Eric Fanchiang, currently a third year law student at University of California, Irvine School of Law, served as a law clerk for Advancing Justice-LA’s Survivor and Family Empowerment (SAFE) Project in both fall 2015 and spring 2016. Given that Eric is in school full-time in Irvine during the academic year and Advancing Justice-LA is in downtown LA, Eric completed almost all of his pro bono service hours remotely from Irvine. He completed various helpful legal research memos for the SAFE team, and also worked on compiling and updating practice guides. He was of invaluable support to the SAFE Project.
How did you learn about Advancing Justice - LA?
I first heard about Advancing Justice-LA in my first year at UC Irvine School of Law. I was involved in the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, and Advancing Justice often invited us to attend lectures and panels. However, I didn’t really learn about the full range of what Advancing Justice-LA does until my second year, when I found out about a volunteer project through the Pro Bono Program at UC Irvine School of Law. UC Irvine does a great job letting students know about pro bono projects that are available and really pushes law students to get involved with pro bono work. As soon as I saw that Advancing Justice-LA was offering a project to UCI students, I knew I wanted to work with the organization.
What prompted you to get involved?
UCI Law strongly encourages doing pro bono work as a way to not only give back to the community, but also as a way to gain practical experience. I definitely agree with these reasons to do pro bono, but I also wanted to do pro bono work because after my first year in law school, I felt as though I was forgetting the “human aspect” of the law. The first year of law school is filled with readings and discussions about hypotheticals; I was losing sight of the fact that the law is ultimately designed to resolve conflicts between real people. Pro bono seemed like a great way to keep me connected to this very important part of practicing law.
What have you learned or how have you been affected personally by your experience as an Advancing Justice - LA volunteer?
The most resounding thing that I learned in my experience as an Advancing Justice-LA volunteer was that even as a law student, there are so many ways to help your community. At the beginning of my project, I was nervous about the fact that my work could affect real cases and real clients. Before volunteering, I thought that the work of a mere law student would be useless in the real world. Thankfully I was proven wrong, and proven wrong quickly! Being a law student gives you endless tools and resources that you can leverage to help clients and to serve your community. You can do basic legal research for cases, you can write memos, you can do online searches for basic information. Even a small project or research that ultimately doesn’t get put to use for a specific case can still potentially benefit the organization’s future clients in a similar case down the road.
Do you have an inspirational story you can briefly tell about your experience volunteering?
I was asked by one of the attorneys to do a research assignment on a procedural issue. A few days after I completed the assignment, she called me and informed me that she had won a hearing for her client; she had won in part because of my research. That was the turning point when I began to realize that a law student can make a difference, and that issues don’t really exist in a theoretical vacuum but rather are real-world problems that need to be solved.
While the work was tremendously inspiring, I was also inspired just by simply having lunch with the SAFE unit. All of the members of the unit were so invested and caring in their work and clients. Being a lawyer is difficult, especially when dealing with domestic violence and family law. But from just one lunch with them, I could tell the SAFE unit didn’t care that they had to work hard or deal with painful issues. They were just happy that they could help clients. Their attitudes continue to inspire me to work harder and inspire me to allow myself to get truly invested into work that I do.
What advice would you give other individuals who want to participate in volunteer or pro bono work?
I would advise them to work on a project with subject matter that is different from their usual interests. domestic violence or family law work wasn’t my primary interest before working with the SAFE unit, but by the end of my project I was engrossed in the subject. Additionally, if you are a law student, don’t be afraid to ask for more work, and don’t be afraid that your work doesn’t matter. The things you do can make a difference.