Super Idealist

Jeff Selbin with partner Laurel Fletcher and their daughter Aiden

Published in 2005 Northern California Super Lawyers — August 2005

Super Lawyer Jeff Selbin has handled hundreds upon hundreds of cases in his 15 years at Berkeley’s East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), but one stands out in his mind. “We had a client in the early ’90s who had a severe crisis,” Selbin says. “In part through the help we provided, he was able to get stabilized, and four or five years ago he joined our staff. It’s proof of the power of work we do with individuals.”

Selbin, who became the executive director of the EBCLC in 2002, has helped guide the organization from a shoestring budget of a few hundred thousand dollars per year to an annual budget of close to $2 million, and from a staff of only three to more than 20.

Selbin’s strong sense of social justice was instilled in him at a young age. “I grew up in the Deep South in the 1960s during a time of great change and great hope,” he says. “I learned that individuals can make a difference, and law has been a tool toward that end.”

After graduating from the University of Michigan and studying in France, Selbin developed those tools in Harvard’s law school. It was there that he first got experience in a legal services program.

Once in possession of his J.D., Selbin soon found himself involved with the fledgling EBCLC as a Skadden Fellow, where he founded its HIV/AIDS and Health Law practice. Selbin is perhaps most proud of this accomplishment –– it was the first program of its kind in California. “Early legal services were provided by legal panels, which worked effectively for clients who were affected early in the epidemic. That wasn’t as effective for people who were affected in second and third waves of the epidemic –– women, minorities and people of low income,” he explains. “Our program was the first to serve people directly.

“It’s a need-based model,” he says. “‘Tell us what your needs are and we’ll do our best.’ We do an enormous amount of multidisciplinary practice.”

Selbin sees his Super Lawyer status as an award for the entire EBCLC, not just himself. “The recognition is a reflection of the incredible work of our staff, students and community partners,” he says. “In California there is one lawyer for every 200 middle- and upper-income residents, but only one for every 20,000 low-income residents.” That said, “there are many unsung heroes in the trenches serving lowincome residents in the state,” and Selbin hopes awards he receives will bring recognition to other legalservice lawyers and the work that is yet to be done.

Selbin, however, is enjoying the ride. “It still feels good to come into work every day, and that surprises me,” he laughs. “It’s a privilege to get to do what you love.”

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