SWLAW Blog | Future Students

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February 26, 2024

From Clinic Advocate to Public Defender: Meet Brendan Nafarrate '21

Brendan Nafarrate ’21 was raised by immigrant grandparents from Mexico and Guatemala, whose struggles inspired him to advocate for his community. Before law school, he was a paralegal assisting non-citizens in their family law and immigration matters. With a strong desire to serve his community, he enrolled in Southwestern Law School. While there, he was particularly active in the clinics and public interest projects. He was a student advocate in the Community Lawyering Clinic and the Ninth Circuit Appellate Litigation Clinic. He externed with the LA County Public Defender’s Office, assisted undocumented minors at Bet Tzedek legal services, and prepared asylum seekers for their credible fear interviews in Tijuana, Mexico with Al Otro Lado. This dedication to public interest earned him two PILC grants and the inaugural Judge Harry Pregerson Public Service Fellowship. Following graduation, he was a judicial law clerk to the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge at the Guaynabo Immigration Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now, he uses his knowledge of immigration and criminal law to serve the marginalized and over-policed as a deputy public defender at the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office.

Here is Brendan's story in his own words. 

As a public defender, I often reflect on my time in the clinics at Southwestern because they effectively prepared me for this role. The average day for a misdemeanor public defender requires a lot of juggling; my attention is always being pulled by a client, a deadline, a tough judge, or a difficult district attorney. Accordingly, managing a variety of novel tasks, including new legal issues, most closely resembles my time in the Community Lawyering Clinic. There, students from CSUN would come to our clinic with various legal matters, ranging from incorporating a business to obtaining a U-Visa. My fellow student advocates had different areas of the law they were familiar with. Thus, we could assess the needs of a student seeking our help quickly by checking in with one another and researching until we gathered sufficient information to serve the student.

Brendan Nafarrate quote Most importantly is how the clinics have allowed me opportunities to interact with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds. My current work requires me to code switch, transition between English and Spanish, and find creative

This is a lot like my practice today. I am new to the office, and everyone has been incredibly helpful. Whether it’s a unique evidentiary question or understanding how a certain judge will rule on a matter, I know I can check in with my team. In fact, as trial attorneys, it’s best we check in with others because there is a certain knowledge gained just from being in the courtrooms every day. The way criminal law is interpreted is dynamically changing based on new laws passing, politics, or even a judge’s mood. Therefore, to know how to best serve our clients, we need the latest information from one another. Quite honestly, this comradery was a big draw to becoming a public defender. It is inspiring how everyone on the team collaborates and looks out for one another to best serve our clients.

As for the Ninth Circuit Appellate Litigation Clinic, that experience prepared me for the more intricate aspects of my work, like writing and defending motions and preparing for trial. In finding every possible appealable issue, I honed my attention to detail. This is a crucial skill when alleging a client’s blood was drawn without consent in violation of the Fourth Amendment. I must review every detail in a police report and compare it against the body-worn camera footage provided by officers to find inconsistencies and often even lies. This work has already led to dismissals, and I am grateful for the training the appellate clinic provided.
Most importantly, the clinics have allowed me opportunities to interact with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds. My current work requires me to code-switch, transition between English and Spanish, and find creative ways to explain complex legal concepts. All of this would not have been possible without the education I gained in the clinics. Regardless of what area of law I practice in, these are concrete skills I will take with me in my work and life to both better serve clients and be a thoughtful human being. I encourage others to take on as many experiences as they can to serve others, especially in new locations or new areas of the law, if they can do so. I was lucky enough to serve the immigration court in Puerto Rico and gain a breadth of new experiences from being somewhere distinct from where I was raised. Although this was not part of the clinics, they were instrumental in getting this job because, without the clinics, I would not have the confidence to apply for that clerkship.