Max Discher JD '16

Committed to Social Justice Work: A Q&A with Max Discher, HomeBase Staff Attorney

For more than two years, Max Discher JD ’16 has served as staff attorney at Homebase, a 30-year-old non-profit whose mission is “to build community capacity to end homelessness and reduce poverty, and to foster thriving, inclusive communities.” In his role, Discher provides technical and legal support to the San Francisco and Napa communities, ensuring compliance with HUD funding requirements, guiding best practices among organizational partners, and steering local policies to best coordinate homelessness response systems. Before joining Homebase, he studied public interest and social justice, seizing every available opportunity to assist underserved populations, working for asylum seekers in Australia, systematically oppressed populations in the Dominican Republic, and indigent criminal defendants at home. He earned a BA from Morehouse College, and a JD from Santa Clara University School of Law, with a certificate in Public International Law. 

Can you tell us about your career path since graduation? How did you end up where you are now? 

I was committed to social justice work at least by the moment I registered for the LSAT. Even so, I still managed to graduate uncertain about my exact career path. I reflected on criminal defense internships and clinics, summers overseas on human rights and refugee issues, and countless other issues I’d yet to touch. I’m especially thankful to my peers and mentors who lent honest insights on their own amazing work. I window shopped for a full year before deciding to work close to home. Homelessness is the right issue for me right now, and family is suddenly more important than ever. I’m forever grateful to the awesome friend and classmate who connected me with the opportunity at Homebase.

What do you feel most passionate about in your current work?

Homelessness has seen gains in public awareness and funding recently, but agencies continue to operate on shoestring budgets with rigorous expectations. A melancholy symptom is the creative effort needed to weave disparate funding streams, and dozens of providers across hundreds of individual services and housing programs. Our work marshalls and amplifies the efforts of thousands of social workers and program managers who, frankly, are the true angels in this work. Thus, I’m basically heaven’s air traffic controller.

What do you find most challenging about your work?

Working directly above Powell in San Francisco offers constant reminders how pressing the work is. Everyone in social justice needs a mantra to remind them that these problems won’t disappear in a day. Self-care and knowing when to take a break are growth areas for all lawyers, and it turns out compassion fatigue is absolutely a real thing.

What are some experiences and classes from Santa Clara Law that you feel best prepared you for your work now?

Too many to count, but credit certainly goes all the way back to 1L in Ridolfi’s Criminal Law, where I first got in touch with my particular legal thought process. I’m deeply thankful to Professor Rivera’s tutelage in the International Human Rights Clinic. Between his course and the SCU Expungement Clinic, I gained practical client-facing experience over my two banner semesters at Santa Clara Law. Professor Abriel’s Refugee Law, and Professor Han’s International Criminal Law summer programs were the brochure highlights that drew me to SCU in the first place, and they absolutely delivered. I’ll never forget those summers, the work I did, or the friendships I built from them. Of course, a big shout-out to Professor Kinyon for patiently helping me break bad habits early on, equipping me to write for the bar. Lastly, I have to thank Professor Yosifon for his passionate and stylistic approach to Legal Ethics and BizOrgs. I’m a much better lawyer for having taken both, even if I may never incorporate an LLC. 

What part of your Santa Clara Law experience makes you feel the most grateful?

Aside from the obvious, fulfilling career that I love? Law school was grueling. I overcame shortcomings, many of which I’d never realized prior to Santa Clara Law. I vividly recall the occasions where professors or staff seemed to know what I needed better than myself, particularly with hurdles outside the curriculum. 

What most surprised you about your law school experience? 

The mere fact that I’m on this side of it. It feels more like a thing that happened to me, rather than a thing I did. It was a three-year out-of-body experience, I suppose.

What would you say to someone considering coming to Santa Clara Law today?

Know that someone at Santa Clara Law always has your success at heart. The work is always arduous, but a variety of enriching and practical opportunities await you beyond 1L. Find those professors and staff who are personally best at talking you down from the tree. Don’t be shy. Knock on their doors whenever you need. You’ll be surprised how late some of those doors will open. (I’m still convinced most of them secretly live inside their offices.)

What do you do in your spare time for fun and relaxation?

Now that Uncle Sam is my only creditor, I’ve finally fulfilled my dream of buying a broken car and making a huge mess in my driveway. I mountain bike on longer weekends, and I’ve recently graduated from “Chopsticks” to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on my new keyboard while stuck at home during shelter-in-place. My cat looks unimpressed.