A radically conservative Supreme Court has shaken the country by stripping away long-settled rights and overturning legal precedent. This didn’t happen overnight. What is happening is the result of a decades-long campaign by the conservative legal movement to build a well-resourced network of lawyers, law professors, and judges. And now they are reaping the fruits of their labor. Can the conservative legal movement be stopped?
It is possible, but only if philanthropy’s efforts elevate legal activists working on the frontlines of change, fund innovative models of lawyering that empower directly impacted communities, and promote BIPOC attorneys into positions of power. There is no single-point solution to the legal crisis our country is facing. But what is crystal clear is that solutions need to be generated for the long-term and must be rooted in the lived experiences of directly impacted communities, including women, BIPOC, youth, LGBTQ+ communities, and so many others outside the seat of power.
California ChangeLawyers (formerly the California Bar Foundation) has launched a new Legal Empowerment Fund in December 2021 that is tackling these issues head-on. With priorities on movement lawyering, capacity building, and leadership pathways, the Fund is a starting point for further investigation into models of social change through the law.
If your foundation has never funded legal issues before, this program will introduce some new innovations that may align with your strategy. If you do currently fund legal issues, come learn about the latest trends including why it’s important to support BIPOC communities in law.
Northern California Grantmakers, Van Loben Sels/Rembe Rock Foundation, and ChangeLawyers are pleased to invite you to an informational session on the Fund and other California-focused efforts aimed at building confidence that the legal system can truly be fair and just for all. The session will center on an expert panel made up of Gail Howard, Director of the Judicial Internship Opportunity Program of the American Bar Association; Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center; and will be facilitated by Christopher Punongbayan, Executive Director of ChangeLawyers.
Gail Howard, Director, American Bar Association Litigation Section’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program
As the Director of the American Bar Association Litigation Section’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, Gail Howard leads and directs all program activities including marketing, fundraising, intern selection, law student training, mentoring, and program design. The Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) places diverse and economically disadvantaged law students with state and federal judges for summer internships. Since taking over as the program director, JIOP has grown from placing 13 students in two cities to more than 180 students annually in 13 locations. The program has placed more than 3,300 students. Gail is responsible for setting the program goals and directing the JIOP committee as they increase diversity and inclusion in the profession. Gail recently received her Diversity & Inclusion certificate through Cornell University and under her direction, the program was a recipient of the California Bar Association’s Diversity Award for its long-term dedication to diversity and inclusion in the profession.
Christopher Punongbayan, Executive Director, California ChangeLawyers
Christopher Punongbayan is the Executive Director of California ChangeLawyers, a community foundation whose mission is to build a better justice system for all Californians. ChangeLawyers empowers the next generation of legal changemakers through grants and scholarships. Over the last twenty years, Chris has gained deep experience in social justice issues. He profoundly believes in giving voice to the unheard, breaking down barriers, and creating strategic alliances to advance equity. Before joining ChangeLawyers, Chris was the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and the Director of Equity and Social Justice at Northern California Grantmakers.
A native of Massachusetts and the son of immigrants from the Philippines, Chris graduated cum laude from Brown University with a degree in Asian American Studies and UCLA School of Law. He completed the Critical Race Studies concentration and the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. He was formerly the Vice-Chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islanders Affairs Commission and the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission. He is also an avid runner and a yoga teacher.
In 2003, Chris received a law student scholarship from ChangeLawyers, which first set him on his social justice path in California and he has never looked back. His accomplishments have since earned him recognition from the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (2022 Trailblazer), California Asian Pacific American Bar Association (2020 Attorney of the Year), Ford Foundation New Voices Fellowship, the Gerbode Foundation, and the Levi Strauss Foundation, which named him a Pioneer in Justice.
Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director, Youth Law Center (YLC)
Jennifer Rodriguez is an attorney and Executive Director of the Youth Law Center (YLC), a national public interest law firm that has worked for 4 decades to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems so every child and youth can thrive. YLC’s advocacy aims to ensure children and youth are not only protected from harm and dangerous conditions in systems but also receive the support, opportunities, and nurturing they need for healthy, productive adulthoods. Jennifer’s leadership at YLC has a special focus on advocacy to reduce the use of institutional care and partnering with directly impacted youth and families to build systems that ensure children receive the parenting necessary to heal and thrive. Jennifer is committed to building power for those closest to the problem, having spent her own childhood in both foster care and juvenile justice institutions, and has spent most of her life advocating for systems to be responsive to the needs of youth. Jennifer’s advocacy has resulted in significant local, state, and national policy, practice, and culture change around the fundamental needs of youth and formally including system-involved youth as part of all policy processes. Jennifer received her G.E.D. from San Jose Job Corps, and her J.D. from the University of California, Davis and is the proud mother of two beautiful children who teach her daily about the power of love, high expectations, and opportunities.