Third-year law student Malaya Siy gained legal experience through McGeorge’s Prisoner Civil Rights Mediation Clinic. Photo by Victoria Ambriz.

When I was researching law schools to apply to, I found the web page for McGeorge School of Law’s legal clinics and in particular was drawn to the Prisoner Civil Rights Mediation Clinic. As I put together my law school application and waited impatiently to hear back from schools, this Clinic stayed in my mind. It spoke to the kind of lawyer I wanted to be; able to build a relationship with their client and provide equitable justice. Fast forward to my 2L year, I am finally sitting in the clinic taught by Professor Ederlina Co. We start by reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander among other authors to dissect and understand California’s prison industry and the political, racial, and emotional dynamics we were about to walk into. This class really emphasized students reflecting on their readings, their cases, and their part to play in these civil rights matters. Professor Co often asked our class, “Does this facilitate justice?” That would be a theme often turned to to better internalize what we were doing at the time.  

After much practice, students pair off and begin their plaintiff interviews, mediation brief writing, mediation, and finally self-reflection. I learned vital interviewing skills, like how to effectively and mindfully balance asking a plaintiff emotionally-deep questions and keeping to a strict timetable. I learned how to be more astute to the biases in the room (the plaintiff, defendant, judge, and students) and how they may conflict. A mediation is anything but passive.  

I also learned how to better check-in with myself and ask myself if I feel comfortable doing what I am and what I can do about it. Over the course of the Clinic, my personal beliefs were tested. I was sure with every part of my being that Bryan Stevenson’s famous quote, “Everyone is worth more than the worst thing they have ever done,” was the ultimate truth. Eventually, I had to ask myself if there was a limit to what the worst thing someone has ever done. Is there a certain point where someone becomes unforgivable? I concluded that there is no such point. A person is still a person, and they deserve the fairness and justice owed to them merely by their humanity.  

Finally, did my experience in this Clinic facilitate justice? My experience in this Clinic has changed my definition of justice and how it is achieved. A settlement will not change what happened to the plaintiff, but justice may be what will allow the injured party to move on. It is individual and flexible. It can be achieved in many ways, from $5,000 or no settlement. As individual as I believe justice to be, it must also be informed. $5,000 is not justice if the plaintiff doesn’t understand the situation they are in now or the situation they will be in if they settle. Plaintiffs must be able to rely on the judge-mediator’s evaluations of their claims and any offers the defendant’s party provided because of the resources and power imbalance that exists in that mediation room. 

In conclusion, I have total admiration for Professor Co and the values she brings to the classroom. I am so grateful to have had this experience. It was a vital step in my path to find what legal field best fit me. I am additionally unquestionably grateful for my clinic partner, Fara Rodriguez. She is a fierce advocate, brilliant, kind, and a very supportive friend. Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience at the Prisoner Civil Rights Mediation Clinic.  

By Malaya Siy, a third-year student at McGeorge School of Law.