The 19th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) will be held on February 10 at the Law School. Proceeds from the event go to support PILS Fellowships to enable Marquette law students to do public interest work in the summer. Garrett Soberalski, a current law student, shares his experience here as a PILS Fellow.
Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?
This past summer I worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Milwaukee Field Office (HUD).
What kind of work did you do there?
The bulk of my time was spent assisting various Equal Opportunity Specialists in the office investigate fair housing complaints and prepare determinations regarding fair housing complaints. I also performed research for two larger matters that may still be under investigation, so I will not discuss those activities further. Overall, it was a lot of research and writing, with some field investigations from time to time.
How was the experience meaningful to you?
The experience was meaningful to me in two ways. First, I met many great people who showed me the importance of working for a cause that I believe in and how to do so correctly. Everyone in the office was passionate about ending housing discrimination, and they did not hesitate to express that feeling. However, they did not allow those feelings to overcome their professional and ethical duties as HUD employees. It was just as important to guard those wrongly accused of housing discrimination as it was to assist those who had experienced housing discrimination. Even though everyone was passionate about ending housing discrimination, they were also passionate about doing it correctly. It was a great working environment and I am glad I could be a part of it.
Second, it exposed me to an area of the law that I want to continue to participate in. I really enjoyed the work that I did this summer, so this experience showed me the career path that I would like to take.
What did you learn in the course of your work?
I really learned a lot working for HUD. I gained extensive knowledge regarding the Fair Housing Act. My whole summer involved claims under the Act, so it is difficult to express exactly how much information I learned regarding the Act in a few sentences. I also did research regarding private causes of action, administrative procedure, real estate closings, and various public housing issues. My boss did a good job making sure that I saw a wide variety of issues that HUD handles, so I was exposed to a lot of new areas of the law that I had never dealt with before. I had a great learning experience.
What do you like best about doing public interest law work?
The people. In my experience with public interest law, you are normally presented with an individual who has encountered a legal problem in the form of a stack of papers with a lot of confusing language. The person feels overwhelmed and is often extremely intimidated by the problem. In fact, they probably feel the same way many law students do before going into a final exam; the only difference is that they are facing the prospect of losing a home, license, job, etc., rather than the prospect of a disappointing grade. It is hard to explain the feeling that I get when I am able to help someone in a situation like that. I am able to connect with them on a personal level, and it really puts the “problems” in my life into perspective.
The law dominates my life and will continue to do so from this point on. The people I have encountered, and will hopefully continue to encounter, through public interest work remind me that there is more to life than statutes, rules, and structured arguments. They also remind me why I am passionate about the law and reinforce the fact that legal work really is worthwhile. Finally, they also remind me that sometimes they just want someone to listen and are truly grateful when someone does. It gives them hope, and it makes me feel good.
What are you doing to help with the PILS Auction?
This year I have done a lot of work helping prepare for the auction. I have sold raffle and auction tickets, requested donations by phone and in person, and have picked up quite a few donations. In years past I have helped with the clean-up and have volunteered for various activities during the auction. This year I do not plan on helping during the actual auction so that I can experience it as a participant, rather than a volunteer, for the first time.