Pro Bono and Public Interest Legal Work at Marquette

Friday was the 2014 Posner Exchange and Pro Bono Society Induction at the Law School.  The event honors law students who have achieved 50 or more hours of pro bono service while attending law school.  Special recognition is given to students who have achieved 120 or more hours. The Hon. Ramona E. Romero, the general counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture, was the speaker at this year’s event.  Congratulations to the honorees for starting their careers by including pro bono service in their work.

Recently I attended a panel presentation at the Law School on pro bono opportunities available to our law students.  I was so impressed by the opportunities that I am highlighting them here.  To qualify as pro bono, the work must be supervised by a licensed attorney, not for pay or credit, primarily legal in nature, and in the service of underserved populations–those with barriers to equal access to justice, or for an organization whose mission is to serve underserved populations.

Students gain valuable experience in client interviewing skills and accessing and completing forms, two practical skills that are difficult to convey in a classroom setting. Pro bono also gives students exposure to a variety of practice areas and opportunity to work alongside and be mentored by a cadre of more than 250 volunteer attorneys.

The Bankruptcy Pro Se Self Help Desk is offered through the bankruptcy section of the Milwaukee Bar Association.  The help desk is housed at the Federal Courthouse and staffed by volunteer attorneys who assist Chapter 7 debtors.  Students complete schedules, forms, and other documents.

The Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics serve over 3,000 clients annually, and law students assist in offering brief legal advice on civil legal matters.  The clinics are held at the Milwaukee County Veteran Services Office, House of Peace, Hillview building of Centro Hispano, Milwaukee Justice Center, and Mobile Legal Clinic.

The Milwaukee Justice Center Family Law Forms Assistance (“family law help desk”) is for individuals involved in family law matters. Law students complete forms and explain courthouse rules and procedures.  The help desk is housed at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The Domestic Violence Injunction Hearing Representation (Lawyer for a Day) program partners with Sojourner Family Peace Center and volunteer attorneys from Quarles and Brady.  Students interview victims, assess the admissibility of evidence, and prepare a brief report for the attorney.

The Know-Your-Rights Immigrant Detention Project is held at the Kenosha Detention Center and run by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).  In this program, law students interview detained immigrants to assist the NIJC in determining if the detainees have a legal defense.

The Milwaukee Metro Foreclosure Mediation Program is coordinated by Metro Milwaukee Mediation Services and the Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Courts.  Students review cases for mediation, contact participants, and serve as co-mediators with appropriate training or experience.

The Refugee Help Desk at the Pan African Community Association affords law students the chance to assist refugees with completing legal forms and documents.

Additionally, law students volunteer to train middle school and high school students in moot court skills as part of Marquette’s Summer Youth Institute (SYI).  While not pro bono legal work, law students are serving the community through their teaching.

Law students interested in more expansive view of public interest law may choose to join the Marquette Law School Public Interest Law Society (PILS) and may apply for a PILS fellowship to fund summer public interest work. This year 19 fellows will work at sites ranging from the Milwaukee Justice Center to the American Civil Liberties Union to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

About 70% of Marquette law students try pro bono at some point in their law school career and nearly half of Marquette graduates complete 50+ or 120+ pro bono hours, which results in induction into the pro bono honors society and the ability to wear an honor cord for service at graduation.  Angela Schultz is the pro bono director at the Law School.  The Gene (L ’36) and Ruth Posner Foundation support the Law School’s pro bono initiatives.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Melissa Greipp

    Congratulations to Marquette Law alum, Attorney Mary Ferwerda, on being named Executive Director of the Milwaukee Justice Center, a collaborative endeavor among Marquette Law School, Milwaukee County, and the Milwaukee Bar Association to assist low income and disadvantaged populations who are unable afford an attorney to represent them in civil court.

    The Marquette volunteer legal clinics were featured in the Milwaukee Business Journal on February 6. Two Marquette Law alumni were interviewed for the article. Attorney Julie Darnieder noted the “‘huge benefit'” to the law students’ education, which “‘remind[s] students how privileged they are and how many opportunities they have.'” Attorney Katie Perhach said “‘[w]e help people deal with sensitive issues and have built a lot of trust and confidence with the community.'”

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