U. Serve L.A. celebrates public interest and marks a leadership transition

March 19, 2024
Grace Meng (left) and Karin Wang
Grace Meng (left) and Karin Wang

“Leadership” was the word of the day when more than 150 members of the UCLA School of Law community gathered on campus on March 3 for the seventh annual U. Serve L.A. celebration. Every year, the auction and awards ceremony shines a spotlight on the trailblazing excellence of the many students, scholars, alumni and leaders in and around the law school’s renowned David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy and Judge Rand Schrader Pro Bono Program. Honorees include students and alumni who are working on the front lines of public interest law throughout Los Angeles and the country.

This year, the event also allowed the UCLA Law community to applaud and reflect on the work of outgoing Epstein Program executive director Karin Wang. She received the event’s sole faculty honor, for her dedication to teaching, training, counseling and leading the education and placement into practice of scores of current and future public interest lawyers.

“Leading the public interest work at UCLA Law has been the highlight of my career,” Wang says. “To be honored at U. Serve L.A. alongside such a stellar – and truly inspiring – group of lawyers and lawyers-to-be was such a tremendous privilege.” Wang received a standing ovation and assured her colleagues and friends in attendance that while she is retiring from the position, she will never be far from the work and community that she has fostered at UCLA Law.

Fittingly, the program’s incoming executive director, Grace Meng, is also already closely connected to the incredible work of UCLA Law’s public interest practitioners. Since 2021, Meng has served as the founding director of the Schrader Pro Bono Program. An award-winning leader in public interest law, Meng was previously associate director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch and a former immigration law practitioner. During her time at UCLA Law, she has boosted pro bono efforts, run the law school’s externship program on an interim basis and co-taught the Epstein Program’s 2L seminar.

Professor Joanna Schwartz, the Epstein Program’s faculty director, announced Meng’s appointment by underscoring the depth of experience that she brings to the executive director position: “Her work in L.A. [has] allowed her to connect with a range of local organizations working on issues such as immigration and asylum, workers’ rights, racial justice, health and detention. Additionally, she brings a wealth of national contacts and a deep understanding of U.S. advocacy from both domestic and international human rights-based perspectives.”

Schwartz added that Meng and Wang have collaborated on a smooth leadership transition during the Spring 2024 semester – including their efforts on the U. Serve L.A. event, which raised funds for public interest student programs, such as summer stipends and public service trips, and featured the presentation of awards to several other deserving winners.

“We have such depth and breadth of passion and accomplishment among our students and alumni,” Meng says. “It was so inspiring to pause briefly to appreciate what a few members of the UCLA Law community are doing to bring about a better and more just society.”

This year, UCLA Law honored 11 J.D., LL.M. and M.L.S. students for their public interest and pro bono contributions during law school:

  • Maria Beaucage ’25, for her leadership in food justice at UCLA. 
  • Nora Browning ’24, for her advocacy on behalf of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.
  • Brittany Chung ’24, for her leadership in pro bono and reproductive justice.
  • Angelica D’Egidio ’24, for her leadership in pro bono and education equity.
  • Ben Gerstein ’25, for his dedication to human rights and racial justice.
  • Jet Harbeck ’25, for their leadership and support of the queer and trans community at UCLA Law.
  • Brisely Martinez ’24, for transforming UCLA Law’s community for formerly incarcerated and systems-impacted students.
  • Elizabeth Mzungu LL.M., for her dedication to providing legal services to underserved communities.
  • Sara Poursafar LL.M., for expanding community and partnership on immigrant and civil rights at UCLA Law.
  • Courtney Taylor ’24, for her tireless commitment to the rights of people in the criminal legal system.
  • Natalie Velasco M.L.S., for her commitment to prison education and the rights of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

Four UCLA Law alumni also earned commendation for their impressive and significant achievements as public interest advocates:

  • Elizabeth Barros ’03, for zealous defense of those entangled in the criminal and immigration legal systems.
  • Do Kim ’02, for fiercely advancing racial justice and defending civil rights. (Wang notes that Kim has also created a paid civil rights fellowship where law students can work with him in his civil rights law practice. It is an example that Wang emphasized as something that she “would love for other UCLA Law alums to follow!”)
  • David Pettit ’75, for tirelessly advocating for clean air and communities.
  • Retu Singla ’01, for unwavering advocacy as a movement lawyer for working people.

“UCLA Law has such a robust and diverse community of public interest and pro bono-minded students and alumni, so it is very difficult every year to choose just a few on which to shine a spotlight for their inspiring work and leadership,” Wang said about the warm gathering. “Many attendees commented on the intimate and heartfelt celebration, how inspiring it was to learn of each honoree’s passions and how meaningful it was to hear, in their own words, why they have committed their careers to pursuing a better world.”

Contribute to UCLA Law’s Public Interest Support Fund.

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