Richard P. Berg, professor emeritus, and his wife, Madé, have made a $500,000 gift to Santa Clara Law to establish the Richard P. and Madé S. Berg Social Justice Public Interest Endowment Fund, which will award civil summer grants to Santa Clara Law students.
Berg taught at Santa Clara Law from 1973-2004, and his classes included public interest practice, dispute resolution, mediation, and civil procedure. Berg was instrumental in bringing about much of the social justice curriculum and events at the Law School today, and during his tenure on campus, he was an active member of the Board for the Center for Social Justice, and a major advocate and supporter of the student summer grants program.
Prior to coming to Santa Clara, Berg was an Associate in Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow in Poverty Law, and Staff Counsel and Economic Development Specialist, National Housing and Economic Development Law Center in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A. and his J.D. from the University of Michigan.
“We are so grateful for this generous gift from Richard and Madé, and we are excited that it will enable more Santa Clara Law students to experience the life-changing opportunities offered by public interest work,” said Santa Clara Law Dean Lisa Kloppenberg. “Richard was a leader in social justice and public interest programs during his many decades of service and teaching at the Law School, and this gift will leave an incredible legacy of his passion to serve others.”
“Social justice is probably the most important aspect of law,” says Berg. “Lawyers inherently have a lot of power in our society, and they can use that power to do good. Over the course of their careers, they will be presented with many opportunities, and if they use those opportunities properly with the social justice in mind, a tremendous amount of good can come from it.”
Berg says he remembers having a strong interest in social justice ever since he was a boy, and “that interest was sparked by President Kennedy, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War, and it kept growing,” he says. After graduating from law school in 1968, Berg lived in Berkeley until 1973, where he was already working with legal services. “As a young lawyer, I worked on jail reform in federal courts, education issues such as corporal punishment in public schools, and health issues for poor folks—I was particularly fond of that work.”
Berg describes this gift as “a legacy for myself and my wife.” In his time at the law school working with public interest programs, he explains, “I saw that the summer internships changed lives. I was shocked at how powerful it was. These were students who had strong social justice interests going in, but working with actual clients and cases changed what they felt they could do as lawyers.”
When he was considering a gift to the law school, he says, “I thought: What was the maximum bang for the buck? We can set loose these lawyers who have several months to work on these public interest issues and forever change their lives. This would have a fabulous impact.”
“Public interest is a state of mind put into practice,” says Berg. “Once you are thinking about broader social justice when you are working with issues, once you also focus on how it impacts those that are underrepresented or people in need, then you will have an opportunity to further the public interest.”
“This is all about solidifying that public interest state of mind,” he adds. “I realize that not all of these students are going to have an inherent public interest job. A lot will work in all different fields. But once they have a public interest state of mind, then it will change their lives, and they will have many opportunities to serve in one way or another.”
“I hope this gift stimulates and inspires others to make additional gifts to the endowment, especially my former students and those who are previous recipients of summer grants,” adds Berg.