On July 1, 2021, McGeorge Legal Clinics welcomed Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Ron S. Hochbaum as the first-ever director of the Homeless Advocacy Clinic. We asked him to tell us a little about himself, his work and his teaching philosophy.
Tell us how you got into your line of work.
Although I went to law school on the East Coast, I knew I wanted to practice in California. My law school did not have the resources or connections to help me secure an internship in California, so I took it upon myself. I periodically bought plane tickets and would cold call or e-mail public interest attorneys asking to see if they would be willing to grab a coffee and give me advice on breaking into the public interest community in California.
One of these unsolicited e-mails turned into an internship at the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley. The internship was transformative experience that introduced me to client-centered and community lawyering models. I stayed in touch with the attorneys at the Homeless Action Center all throughout law school and when I graduated, they hired me as a staff attorney. I have been advocating on behalf of homeless individuals ever since. This experience is why I am always encouraging my students to grow their networks in the legal community.
What is your favorite part of clinical work?
Watching students develop their confidence. For many students, clinic is the first time they will talk to a client and engage in the real work of lawyering. Most come to the experience frightened and uncertain. In clinic, I can provide the scaffolding students need to explore their lawyering abilities and professional identities. Over the course of the year, a student’s confidence grows and grows. By the end of the year, most are ready to “spread their wings and fly”; it’s a joy and privilege to be a part of.
What is the hardest part of clinical work?
Saying goodbye to students and clients. As lawyers, we are often taught to keep our clients and their issues at arm’s length. However, the assumptions underlying that lesson are often detached from the reality of legal practice. Our clients are coming to us during some of the most challenging moments in their lives. For many of us, especially those of us in the public interest community, we are passionate about our work. It is not just a job but a vocation. That is why I started taking the advice of one of my mentors and teach a class on the end of attorney-client relationships. Honoring the nature of the relationship and putting as much intentionality into the end as the beginning of the attorney-client relationship yields numerous benefits. My experiences with students are no different. The low student-teacher ratio in clinic allows us to develop close bonds. We celebrate the highs and commiserate over the lows of our shared work. When I say goodbye to students it is bittersweet. I know they are ready for the next opportunity but I secretly hope we are just saying “goodbye for now” and that they continue to stay in touch over the course of their careers.
What advice can you give to students in order to have a successful experience in your clinic?
Listen to your clients and practice non-judgmentally. For most of us, our clients day-to-day and lived experiences are wildly different than our own. In my experience, when students truly listen to their clients, they learn more about the world than I ever could have hoped to teach them. Through this experience they will also start to interrogate the culture of stigma constructed around homelessness. Once that veil is lifted, we are better equipped to practice non-judgmentally and meet our clients “where they are at.” These two simple but oft-ignored methods will enrich students’ clinical learning experiences and provide them the foundations for their future practice.
Who has been the biggest influence in your legal career and what did they teach you?
My former supervisors at the Homeless Action Center – David Waggoner, Mary Gilg, Kris Chappel, and Pattie Wall. David, Mary, Kris, and Pattie taught me how to practice barrier-free and holistically. They taught me to reject the superficial and misguided hurdles service providers frequently erect for clients that not only frustrate our advocacy but also ensure that prospective clients who are most in need and hardest to reach go unserved. This approach to lawyering requires us to deconstruct hierarchies and remind ourselves that just because we do not charge for our services does not mean that we have license to impose expectations upon our clients while disregarding their expectations of us.
What excited you the most about the new Homeless Advocacy Clinic at McGeorge?
The faculty and administration at McGeorge deserve tremendous credit for establishing this clinic. Although law school clinics have been serving homeless clients since the birth of clinical legal education, there are only a handful of clinics at law schools across the country that exclusively serve homeless individuals. Dean Michael Schwartz, Professor Melissa Brown, and Professor Dorothy Landsberg’s work to establish this clinic is indicative of their visionary leadership and dedication to making sure the Law School’s Clinical Program responds to Sacramento and California’s most critical needs.
Moreover, I believe the Homeless Advocacy Clinic will provide tremendously engaging and enriching learning experiences for students while offering vital legal services for underrepresented Sacramentans. Working on cases for unhoused clients will allow students to apply the theories they learned in the first year or two of law school to real world practice. They will hone their lawyering skills, like interviewing, counseling, legal writing, and oral advocacy, while providing compassionate and empowering representation to their clients.
What do you do for fun?
I love to travel and eat. I have lived on four different continents and traveled to about twenty-five different countries and thirty states. When we cannot get away, you can usually find me and my partner, Mari, trying new restaurants and cooking delicious vegan meals. We are new to Sacramento and taking recommendations!