DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: Erhan Bedestani – Law Student Leading By Example
By Lindsay Ayers
Erhan Bedestani, a law student at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, was born and raised in New Jersey. His parents Mehmet and Sadiye, immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in 1972 with his then 3-year-old brother Ahmet. They first lived in Flushing, Queens, NY. Then in 1980, they moved to Hamilton Township, NJ where Erhan was born.
Erhan grew up in Central New Jersey, a 1st generation American. His parents always instilled in Erhan and his brother that to be an American was something to be honored and it was our duty to serve our great Nation and its people. Erhan’s brother went on to become a board-certified surgeon and Erhan joined the Army. Service and wanting to help others were ingrained in him by his parents and so throughout his life, he has sought those opportunities out and aligned himself with organizations and institutions committed to the same. Catholic Law linking Erhan to CLADC is a continuation of a journey into public service that began as a child. When asked who he could thank for his heart for service, Erhan shared the following, “I am grateful to my parents for instilling that sense of purpose, patriotism, and conviction to be engaged and helpful. I am also grateful to the Columbus School of Law for challenging me and all of its students to strive to use our knowledge and skills to advance society, improve the quality of justice, and increase access to justice for all. I can’t imagine another way of life.”
With a focus on serving and community, Erhan embarked on a journey that a mentor of Erhan’s, Colonel(Retired) Dave Schorr thought he would be a good candidate for – the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Johns Hopkins University to which he had been accepted and was going to attend. So he joined Army ROTC at Johns Hopkins as a Freshman in 2002. After 20 years on Active Duty, Erhan realized that at his core he was an advocate and driven to serve so he applied to Catholic University Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC. It was his first day at Catholic University that the Dean of Student’s Katherine Crowley presented students with the law school’s declaration for new law students. It read
I do solemnly swear or affirm that to the best of my ability I will be profession and ethical in all that I do as a member of the community at the Columbus School of Law; I will treat all persons whom I encounter with fairness, integrity, and civility; and I will strive to use my knowledge and skills to advance society, improve the quality of justice, and increase access to justice for all.
Reading and signing this declaration meant to Erhan that he was privileged to study the law and had to immediately begin using the education and skills the Columbus School of Law was teaching him to benefit those in need. He inquired about pro bono opportunities through the law school’s Pro Bono Program headed by Kiva Zytnick. She highlighted Christian Legal Aid of DC as a great organization and he immediately reached out to join and begin helping as a law student volunteer at their legal clinics.
Erhan loves pro bono work because he is motivated to help others and he also learns by doing. Pro bono provides an opportunity to take the academic material learned in law school and apply it to real legal issues members of our local community are dealing with. Erhan feels strongly about pro bono work and said “I love that I can help others and at the same time further reinforce my legal education. “
20 years in the Army taught Erhan to appreciate that education coupled with opportunities for training where classroom instruction is put to use in real-world or simulated real-world situations is critical to reinforcing classroom instruction. A law student who is immersed in pro bono work combined with the legal education they are receiving is a more formidable student and eventually attorney. It allows students to identify where the law is addressing and not addressing issues and moreover where current law, statutes, administrative measures are exacerbating struggles of underserved communities. This enables students to become agents for change through their individual interactions with clients and then on a more macro level in the policy arena. We are so grateful to have Erhan and appreciated his kind words about our organization, “I am grateful for the opportunity CLADC provided me when it eagerly brought me into their organization. Moreover, CLADC provides additional education opportunities in support of its legal clinics to include additional probate training, records sealing, and client interviewing. These are invaluable. Our ultimate goal is not to be a great law student, our goal is to be a great lawyer and advocate for the clients we serve. To do this means not only working hard in our classes but also infusing real-world experiences into our academic training. Pro bono legal work is this real-world training under the skillful leadership and mentorship of an attorney. It has enriched my law school experience exponentially. “
“Law students have become an integral part of our work as an organization and CLADC would not be able to serve as many clients as we do without their support. Law students like Erhan help attorneys research complex topics, navigate tough client calls, and continue our efforts to provide access to justice for DC residents,” says Christian Legal AId of DC Director of Legal Services Lindsay Ayers.
Christian Legal Aid of DC would not be who we are without our many law students who step up week after week to serve our clients and close the justice gap.
Lindsay Ayers is the Director of Legal Services at Christian Legal Aid of DC.