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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

A Message from the Director

A headshot of Dean Chalak Richards taken outdoors

A message from Jeffrey R. Baker, Associate Dean of Clinical Education and Global Programs

Through 2023, our clinical program continues to thrive and grow as we advance our missions of fruitful education, professional formation and access to justice. Our legal clinics are the heart of our enterprise, to prepare law students to become lawyers who bring light and excellence to the world. In a moment of political polarization, global crises, and national upheaval, we commit again to the development of smart, ready, ethical lawyers with hearts and minds for justice and to the rule of just laws to protect democracy and promote human dignity.

This year, our nine clinics provided tens of thousands of hours of pro bono, public interest legal services to worthy clients. Across diverse practice areas and practice styles, our students learn through supervised practice in litigation, trial and appellate practice; civil and tax practice; mediation and family law; corporate and transactional practice; local, national, and international practice. We teach and learn for transfer, so that students may translate all these experiences into their careers in any area of practice. 

Prof. Peter Fendel joined our team as the new Director of Externships and Pro Bono Programs. He leads our robust externship program with over a hundred field placements each semester in diverse placements throughout Southern California. It facilitates summer externships throughout the nation and the world, and it collaborates on field placements for the London Program and the Washington DC Externship Semester. Prof. Fendel is also underway in designing new pro bono opportunities for students. 

We offered two practicum courses in 2023. The Public Interest Practicum is a partnership with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County in which students work under expert supervision of brilliant lawyers representing clients in family law, housing, immigration, public benefits, and clean-slate matters. The Therapeutic Justice Practicum is a partnership with the Ventura County Public Defender in which our students work with justice-involved clients who are eligible for diversionary, therapeutic sentencing programs in Collaborative Courts. 

We have also expanded our stipend-funded programs. Through generous donations, the law school supports students working on immigration and asylum matters at Public Counsel in Los Angeles and in public-interest placements throughout the nation and the world in the summer term. 

In our programs, everything is pedagogy; every client, matter, task, and conversation present opportunities to teach and learn. Our students and faculty serve clients from Skid Row to the Ninth Circuit, from state courts to the IRS, from the US to four other continents, through litigation, mediation, transactions and every step of client-centered advice, counsel, and advocacy. I invite you to read the following stories from the Legal Aid Clinic, Mediation Clinic, Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Community Justice Clinic, Restoration and Justice Clinic, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, Faith and Family Mediation Clinic, Startup Law Clinic, and the Religious Liberty Clinic. Here can also learn more about the Public Interest Law Practicum, the Therapeutic Justice Clinic, and our expansive Externship Program.

Updates from the Clinics

  Religious Liberty Clinic

The Hugh and Hazel Darling Religious Liberty Clinic at Pepperdine Caruso Law was launched in spring 2022 and has helped score victories for religious liberty all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

The Religious Liberty Clinic allows interested second and third-year students to get practical, hands-on experience working on religious liberty cases under the supervision of expert attorneys from global law firm Jones Day, including former Solicitor General of the United States Noel Francisco. The Clinic enrolls 8-10 students per semester in a seminar-style class that includes active, supervised practice in cases protecting religious liberty rights. Clinic students participate in amicus curiae briefs, appeals, and advocacy to advance religious liberty. Returning students can participate in the advanced seminar and also have the option of participating in an academic seminar to discuss current issues in religious liberty law with scholars from across the country. The Clinic explores enduring questions relating to how civil governments treat the religious beliefs, expressions, and institutions of their citizens and residents.

Since its inception in spring 2022, the Clinic has filed numerous amicus briefs at courts of many different levels, including federal district court, state appeals court, multiple federal courts of appeals, and thrice at the United States Supreme Court. In a recent decision from June 2023, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in favor of a religious plaintiff who sought a work accommodation to observe his Sabbath. The Court created a new, more favorable standard for religious claimants, and in reaching its decision, the Supreme Court quoted the Clinic’s amicus brief by name and cited to cases found in the Clinic’s amicus brief.

The Clinic’s clients included various religious denominations, religious universities, and the American Legion. This year, the Clinic filed its first direct-representation lawsuit in a challenge to a county policy excluding houses of worship from historic preservation funds. 

