A dedicated student leader and community builder, Alex Sauerwein is ready to shape environmental law and policy.
Alex Sauerwein, 2L, had been interested in organic farming ever since he fed chickens and picked produce in his backyard while growing up in San Jose, Calif. But it wasn’t until his junior year in college that he decided to make sustainable agriculture the focus of his career. He was working in a lab at UC Santa Cruz that was researching alternatives to methyl bromide, a dangerous chemical often used in strawberry production.
“I realized that pesticides are doing much more than damaging the environment and ozone layer; they also harm the people who live in the community and work in the field,” he said.
After graduating with an environmental studies degree, Sauerwein spent two years working to promote sustainable agriculture and renewable energy through roles at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a community coalition called Cool Davis, and Farm Fuel Inc, a supplier of organic farming and gardening products. But he knew that a law degree would put him in the best position to effect systemic change.
“Lawyers have a special impact on our society, and I felt I could better advocate for agricultural communities and the environment,” he said.
Since enrolling at UC Hastings in 2017, Sauerwein has deepened his knowledge base and experience around sustainability issues, while making an impact through multiple leadership roles on and off campus. Last month, his efforts were honored with a UC Hastings Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the university.
One way Sauerwein has made a difference is by fundraising for scholarships for students pursuing unpaid public interest law positions during the summer. As gala co-chair of the Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation, he helped organize an event in March that raised a record $50,000 through ticket and auction proceeds. As internal vice president of the Hastings Environmental Law Association, he also helped sell avocado toast to classmates in order to fund scholarships for students taking unpaid gigs in environmental law.
“If students don’t get funding for the summer, they may not pursue a public interest job at all as a lawyer,” he said. “You have to start laying the groundwork early on.”
Sauerwein himself received a scholarship last summer to work as a legal clerk at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In that role, he helped advocate for providing access to safe drinking water, curbing air pollution, and improving access to sustainable transportation in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Lawyers have a special impact on our society, and I felt I could better advocate for agricultural communities and the environment.”
Sauerwein has gained context for his field experience through classes on environmental law and policy and international environmental law. This spring, he will publish an article on flaws in global pesticide regulation for the Hastings Environmental Law Journal, where he is a staff editor and will become co-editor-in-chief next year. As part of the legislation clinic, he is working with Democratic State Senator and UC Hastings alum Thomas J. Umberg ’80, who is involved in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee and the Environmental Legislative Caucus, and Aria Ghafari ’14, Senator Umberg’s Legislative Director.
Sauerwein has put his insights to use on campus, where he has worked to increase transparency as secretary for the Associated Students of UC Hastings, the university’s student government. For Sauerwein, the common thread in his work is his passion for strengthening communities, from the student body to migrant farmers. Eventually, he hopes to effect reform on a broader playing field by working on game-changing legislation, either through state government or a nonprofit advocacy group — and he doesn’t rule out running for office.
“Going to court changes the law eventually, but convincing people and legislators that something is a good idea is how you get a lot of long-term progress,” he says.
GAMECHANGER is the way our students–past and present–see the world. It’s the impact our alumni have on local, national and global policy and law. The ideas and events that come from the minds of UC Hastings Law students and faculty help transform the world. UC Hastings Law plans to celebrate its GAMECHANGERS on Thursday, May 9.