Joyce Chang '15: Passion for Public Interest

Joyce Chang ’15 is proof that taking initiative in law school can lead to tremendous results.  She arrived at Loyola eager to serve children in a legal context and sought ways to gain experience. The Law School’s commitment to social justice provided an accessible path to employment opportunities in the field.

Chang joined Loyola’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) to engage with like-minded peers. “PILF organizes speaker events where you can hear professionals talk about their public interest organizations and offer great tips on scoring internships in the field. Also, Loyola’s Public Interest Department sends emails about employment opportunities weekly,” she said.

Proactive in her search for a summer internship, she signed up for the Public Sector Career Day, which gathers more than 100 public interest organizations to interview law students looking for employment. There, she interviewed with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which advocates for impoverished and neglected children.

After securing a summer intern position, Chang applied to Loyola’s Summer Public Interest Employment Program (SPIEP), which funds summer employment for students working in the public interest sector.  She was elated to find out that she was awarded funding through the program.  “PILF has been monumental in developing a culture of public interest, and SPIEP helps to fund that culture,” said Chang.

The Alliance for Children’s Rights exposed her to a variety of child-advocacy issues: adoptions, guardianship, health care, mental health advocacy and education. “I wanted an experience where I could combine my passion for public interest with effective legal advocacy,” she said.

The Alliance allows all interns to assist with one adoption case during the internship. Chang was assigned a case for a young family who adopted two children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. “I helped them with the adoption paperwork from start to finish. It was amazing to see the children all dressed up on summer adoption day. Now, I’m on the record for doing all the paperwork on their case, and I can physically see how I made a difference,” she said.

She was also tasked with analyzing the law for more than 300 special education issues for attorneys and parents.  “We researched the law and created a grid to make it understandable to parents and pro bono attorneys – it’s a skill that’s really empowering. No matter what legal field you pursue, you have to know how to communicate the law,” she said.

She witnessed first-hand the difficulties that families face when dealing with children in special education. All children who have been identified with a learning disability must hold an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with the child, his or her parents, teachers, a representative from the school district and often an educational advocate. After participating in IEP meetings, Chang identified a disparity between the parties involved and the complicated legal code.

“You sit in IEP meetings with a kid for eight hours, and people read off a report not knowing what the language means. I learned what was important in the documents and what you need to know for your client,” she said. To remedy this issue, she began developing ways to better explain the IEP process to the families and attorneys involved.

Around the same time, Loyola’s Career Services Department notified the student body about a mock interview day with the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA). She jumped at the chance to test her skills and told her interviewer about her idea to better prepare children for IEP meetings using an online program. After the interview, WLALA contacted Chang and offered to partner with her to develop the website. They even awarded her a grant for her work.

Chang produced “Putting the I in IEP!,” an interactive map for high school students preparing for IEP meetings. In addition, she created a set of resources online for pro bono attorneys on the legal code and terminology and a script that children can read during their meeting.

During her second year of law school, Chang enrolled in Health Care Access and was fascinated by this rapidly expanding area of law. She has decided to specialize in healthcare litigation and the insurance component of disability rights. This summer, she will intern at Central Health Plan of California and looks forward to gaining experience in the field. Chang will also take the helm of the biggest student organization on campus, PILF, as the newly elected co-chair for 2014-2015.