Meet our summer 2017 law clerks!June 28, 2017
Each summer, Legal Aid at Work is fortunate to host about a dozen exceptional law students who contribute to all aspects of our work while also receiving training and an introduction to employment law practice.
We’re increasingly impressed by the breadth of our summer clerks’ backgrounds and the depth of their commitment to the work before them. Here’s an introduction to this year’s group.
When Victoria Yee worked as a legal assistant with Asian Americans who were experiencing wage theft, her work got personal.
“My dad is a Vietnam War refugee and my mom is an immigrant, and I grew up in Little Saigon,” says Yee, who is a summer law clerk for the national origin program at Legal Aid at Work. “It felt like I was talking to my parents.”
From there, Yee recognized the power of being a lawyer.
“I want to be able to give that back to the communities which I’m from,” Yee says. “I realized this was my place and this is what I need to do.”
Yee is a student in the class of 2019 at the New York University School of Law.
For Dana Bolger, “learning the law changed everything,” as she studied her rights related to sexual assault while still in college.
“It was something that I and a lot of my friends had experienced personally,” says Bolger, a summer law clerk for the work and family program. “We had no idea we had any rights to stay in school and get certain accommodations. We walked into administrators’ offices with copies of the law and pointed to different spots and said, ‘This is where you’re breaking the law.’”
After college, Bolger co-founded Know Your IX, a national organization that teaches students about their right to a violence-free education, and even testified in front of the U.S. Senate. She hopes to support girls and women when they are discriminated against in work and education.
“The fight goes on,” Bolger says. “That experience really opened my eyes to how using the law as a component of a broader organizing strategy could be really successful and powerful.”
Bolger is a student in the class of 2019 at the Yale Law School.
It was when he witnessed a crime in eastern Kentucky, where he had been helping provide social services in a poor coal mining community, that Matt Junker realized he wanted to use the law to help people.
A “super sleazy” disability insurance lawyer was arrested for paying off a doctor to write fake medical letters and a judge to speed up the legal process, says Junker, a summer law clerk for the Workers’ Rights Clinic. During the investigation and prosecution, the state paused benefits payments in the cases in question, Junker says, and a lot of people lost their income as a result.
“It was really tragic because he was the biggest disability lawyer in the area, and he had helped a lot of people who were totally dependent on him,” Junker says. “People are so often swindled by lawyers and disempowered by the legal system and are often duped by it. It’s so important that there are good, righteous, hard-working people doing this work.”
Junker is a student in the class of 2019 at Berkeley Law.
Jessica Villegas comes from a family of lawyers specializing in employment law – but on the defense side.
“Once I did the Workers’ Rights Clinic my first year in law school, I realized I wanted to do the plaintiff side,” says Villegas, a summer law clerk for the wage protection program. “Your work is your livelihood. When workers have their wages stolen, it’s a big deal, and it impacts them in ways people may not understand.”
Villegas points to the numbers to illustrate the tangible impact the law can have.
“You see the numbers that this person has been robbed of this amount of money,” she says. “You see it right in front of you.”
And as for working on the opposite side of the law from her family?
“We have interesting conversations at Thanksgiving,” she says.
Villegas is a student in the class of 2018 at the UC Davis School of Law.
Rey Fuentes’ “aha moment” came, he says, when he was supporting AB-1522, a bill that gave paid sick leave to 6.5 million people across California for the first time.
“The moment the law finally passed in the Assembly, that was really an effective moment because a lot of people involved in that effort were attorneys,” says Fuentes, a summer law clerk for the work and family program. “I realized that I could do this work that I enjoy, and that being an attorney could magnify that impact.”
Fuentes is a student in the class of 2019 at Berkeley Law.
Sarah Thompson hopes to use the law to fight for systemic change, a pursuit she began after working with a client whose life has been shaped by a single criminal conviction.
“He’s had tons of immigration, housing, and employment problems because of this conviction,” says Thompson, a summer law clerk for the wage protection program. “He’s a really great guy, but even if he wasn’t, I’ve watched how this one bad thing has completely ruined his life, and he’ll never be able to escape. The way things are set up – the law, bureaucracy – it fails people, and people get stuck in these negative feedback loops and they have no way out.”
Thompson has come to realize that she wants to work within the system to fight for change.
“You have more tools to do that as a lawyer,” she says. “Almost every client I’ve worked with has been abused by their employer in some way, with wage theft being most rampant.”
Thompson is a student in the class of 2018 at the New York University School of Law.
Susan Beaty wants to devote her career to fighting for immigrant rights.
“I’m interested in the ways that immigrant rights and workers’ rights intersect — and in the ways that immigrant workers are abused by the system we live in,” says Beaty, a summer law clerk for the national origin program.
During eight years as a community organizer, Beaty met numerous lawyers supporting social justice work and noticed that they play a critical role in social movements.
“I want to help fight deportations,” she says. “If you get picked up for anything by a cop, if you are undocumented, chances are you will get passed out to ICE. My mom comes from a working class prison town near Buffalo, and my dad is from Brazil. I think both of those experiences brought me to where I am now.”
Beaty is a student in the class of 2018 at Berkeley Law.
Working at a clinic during law school sparked Sara Hundt’s interest in employment law.
“One of the greatest things that clients wanted was to advance their employment options, but that can be a really tricky thing to navigate by yourself, especially with a language barrier or if you’re unfamiliar with the Bay Area job market,” says Hundt, a summer law clerk for the disability rights program.
Hundt wants to learn more about the intersection of workplace and immigrant rights.
“They’re all really intertwined,” she says. “You need to resolve all of them to access a better quality of life. I want to figure out the tools to help people advance and empower themselves.”
Hundt is a student in the class of 2018 at Berkeley Law.
Cassie Peabody became passionate about employment issues after her mother worked for a union. Peabody, a summer law clerk for the work and family program, served as a community organizer while she was in college and then spent a year working for a union-side law firm.
“That work as an organizer showed me how the law can have an impact on changing public policy and the everyday of people in the world field,” Peabody says. “My personal experience with my mom was an experience that other people shared as well. [Women’s] working lives can be improved.”
Peabody is a student in the class of 2018 at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
In three years as a legal assistant for an employment law firm, Brisa Velazquez developed a passion for workers’ rights and wage protection. Now a summer law clerk in Legal Aid at Work’s disability rights program, Velazquez hopes to learn how all our work and employment rights are connected.
“Disability rights intersects a lot with discrimination on various levels, whether it’s disabilities or race or national origin,” she says. “It’s interesting to see how legal issues intersect here and there.”
Velazquez is student in the class of 2018 at the University of San Diego School of Law.
Sarah Watson used to swear she wouldn’t become a lawyer because that meant risking working in the shadow of her mother, who also is a lawyer.
“I said, ‘I am going to be an individual,’” recalls Watson, who is working with our racial equity program. “We’re pretty much the same in every aspect, but this [my career] was going to be the one thing.”
Then she worked at the South Africa Human Rights Commission during her junior year in college. It changed her mind.
“I saw such widespread inequality,” Watson says. “I was visiting a township on site visits, and the city was trying to evict squatters from a camp; there were hundreds of people living in one tent with one hot plate to feed everybody. The developer decided to bulldoze everything, and I saw people’s lives smashed to pieces. I want to help people put pieces of their lives back together.”
Watson is a student in the class of 2018 at the Washington University School of Law.