Filipino Immigrant Trains Lawyers to the Benefit of Montanans

Eduardo Capulong’s father, a prominent politician in the Philippines, had already endured one imprisonment when the family found their house ransacked by police and military forces one October evening. It was 1979, seven years after Ferdinand Marcos—notorious for torturing and killing his opponents—had imposed a martial-law dictatorship. “We fled here,” recalls Capulong, then 14. “It was quite sudden and traumatic.”

The family received political asylum in the United States, and, when the Marcos regime collapsed in 1986, Romeo Capulong returned to his homeland to enjoy a long and groundbreaking career as “the people’s lawyer,” expanding legal services for the poor.

In America, Eduardo Capulong has followed largely in his father’s footsteps—to the benefit, now, of Montanans. Capulong, a professor at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, oversees the school’s clinics, which, by way of giving law students practical experience, provide free legal services to Missoulians who might otherwise be unable to afford representation.

At the mediation clinic, law students under Capulong’s guidance take as many as 40 cases a semester, often divorce and custody disputes headed for family court. Mediation affords people more control, and saves taxpayers and clients money. “What we try to do is take the best interests of the children at heart,” says Capulong. “We try to intervene in a way that’s thoughtful and ask, ʻWhat can we do here to make this a collaborative effort, and not just ʼ” Other clinics offer free expertise in Indian, tenant, veteran, and environmental land laws. Capulong has also pioneered a program whereby first-year classes help represent real clients at no cost.

My children are Montanans.”

Capulong’s career has been auspicious from the start. Raised in New York, he landed a prestigious clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and practiced public interest and civil rights law before entering academia. After fielding several good offers, he chose the University of Montana. The law school has long been a leader in clinical education, and Missoula seemed an ideal spot for a young family. “We just fell in love with it,” he says. “My children are Montanans.”

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New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…