Visiting professor Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, serves as the inaugural faculty director of the clinic. The course is co-taught by Professor Rassbach and Caruso Law Professor Michael Helfand. In 2023 Daniel Chen, counsel at the Becket Fund, began teaching with the Clinic.

For more information, visit the Religious Liberty Clinic page.

  Legal Aid Clinic

This year, the Pepperdine Legal Aid Clinic celebrates 25 years of offering free legal services to those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. In 1998, the Clinic began as a grassroots movement, with a small group of committed students and faculty traveling downtown weekly to meet with Union Rescue Mission guests. We’re celebrating this legacy and its foundation for our thriving program of clinical education. 

Pepperdine Legal Aid Clinic has grown over the years, adding a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, and now assists clients from all over the southland through partnerships with Union Rescue Mission and Covenant House Los Angeles. The Clinic has trained hundreds of law students and provided free legal services to thousands of clients. Pepperdine law students serving in the clinic assist clients in a variety of civil matters, including family law, income tax, consumer law, benefit controversies and post-conviction re-entry. With intensive instruction and guidance, students perform client interviewing and counseling, legal research, and motion preparation.  In addition, the Clinic provides legal education programs to various social service organizations and community groups all throughout Los Angeles.

Professor Brittany Stringfellow-Otey has directed the clinic and overseen student work for over 20 years. 

For video highlights, with client and student interviews visit the Pepperdine Caruso Law YouTube channel

For more information visit the Legal Aid Clinic web page. 

  Community Justice Clinic

This year the Community Justice Clinic continued its service to nonprofits, NGOs, and community organizations devoted to human rights, economic development, and social justice in the US and abroad. The Clinic's mission is to empower its clients for creative, resilient, useful work as they promote human dignity and just, loving communities.

The clinic has represented churches, synagogues, farms, peacemakers, gardeners, social workers, teachers, physicians, artists and organizers devoted to their neighbors and neighborhoods. For example, CJC students counseled a new nonprofit developing pathways and mentorship for underserved students in Los Angeles to translate artistic talent into design careers. They have advocated for a community organization providing dignified, safe work for migrant day-laborers in Malibu. Students have prepared trademark applications for a nonprofit publishing house that is amplifying writers from often marginalized communities. The clinic is working with an NGO in Delhi, India, to advance restorative justice and law reforms to promote the dignity of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Students are working with other partners to research human rights laws and government benefits for victims of human trafficking.  

Students and clients in the Community Justice Clinic work and learn with professionalism, creativity, and passion for justice.

Professor Jeff Baker directs the Community Justice Clinic and supervises students' work.

For more information, visit the Community Justic Clinic web page.

  Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic

In 2023, the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic represented clients in two civil rights cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In the spring semester, graduating 3Ls Maribeth Bayer and Tyler Lisea completed briefing and presented oral argument on behalf of Brendan Nasby, an inmate in Nevada state prison. Nasby’s lawsuit alleged that Nevada prison officials adopted an unconstitutional policy that prevents prisoners from accessing legal materials. His lawsuit was dismissed by the district court at the summary judgment stage, and the Ninth Circuit appointed the clinic to represent Nasby on appeal. At oral argument, the three-judge panel expressed serious concerns about the constitutionality of Nevada’s prison library policies. The court took great interest in the case and continued asking questions of Beyer and Lisea after their time had expired. Months later, the court issued a published decision, ruling 2-1 that Nasby lacked standing to challenge the prison policy because he could not establish that the policy caused him any actual harm.

In the fall semester, 3Ls Macy Merritt and Maxwell Lyster completed briefing and presented oral argument on behalf of Dewitt Lamar Long, an inmate in Hawaii state prison. Long’s lawsuit alleges that Hawaii prison officials violated his constitutional rights when they failed to accommodate his requests for non-pork meals in accordance with his Muslim faith. His lawsuit also alleges that prison officials retaliated against him when he complained about the failure to provide him with non-pork meals. The district court rejected Long’s claims and the Ninth Circuit appointed the clinic to represent him on appeal. Merritt and Lyster argued the case in November before a three-judge panel that commended them for their excellent briefing and argument. The court has not yet issued its decision.

Professors Curt Cutting and Rebecca Powell direct the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic and supervise students' work.

For more information, visit the Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic page. 

