When Matthew Sirolly ’05 signed up for Professor Clare Pastore’s “Poverty Law” class as a second-year student at the USC Gould School of Law, he had no way of knowing the experience would launch his professional path.
“Something Clare said in telling us her own story about why she went to law school struck me,” Sirolly said. “She went with an intention to do international human rights work or something glamorous like that, but ended up doing essentially government benefits work.”
Even though that didn’t sound at all glamorous, she realized at some point that that was where there was a lot of important work to be done,” he added. “That made me think about ways that were really concrete where I could contribute to the social justice movement.”
Inspired by Pastore and intent on making a difference, Sirolly and classmate Melvin Yee ’05 founded the Wage Justice Center in Los Angeles in 2007. The center is California’s only agency dedicated to representing low-income workers who are victims of wage theft and seeking to enforce judgments for unpaid wages. To date, the center has helped workers recover more than $2 million in unpaid earned wages.
For her ability to inspire a student to make a “significant contribution to society,” Pastore will be honored with the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award at a ceremony in Atlanta next month. The award requires a former student to have created an “organization or establish a concept, procedure or movement which has demonstrably conferred a benefit on the community at large.” The honor includes a cash award from the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award Trust. Since its inception, the trust has awarded $1.3 million to 52 professors.
“It’s a wonderful surprise,” Pastore said. “It’s fantastic. I’m flattered and I’m excited about the recognition for the Wage Justice Center.”
Sirolly credits Pastore for combining “big abstract policy issues with the nitty gritty of concrete legal practice.”
He added: “It was an opportunity to think about law not as a set of abstract policies but ways the abstract policies interweave with the actual arguments lawyers would use to advocate for a client.
“For lawyers, especially, the most meaningful places are often in the details, not in some glamorous abstract thing,” he said.
Pastore has taught “Poverty Law” at USC since 1997, and she joined the full-time faculty in 2007. In addition to that course, she teaches “Civil Procedure,” “Professional Responsibility,” “Suing the Government” and “Access to Justice Practicum.” Her advice to students on how to make an impact in law is something she practices in her professional life. She is a leading member of the California public interest community and has received numerous accolades for being an outstanding advocate.
From 1989 to 2004, Pastore served as a staff attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, where she litigated many state and federal cases involving poverty law and disability rights. She began her Western Center career as one of the nation’s first Skadden Fellows, a prestigious program for new public interest lawyers. She was later a senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California for three years.
A popular professor, Pastore said that she enjoys teaching and encouraging young people who are excited about entering the profession, especially those interested in nonprofit careers. She is the faculty adviser to the Public Interest Law Foundation and the Review of Law and Social Justice. In her teaching, Pastore makes a conscious effort to expose students to a variety of case law examples to give them an understanding of how the legal system affects people across the economic spectrum.
“I try to use examples that reflect the kinds of legal problems faced by real people, not only business clients, such as civil rights plaintiffs or people without money or lawyers who are trying to navigate the system,” Pastore said. “While the number of students who will go on to full-time nonprofit careers is small, lawyers working in the private sector can have a huge impact on the quality of justice through pro bono work, support of nonprofits and bar leadership. So educating all students about issues that affect the most marginalized people in our system can be very important in the long term.”
While Pastore said she is “flattered” to be honored with the Beckman Award, she sees this as an opportunity to alert the Los Angeles community about the innovative and vital work being done by the Wage Justice Center.
“The kudos should be going to them,” Pastore said. “They saw this need in the community and put together — through sheer force of will and with only shreds of funding — a strikingly innovative organization that is a national model for how to do this critically important work.
“I went to them and asked to join their board because I was so impressed with what they were doing, and I felt like I could help,” she explained. “They are representing some of the most exploited and marginalized workers in the nation, such as garment workers, day laborers and carwash workers, and becoming a national model on how to do the difficult work of combatting wage theft.”