general School of Law curriculum courses that relate to their public interest orientation and goals, as well as to enroll in other academic specializations and pursue joint degrees.

The Program’s Definition of “Public Interest”

The Program has consistently defined “public interest” broadly, as “any and all interests underrepresented by the private market,” including the interests of the poor and ethnic minorities, unpopular causes “across the political spectrum,” and undervalued stakes in the common good (such as the environment). 

Our Community

Sustaining a Public Interest Commitment

It is well known that many students enroll in law school with the intent of pursuing a public interest-oriented career, attracted to law by a desire to help others, improve society and redress injustice. Unfortunately, only a fraction of those with such intentions actually fulfill them, a phenomenon that has drawn extensive commentary, as well as empirical research. Research also points to the importance of involvement in a supportive subculture during law school in maintaining student public interest commitment.

For many Program students and alumni, the Program community has been the singularly most important aspect of their participation in the Program, as well as the aspect most responsible for sustaining their public interest commitment. This vibrant and strong community is comprised of Program faculty and administrators, alumni and, of course, the students themselves.

The Program community is strengthened via three formal mentoring initiatives – each Program student has an advanced student mentor, a faculty mentor and a Program alumni mentor. In addition, a sense of community arises from bonds that develop in the required first- and second-year courses that are exclusive to Program students, as well as from the annual slate of initiatives, activities and programming that bring students together.

The Program continues to be a very close-knit community of committed faculty, administrators, students and a vital network of alumni who are joined as colleagues committed to the pursuit and advancement of social justice.

Our Alumni

In light of the Program’s broad definition of “public interest,” it always has been understood that students admitted to the Program would evidence significant diversity in their respective career goals, as well as in their interests.  Thus, as envisioned by the faculty who founded the Program, some students would go on to careers in more traditional kinds of public interest work – pursuing civil rights litigation, providing legal services for the poor, or engaging in transactional work with nonprofit organizations to develop housing or employment resources.  Others would possibly work exclusively in the realm of politics and policy-making, both inside and outside government.  Still others would start up community-based law practices serving the needs of specific communities.  While others would focus more on educating and organizing vulnerable communities rather than engaging in more traditional legal work.  And still others would pursue a career in academia or be appointed to the judiciary.

And so, indeed, the Program alumni – now numbering approximately 400 and constituting fourteen Program classes – are making their mark in diverse settings – in the nonprofit, government and private sectors, the judiciary and academia – across the country and abroad.  Engaged in addressing a broad array of social justice issues both domestically and abroad, our alumni are innovative thinkers, fierce advocates, recipients of prestigious national fellowships, exceptional leaders and founders of pioneering organizations, working to reduce poverty and injustice and to promote democratic values.  And, they remain dedicated to and engaged with the Program.

Following is a sampling of the organizations, agencies and offices with which our alumni are working:   

Nonprofit Organizations

  • A New Way of Life
  • Accountability Counsel
  • ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties
  • Advancement Project
  • Alliance for Children's Rights
  • American Constitution Society
  • Appalachian Voices
  • Asian American Justice Center
  • Asian Law Caucus
  • Asian Pacific American Legal Center
  • Bay Area Legal Aid
  • Bet Tzedek Legal Services
  • California Civil Rights Coalition
  • California Conference for Equality and Justice
  • California Reinvestment Coalition
  • California Rural Legal Assistance
  • California Women’s Law Center
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Center for Women and HIV Advocacy
  • Central American Resource Center
  • Children's Law Center of California
  • Chinese for Affirmative Action
  • Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • Disability Rights Advocates
  • Disability Rights California
  • Disability Rights Legal Center
  • Earthjustice
  • East Bay Community Law Center
  • Environment Now
  • Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
  • Equal Justice Initiative
  • Equal Justice Society
  • Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
  • Fair Housing Law Project
  • Florence Immigrant Rights Project
  • Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Immigration Center for Women & Children
  • Inner City Law Center
  • Kansas City Legal Services
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
  • Learning Rights Law Center
  • Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
  • Legal Aid Society of New York
  • Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago
  • Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
  • National Center for Youth Law
  • National Health Law Program
  • National Immigration Law Center
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce
  • Prison Law Office
  • Public Advocates
  • Public Counsel Law Center
  • Service Employees International Union
  • Texas Association of Community Health Centers
  • Vermont Land Trust
  • Western Center on Law & Poverty

Government Agencies & Offices

  • Alameda County Public Defender
  • Bronx Defenders
  • California Agricultural Labor Relations Board
  • California Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
  • California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General
  • California State Senate
  • Colorado State Public Defender
  • Fairfax County Public Defender
  • Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.
  • General Services Administration
  • Los Angeles City Attorney
  • Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender
  • Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
  • Los Angeles County Office of the County Counsel
  • Los Angeles County District Attorney
  • Los Angeles County Public Defender
  • Montana Department of Commerce
  • National Labor Relations Board
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • New York City Department of Probation
  • New York State Attorney General’s Office
  • Office of the Utah Attorney General
  • Office of the Federal Defender, Central District, California
  • Peralta Community College District Office of the General Counsel
  • Public Defender Service of Washington, D.C.
  • Sacramento County Public Defender
  • Santa Clara County Public Defender
  • The White House, Executive Office of the President, Council on Environmental Quality
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District, California
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District, New York
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region IX
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • U.S. House of Representatives, Energy & Commerce Committee 

Alumni Perspectives

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 benefited 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 mentorship 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 of Vermont'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 by 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 because of the Program.”