  Restoration and Justice Clinic

The Restoration and Justice Clinic remains committed to serving victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Los Angeles and nationwide, and in the past year, the Restoration and Justice Clinic helped many survivors escape harm and begin anew. 

RJC students engaged in a variety of advocacy from quashing open bench warrants in Orange County, California to obtaining domestic violence restraining orders after trials in Los Angeles; and preparing a declaration for a sex trafficking victim.  The clinic maintained current partnerships with L.A.-based legal organizations and forged new relationships with legal service providers as well as represented domestic violence clients for the first time in Van Nuys Superior Courts. 

Professor Tanya Cooper directs the Restoration and Justice Clinic.

For more information, visit the Restoration and Justice Clinic page.

  Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic

The Pepperdine Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (PLITC) remains dedicated to offering indispensable tax controversy assistance to low-income individuals, especially as we transition out of the pandemic in 2023 and work in a hybrid environment. This period of recovery poses unique challenges, but our students are committed to helping clients navigate these times and get back on track with their tax controversy issues.

Over the past year, the focus of the PLITC has shifted to adapt to the evolving needs of our clients post-pandemic. Our students have been actively involved in resolving a variety of cases, ranging from representation before IRS agents to handling audits, examinations, and collection issues. A significant part of our work now involves assisting clients in adjusting to the post-pandemic economic landscape, including dealing with issues of tax compliance and the lingering financial impacts of the pandemic.

One remarkable achievement was assisting a low-income taxpayer who faced substantial IRS debt due to past hardships. He was a resident at the Union Rescue Mission. Our students expertly navigated the case, reducing the taxpayer’s debt from $33k down to $5.  Our approach has been for our students to tackle challenges head-on and as you can see we get excellent results.

Moreover, as part of working with low income taxpayers, our students have played a crucial role in helping clients access essential tax benefits, such as stimulus and child tax credits. These efforts have been instrumental in aiding our clients' recovery and stability during their hardships.

The PLITC, under the leadership of Professor Isai Cortez, not only continues to provide invaluable legal assistance but also serves as a learning ground for students to develop into compassionate, skilled advocates. Our work in 2023 embodies the resilience and commitment of Pepperdine's clinics to serve the community during and beyond the pandemic.

  Faith and Family Mediation Clinic

The Faith and Family Mediation Clinic practices at the intersection of California family law, interfaith and intercultural work, Jewish law and practice, and alternative dispute resolution and mediation. Clinic faculty and students provide mediation services to families in civil and religious courts.

For divorcing Jewish couples, parties often must receive a religious divorce in addition to a civil divorce. The Clinic collaborates with the Jewish Divorce Assistance Center of Los Angeles (JDAC), a non-profit organization focused on reaching amicable resolutions to civil and Jewish divorces through mediation and other supportive techniques. 

The Faith and Family Mediation Clinic is open to students of all faiths and no faith. The course is interdisciplinary with a parallel focus on California divorce law and the history and evolution of Jewish divorce law as well as divorce in the context of other religions. Jewish religious divorce practices and procedures provide students with an additional framework to deepen their understanding of the mediation process.

Using case law and clinical experience covering all aspects of negotiating and filing California state divorce settlement agreements, students learn to draft proposed settlement agreements and prepare and file divorce papers, including parenting arrangements, child support, asset division, spousal maintenance, and agreement clauses relating to religious practices. Students also learn how to effectuate Jewish divorce decrees and will observe Jewish divorce ceremonies in religious courts. Students observe and participate in real-life formal mediation under the supervision of the professor of the course.

Sarah Nissel directs the Faith and Family Mediation Clinic. Sarah Nissel and Yona Elishis supervise students' work.

For more information, visit the Faith and Family Mediation Clinic page.

  Mediation Law Clinic

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law through the Mediation Clinic has continued its ongoing collaboration with the Center for Conflict Resolution providing day-of-hearing mediation services to litigants on the unlawful detainer, small claims, and civil harassment calendars at Los Angeles Superior Court. 

The Mediation Clinic includes students from the LLM and MDR programs, with seats for scores of students each year, serving in courts across Los Angeles County to provide pro bono mediation services to hundreds of pro per litigants. Students in the Mediation Clinic have the opportunity to mediate various types of cases including landlord/tenant, employment, and consumer cases.

Professor Stephanie Blondell directs the Mediation Clinic and supervises students' work.

