The 24th Annual Howard B. Eisenberg Do-Gooders’ Auction on behalf of the Law School’s Public Interest Law Society (PILS) was held on February 17 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. David Conley, a current law student, shares his experience here as a PILS Fellow.
Where did you work as a PILS Fellow?
The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office—Juvenile Division Milwaukee County
What kind of work did you do there?
The Law Offices of the Wisconsin State Public Defender represents indigent people who face criminal charges. However, the State Public Defender’s Office actually covers a variety of different cases where people are in need of legal representation. Milwaukee County is divided into two main offices. One office, (MKE Trial) handles adult criminal cases. The other office, (MKE Juvenile) represents juvenile clients facing a variety of life obstacles. These obstacles could be: (1) a juvenile delinquency petition, (2) a CHIPS (child in need of protective services) petition, or (3) a JIPS (juvenile in need of protective services) petition. The public defenders office advocates for juveniles who are in desperate need of legal help. The juvenile office also handles TPR (termination of parental rights) cases, and mental health commitment cases. As a Public Interest Law Society Fellow, it was my responsibility to assist the staff attorneys in the successful representation of these clients.
How was the experience meaningful to you?
This experience confirmed that I want to assist people who cannot afford legal representation. After all, these are the people who need representation the most. Poverty, race, and mental health are woven into crime. I loved the ability to directly change the community around me. Whether that involved helping a client into residential treatment, battling a wrongful criminal charge, or giving a struggling teen confidence through challenging circumstances. I take pride in knowing that when a person’s family and friends seem to abandon them, a public defender will always be there to advocate and fight for that person. I share a “justice for all” attitude about the law.
What did you learn in the course of your work?
Besides the unbelievable amount of legal knowledge I obtained from this work, I learned a tremendous amount about the human condition and what it means to work with struggling people. Every client is different. I learned how to manage emotion, reach difficult clients, and engage the client in a way that moved them closer to their overall goal.
What do you like best about doing public interest law work?
I like using my knowledge to help someone else. Public interest work is about the person and the community. It’s about helping the people who need it the most, not just the people who can afford legal representation. In that way, I find this type of legal work extremely satisfying.
What are you doing to help with the PILS Auction?
I have helped the Auction by participating in solicitation outings, volunteering at our annual Thanksgiving dinner, and by personally volunteering for the auction. I also helped with props and donation pick-ups. This year will be my third year participating with the PILS Auction.