SWLAW Blog | Future Students

2021 PILC Grant Recipients in Government

September 3, 2021

Meet our 2021 PILC Grant Recipients Working in Government

Southwestern's Public Interest Law Committee (PILC) is a student-run organization that sponsors a number of events each year to raise student awareness and involvement in providing legal services for underrepresented communities and is dedicated to facilitating public interest law careers by supporting students in public interest work through fundraising efforts for the school’s Public Interest Law Summer Grant Program.

We want to recognize these students and the incredible work they are doing with their Public Interest Law Committee Summer Grant. Meet our 2021 PILC Grant recipients working in Government:

Image - Angelique Ajala

Angelique Ajala

Summer Placement:  Los Angeles District Attorney's Office

Public interest work is quite literally the single most necessary part of our legal system. I think it is going to save the world, improve access to resources, equity, and justice, and will continue to move the marker for marginalized communities. Since being in law school, I have continued that fight for justice by volunteering with public interest organizations and interning at non-profit organizations. The legal issues covered in these experiences include veteran issues, sexual assault (both civilian and military), mental health issues, substance abuse, expungement, and diversion.

I think my summer role really opened my eyes to the prosecutorial side of criminal practice and is allowing me to empathize more with that role. By specifically being placed in sex crimes, I was able to see some of the difficulty associated with investigating and charging sexual assault cases and was able to see how Gascon’s new policies have impacted these cases.

Image - Vivian Meza

Vivian Meza

Summer Placement:  Riverside County Public Defender's Office

I have always been passionate about people, particularly those who have been historically and systematically oppressed in one way or another. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I understand the importance of outreach, education, and providing sufficient aid, whether it be financial, medical, psychological, or educational. I believe it’s through public service work that we can begin to educate people and provide the services they so desperately need.

My position showed me the very real issues we have within our criminal justice system, and how little support our cities provide to people of color and/or people who are lower income. As a native of the Riverside area, it was sad to see so many people from my community being charged with crimes, not because they were bad people, but because something had gone wrong in their life that led them to that point. Working with the Public Defender’s Office and its clients, you can see how so many crimes could have been prevented had the clients been given proper support and resources from a young age.

Image - Anna Pasano

Anna Pasano

Summer Placement:  Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office

Clerking for the Public Defender’s office afforded me the opportunity to protect the rights of individuals who cannot afford the assistance of counsel because they are disenfranchised or marginalized by social systems within their community.  I worked with clients who had been involved in the criminal justice system for over 20 years to individuals who were just entering. This practice-oriented experience was a far departure from any substantive pedagogy of law school. I learned first-hand how academics cannot teach lawyers how to meet the most important element in any criminal case: human connection.

I am passionate about knowledge-sharing, specifically with regard to the criminal justice system. I found clients often felt their circumstances were outside of their internal locus of control because the legal system is difficult to understand and navigate without proper legal training. I was able to discuss the legal process and certain expectations with clients in order to remove the veil of uncertainty that shrouds the criminal court process. My work experiences further imbued in me that public interest groups help meet this need in modern society while some other practice areas weaponize ambiguity for personal gain.

Image - Alexandra Tunaru

Alexandra Tunaru

Summer Placement:  Los Angeles District Attorney's Office - West Covina Branch

My role as a summer clerk for the LA DA’s office has been the most memorable experience of my legal career because of my involvement and interactions with the attorneys and judges and my courtroom experience. I was super lucky to be placed at such a supportive office that was set on giving me an inspiring and worthwhile experience. I was able to jump right into the thick of things by being immediately assigned research projects, trial prep, and preliminary hearings. As a certified law clerk, I was able to see trials, practice oral advocacy skills, and research skills. I was able to learn what the daily life of a District Attorney looked like, as well as understand how our criminal justice system works. The West Covina branch was just a great place for me to develop my legal skills in a very supportive environment. I was never hung out to dry since my supervising attorneys were always there to help and teach me.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to help with a first-degree murder trial. Long story short, the defendant was found guilty, and the family of the victim started to break down in court. I will never forget their tears and cannot even begin to fathom their grief. The victim’s family were elated that the defendant was found guilty, but they still had to deal with the harsh reality of their loved one being gone. After the guilty verdict, the family thanked the office wholeheartedly for our work. The family’s gratitude made me feel like I successfully upheld the rule of law and just enforcement. This trial gave me the client-based experience of serving and advocating for victims, family of victims, and community members.

Image - Abimelec Vargas Reyes

Abimelec M. Vargas Reyes

Summer Placement:  Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender's Office

I believe public service allows the individual to make a positive impact in a world that has plenty of unjust circumstances. I have found that in the work I have done I have made a meaningful impact in the lives of those I worked with.

My role as a summer clerk provided me with a greater understanding of criminal law practice and allowed me to see on individual case basis issues I had only learned of in study. A positive anecdote I had from summer was being able to go into juvenile court and see the court rule in favor of a client’s position. I thought the right decision was made to help a child remain in a home where they had support rather than being sent out of the home as the statute would have allowed especially because the offense the child committed was tagging his nickname on a paper sign and two other small areas.

Southwestern’s PILC Summer Grant program was established in 1990 with the mission of providing financial support to selected recipients seeking full-time, summer clerkships with legal services organizations providing no-cost assistance to underserved, marginalized communities. This program makes it possible for students to acquire the legal training and education necessary to address the lack of access to legal services for indigent communities while also alleviating Southwestern students’ financial burden of acquiring more educational loans in order to do so. PILC sincerely thanks our donors and supporters for your invaluable contributions to this program benefiting Southwestern students. PILC’s mission is to help create a community where Southwestern students, staff, faculty, and alumni are educated and incentivized to participate in issues concerning and advancing the public interest and it is your support of this mission that is vital in helping us reach our fundraising goals each year. 

The student deadline to apply for the PILC Summer Grant Program is typically scheduled in early March each year. Awards up to $5,000. Email publicservice@swlaw.edu for more information.