For more information, visit the Mediation Law Clinic page.

  Startup Law Clinic

The students at the Startup Law Clinic (SLC) continue to serve and represent entrepreneurs of technology startups with corporate formation, founders' stock issuances and capitalization, corporate governance, tech transactions, early stage angel investor financings and venture capital transactions. Each semester, the students are divided into teams advising a group of startups involved in various technology sectors. 

The Startup Law Clinic is going on its 6th year of representing startups primarily in the technology space.  Within the last few years, we have helped launch and incorporate over 50 startups.  Many of these startups have closed multiple rounds of early stage and venture capital financing, and a few have had exits via acquisition.  Some of our clients have received funding from some of the top venture capital firms in the country and have been accepted into Silicon Valley accelerators to continue to grow their startup.  The clients coming through our doors have spanned the technology sector including edtech, health technology, social community platforms, augmented reality, drone technology and countless other exciting areas.

The teams of students worked with the Delaware Secretary of State to successfully incorporate their clients. They also advised their clients and drafted the necessary documents to adopt bylaws, complete the board consent in lieu of initial meeting, and execute restricted stock purchase agreements. The students took the lead on conference calls with clients answering questions relating to the state of incorporation, issuance and sale of stock, composition of board of directors and executive officers, and establishing an advisory board. As part of the corporate formation, the students subsequently qualified their clients in various states in order to conduct business pursuant to state law. In addition, the students conducted blue sky state securities law research in each of those states to make the necessary state filings to obtain an exemption from securities registration. Finally, our SLC students provided guidance to the clients regarding early stage financing structure and strategy discussing (i) debt versus equity financings, (ii) convertible bridge note structures and (iii) startup valuation.  By coming through the clinic, our startups will have the foundation and structure to be venture capital funding-ready.

For our students, the Startup Law Clinic exists to bridge the gap from law student to a practicing transactional attorney in a law firm. As these students graduate and become attorneys, they will have to learn very quickly how to convert their head knowledge of legal concepts to the practical execution of representing technology clients, drafting documents, redlining agreements and closing transactions. The aim of the Startup Law Clinic is to give them a competitive advantage so that they can hit the ground running.

Professor Sam Wu directs the Startup Law Clinic and supervises students' work.

For more information, visit the Startup Law Clinic page.



Malibu Pier

In our expansive Externship program, hundreds of students work in supervised field placements every Fall, Spring, and Summer term. Second- and third-year law students work in law firms, courts, public interest agencies, in-house counsel offices, and in practices throughout the profession. Externships are field placements where students earn academic credit for qualifying legal work under supervision of experienced lawyers. Externships enable students to integrate theoretical knowledge of the law with the development of professional skills through practical experience under the supervision of the faculty, the bench and the bar. These experiences offer students unique and invaluable perspectives on the practice of law and the role of lawyers in society.

Participating law students develop and practice essential lawyering skills with real clients and cases, and under the direction of experienced supervising attorneys. Externships increase students' opportunities to build relationships with lawyers in practice while applying their legal education to practical service for clients. 

Professor Peter Fendel directs the Externship Program.

For more information, visit the JD Externship page.


London bridge

Students in Pepperdine Caruso School of Law's Washington Semester work in full-time externships in our nation's capital and engage in rigorous coursework designed to complement their externships. Washington-Semester students work across the three branches of government and in the private sector, including lobbying firms, law firms, and nonprofits.

Our students were privileged to work at the DOJ, the Federal Circuit, and lobbying and advocacy groups; they worked on a wide variety of issues, including constitutional rights of prisoners, data-privacy, IP, FOIA, and constitutional rights of prisoners, as well as pandemic-related issues regarding the supply chain (such as chip shortages and port congestion) and relief measures for small businesses. Students enjoy networking events with our Washington-area alumni community, which provides amazing support and mentorship to our Washington students.  Our exceptional Washington Semester students contributed great value to the work of their offices and engaged in their coursework with energy and enthusiasm.

For more information, visit the Washington D.C., Externship page.

Washington D.C.

Washington DC capitol

Each Fall semester, students in the London Program engage in world-class externships in law practice in the United Kingdom. Students work with London offices of large global firms, smaller London based organizations, human and civil rights organizations, and barristers representing clients in court.

For more information, visit the London Program page.

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