June 6, 2014
Ideas for state bills come from everywhere. Unions, companies, academics, lobbyists, lawsuits, advocacy groups, legislative staffers, lawmakers and even their constituents can generate legislation.
But with McGeorge School of Law's new Legislative and Public Policy Clinic, there's a new source of proposed laws in the state Capitol: McGeorge law students.
The clinic grew out of conversations Adjunct Professor Rex Frazier, '00, had at the end of the 2013 school year with students in his Legislative Decision-Making, Power and Influence in California class. They centered on whether there should be a real-world test of the skills students had been learning.
The administration approved the class for the 2013-2014 school year.
The clinic, one of several experiential clinics the school offers, allows 12 students to develop legislative and regulatory proposals, then work to see them enacted.
Working in groups of two or three, students develop their own ideas for bills or regulatory changes. Under Frazier's guidance and with the input of classmates, students hone their ideas by researching existing law, analyzing the pitfalls of existing law and coming up with potential solutions. They also craft plans to build support and media coverage, anticipate the opposition and identify sympathetic legislators.
Frazier, who also is president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, says his goal was to put students in real-world situations in the Capitol, lobbying, networking and getting to know potential future employers.
Five bills crafted by McGeorge students, some with the help of outside groups, were progressing through the legislative process as of May. Frazier says he is amazed at the bills' progress: All five survived their first committee hearings, one was the subject of a Washington Post article and one was featured on KCRA when it was a regulatory proposal.
"It shows that if you identify a narrow problem and you're thoughtful about how you draft it, and you take into consideration the opposition, even groups of students can move legislation," Frazier says.
Graduates need an understanding of the legislative and regulatory processes, he says, regardless of their employer. They should be able to pursue an issue in any branch of government and through the media, he says.
"Whether a student wants to be a legal aid advocate, or a corporate advocate or a union advocate, the skills are held in common," he says.
He hopes the clinic will help showcase McGeorge as "the ultimate pipeline for a career in public policy advocacy."
Matthew Klopfenstein, who graduated in May and is a registered lobbyist, says he took the class for the chance to do "hands-on, real-life work around the Capitol."
Fielding Greaves, who was a third-year evening student in the clinic and is a senior consultant for Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, helped his classmates secure meetings with legislative staffers in two offices.
Greaves, who has worked in and around the Capitol for about seven years, helped develop A.B. 2452. The bill would establish an electronic repository for advance health care directives with the Secretary of State's office. Even though he has drafted legislation for work, he enrolled in the clinic because "you just can't stop learning new things about the process because it's so complicated. Every bill is going to bring its own unique set of challenges and puzzles."
Greaves helped classmates Vincent Wiraatmadja and Jacob Smith get a meeting for their proposed elder abuse police training bill with a legislative staffer for Assemblyman Richard Pan, who agreed to carry it. The pair got the idea for their bill from their experience working in McGeorge's elder law clinic.
Wiraatmadja called the legislative clinic one of the most enlightening experiences of law school.
"To be able to work in the trenches one-on-one with clients and help solve their problems, and also work in the halls of power advocating for them at the policy level has been fantastically satisfying and so empowering," he says.