Cynthia Chandler is the Director of BALI | Bay Area Legal Incubator, where she describes her work as 90% fairy godmother and 10% fixer – she helps to make attorneys’ dreams come true while keeping them out of trouble and promoting social justice. BALI is a social-mission legal incubator that supports emerging solo practitioners in accelerating the launch of affordable law practices serving low- and moderately-incomed communities. BALI is an Oakland, CA based project of the Alameda County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Corporation, in collaboration with five San Francisco Bay Area law schools and the Alameda County Law Library. As Director, Cynthia is responsible for establishing systems, training and opportunities to accelerate participating attorneys’ practice development, as well as managing the daily operations of BALI.
Cynthia has over 20 years’ experience as a social entrepreneur, launching and building innovative social justice organizations. As an attorney, her practice has been equally innovative: when the law does not allow for the relief she seeks for her clients, she changes it. For example, after founding Women's Positive Legal Action Network in 1995 - the first organization advocating for women living with HIV and facing imprisonment - she helped craft and introduce compassionate release legislation, creating the statutory mechanism for terminally ill people to be released from prison before they die. This model legislation was replicated nationally.
Cynthia currently maintains a legislative practice, regularly conceptualizing and contributing to key legislation aimed at shrinking the prison system and its harms. Cynthia also coaches entrepreneurs on how to realize and sustain their visions for building community-based social ventures that ally with communities to make real change. She currently is an Adjunct Professor at Golden Gate University School of Law, where she inspires the next generation of radical lawyers.
Cynthia has received numerous awards for her work empowering and representing people in California’s prisons. Among them, in 2015 Cynthia was awarded the prestigious Fay Stender Award from California Women Lawyers. In 2005, she was named by Women's Health Activist Network a Top 30 Activist for Women's Health. Cynthia received the 2001 Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World Award. And in 1997, she was designated the Attorney to Whom California Can Be Most Grateful by California Law Business.
Cynthia received her JD from Harvard Law School and a MPhil in Criminology from University of Cambridge.
Cynthia is the mother of two activist daughters. She learns from them daily.