More than 320 members of the UCLA School of Law community gathered on April 3 amidst awe-inspiring acrobatic aerialists and daring harlequin stilt walkers in the sleek subterranean environs of Los Angeles' historic Edison lounge for the U. Serve L.A. gala, where they raised $100,000 for the school's dynamic public interest law programs.
"This was unlike any other law school event I've participated in," says Ben Ryzak '18, a key organizer of the event and the president of the UCLA Law Class of 2018. "The venue, the vibe, it was just a great night. And to see so many people come together for such a worthy cause was incredible and inspiring."
Photos of the U. Serve L.A. Gala
The party and auction returned after a hiatus of several years to celebrate UCLA Law's decades-long legacy of service and to honor the school's longtime public interest executive director, Cathy Mayorkas, who retired in 2017.
Mayorkas and several other leaders and rising stars in the public interest firmament were lauded for their accomplishments at the event, which was co-sponsored by UCLA Law's David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy and the UCLA Law Alumni Association. Presenting sponsor Barbara Jacobs of the Edison donated all of the costs for the event, so all the money raised will support UCLA Law's public interest initiatives in Southern California and around the globe. These include service learning trips where students get hands-on experience in vulnerable communities; a new career public interest development fund that will provide stipends for students attending interviews, career fairs and other activities related to job searches outside of Southern California; and the forthcoming H. Catherine Mayorkas Public Interest Student Alcove, which will be built over the summer of 2018 in UCLA Law's freshly renovated public interest program office.
Alumni honorees included Jerilyn López Mendoza '96, who won the Trailblazer Award for her work at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control; Immigration attorney Stacy Tolchin '01, who garnered the Alumni Award; Recent Alumni Award winner Theresa Zhen '14, who works to decriminalize poverty through the Clean Slate Practice at UC Berkeley School of Law's East Bay Community Law Center; and Nicole Howell '13, an associate and pro bono coordinator in the L.A. office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who took home the Pro Bono Award.
Six current students also received recognition for the impact that they have made in public interest law even before graduating: Beth Kent '18, Stephano Medina '20, Kanwalroop Singh '20, Ihaab Syed '19, Yadira Gutierrez Vargas '19 and Norma Ventura '18.
To make the event a success, UCLA Law students Ryzak, Sasha Novis '19, Brianne Holland-Stergar '18, Grace Bowden '18 and many others put in an amazing volunteer effort in which they were supported by Epstein Program staff members, including Brenda Kim and Silvana Naguib. In addition, more than 20 UCLA Law faculty and staff members donated creative and generous auction items. Overall, more than 200 individuals and organizations donated to the event, helping to meet a matching gift by Matt Epstein '98, son of Epstein Program founding donor David J. Epstein.
The Epstein Program is the only curricular-based public interest law program in the country. Each year, about 40 students graduate from the program. In addition, UCLA Law students annually provide more than 100,000 hours of pro bono legal service to benefit people who are most in need. More than 25 students received prestigious post-graduate fellowships to launch their careers in 2018, and nearly 100 receive support in pursuing their careers each year through UCLA Law's generous loan repayment assistance program.
"UCLA Law does so much to support the Los Angeles community and beyond," says UCLA Law's Associate Dean for Public Interest Law Brad Sears. "U. Serve L.A. was a great way to celebrate that work and come together as a public interest and law school community. We hope this year's event will be the first of many."