National Center for Youth Law

At the Center

5 Questions with NCYL Alumni Fanna Gamal, Binder Clinical Teaching Fellow, UCLA Law and 2015 NCYL Law Clerk

What did you do at NCYL? In 2015, I spent my 2L summer at NCYL as a law clerk working with Michael Harris and Hannah Benton in the juvenile justice and education unit. It was only ten weeks but the work, the relationships I built at NCYL and the mentorship I received have been so foundational to my thinking that it’s almost impossible to overstate.

What is your favorite memory from your time at NCYL? I remember vividly coming into the office early in the morning and Michael would almost always already have arrived. He would often play jazz music while he worked, and I could hear the nice sounds down the hall. When you entered his office the first thing you would see was a large portrait of Malcolm X starring straight back at you – I loved that, both the photo and the placement. In my conversations with him, I learned that Michael was very much fulfilled by the work he did and did it so well. I knew then that was the feeling I wanted from my career in the legal profession.

Why is NCYL’s work important today? At the time I interned, Michael and Hannah were working on a case against several Texas school districts on behalf of students with disabilities. They were also working on a case against the egregious racist and ableist practices of the Antioch Unified School District. What struck me most was just how Michael and Hannah did their work – thoughtfully, diligently, with a real sense of purpose and conviction. I watched them use their many skills in whatever way they could to address injustices. This approach to lawyering is so critical to not only shaping people’s lives but also shaping what we come to expect from the law, where we come to learn that it can enter our lives to do something good.

How did your time at NCYL influence your path? My time at NCYL changed my perception of how I can use my law degree and is still influencing my personal and professional journey. In my current role as a teaching fellow at UCLA School of Law where I write and teach a Community Lawyering in Education Clinic, I think often about my time at NCYL. Specifically, I think about how when you do work around race, law, and public education, there are never any easy answers. Schools, like our laws, are full of contradictions. Both can do good things, but both have also sustained racial and economic inequality for centuries. Working with Michael and Hannah taught me a lot about living with these contradictions without reaching for incomplete, simple solutions that replicate many of the same problems we are trying to fix.  

Additionally, I’ve learned from Michael that it is important to always understand myself as someone who is continually learning. This influences how I mentor my students where I try to convey through my words and my actions that the point isn’t to always have the right answer, but to cultivate a relationship to how you do the work that you do. I’m deeply grateful for lessons like these.

How have you stayed involved with NCYL? Michael is a dear friend and mentor and whenever I need some guidance, I know I can always count on his sage advice.