Centers Of Excellence

David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy

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.

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Committed to Change

The Epstein Program trains public interest leaders who are making a difference in communities across the world, dedicated to public service and social justice.

Offering an innovative and rigorous approach, the program 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.

Faculty of the Epstein Program have 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.

Who We Are

For Students

Program students arrive at UCLA School of Law with diverse histories and distinctive goals. Some come with an interest in or past work experience in immigration, criminal justice, human rights, or the environment. Others have spent significant time organizing vulnerable communities, representing tenants or low-wage workers, or working for legislative bodies or government agencies. Some became concerned about the social and economic challenges facing the communities of which they are a part through work in the business sector or a career in journalism. And still others have completed graduate studies or worked for think tanks before turning to law. While program students vary greatly in age, experience, and educational and social background, most successful applicants have work experience in the public interest sector or issues, academic success, and a commitment to achieving lasting change that transforms people’s lives.

Once here at UCLA School of Law, program students continue to achieve academically while fully engaging in the life of the School. Program students are founders and leaders of student organizations and pro bono initiatives such as El Centro Legal, the student organization of volunteer legal clinics that involve more than two-thirds of each first-year class, serve as editors-in-chief of the UCLA Law Review and other journals, and join key committees that help to govern the School. program students are also actively engaged in the larger Los Angeles community, volunteering with nonprofit organizations and government agencies during the academic year, as well as pursuing summer public interest work with organizations and agencies across the country and abroad.

  • Public Interest Law and Policy Specialization

    The specialization in public interest law, offered to J.D. students and LL.M. students, 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, J.D. 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 Legal Research & Writing 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 law school curriculum courses that relate to their public interest orientation and goals, as well as to enroll in other academic specializations and pursue joint degrees.

  • Our Community

    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.

  • Sustaining Public Interest Careers

    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 over 500 and constituting 20 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.

  • 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 Epstein 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.”

    Francis V. Guzman (Class of 2012)
    Staff Attorney, 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 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 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 Epstein 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.”

    Thuy Thi Nguyen (Class of 2000)
    General Counsel, Peralta Community College District (Oakland, California)

    “As a member of the inaugural class of the Epstein 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 Epstein 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.”

    Paul Seamus Ryan (Class of 2001)
    Deputy Executive Director, The Campaign Legal Center (Washington, D.C.)

    “The existence of the Epstein 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 Epstein Program would be the perfect fit – and it was. I was admitted to UCLA through the Epstein 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. I am now Deputy Executive Director, The Campaign Legal Center (Washington, D.C.). 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 Epstein Program is a big part of how I got here, and I will forever be grateful.”

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