Leslie (JD ’10) came to Northwestern thinking that she would do copyright law. Then she worked with the CFJC. Today, she is an assistant public defender at the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office in Florida.
Q: What’s your background?
A: I’m from New York, and I went to law school at Northwestern thinking that I’d go into big law, because that’s what everyone else was doing. Copyright work, for example. But I started working at the clinic, and I started having the feeling that it was work that was more meaningful to me and that I could make a difference in. I really liked it, so I decided to become a public defender.
Q: What persuaded you to take the clinic at NU?
A: I think I wanted to try a little bit of everything that NU had to offer. I’d done the Journal of International Human Rights, and I liked that, but I was noticing that a lot of my friends, maybe a class or two above me, were really active in the clinic and they loved it. So I decided I wanted to give that a try, and I started by working one of my summers there.
Q: Did you know about juvenile justice work before the clinic?
A: I had an idea of it. I used to be a mentor to youth in New York City before I went to law school. I wasn’t directly involved in the juvenile justice system, but I had lawyers in my family and worked with kids before so I had an idea. But you learn so much more actually being active in cases.
Brian Caster (JD ’11) is currently an associate at the Chicago law firm Masuda Fundai, where he focuses on sales and distribution and technology transaction cases. He also performs pro bono work for the CFJC on juvenile criminal cases.
Q: How many pro bono cases have you done for the CFJC?
A: In terms of criminal cases, I think I’m on my fifth one. You know, usually they end up going six months to a year. They tend to take time because we’re not just going up to the state’s attorney and saying, “What can you offer us?” Usually, we get the case because the offer that was given is bad and there’s more to the case that doesn’t pop up in the police report and requires additional help. I’ve also done six or seven Project Off the Record cases.
Q: Are you currently working on a pro bono case?
A: Yes, it’s an armed robbery case. Fortunately there was no gun involved, so it’s still in juvenile court, it’s not been transferred to adult court which would be insane. Although I did one of those as well. I think this one came through the probation officer, although he said don’t tell anyone this came through me, which is very disappointing because if a probation officer sees a case that isn’t getting the attention that it needs, you need to speak up. The kids and parents don’t know the system. They don’t know whether or not they’re getting decent representation sometimes.
Q: How do you find time to do pro bono cases while working a full-time job?
A: Honestly, I have no idea. My boss at my year in review said “Based on you billable hours and my non-billable hours, honestly I’m not sure if you ever sleep.” But no, the way a lot of firms work is there’s up time and there’s downtime. Because we’re a professional services company, when the work comes in it’s based on the client’s needs. If we’re in between deals and we’re waiting for the new deal to come in, there’s a lot of time. My friends at big law use their downtime to goof around and read the Internet. I use that time to do pro bono work, which I enjoy and it makes the time go by a lot quicker too.
For the past six months, Kendrick (JD ’10) has worked as an associate lawyer at Nicolaides Fink Thorpe Michaelides Sullivan LLP in Chicago. Prior to this position, he worked at the Public Defender’s Office in Boston, and as a clinical fellow of the Children and Family Justice Center and Legal Aid Society.
Q: What do you at the firm?
A: I’m a coverage attorney. We’re a national insurance law firm, representing insurance companies. We look at the claims, the underlying lawsuits, and help the insurance companies determine if they owe coverage to the insured. AIG, for instance, is our biggest client.
Q: You were doing public interest work prior to joining the firm. Why did you decide to make the switch?
A: My reasons were multifaceted. I wanted to come back to Chicago because it provided me an opportunity to spend more time with my son. As I was looking for jobs in Chicago this opportunity came up and I realized quickly that even though it wasn’t public interest, it would still allow me to broaden my skill set and get me into federal court and do larger, more complex litigation. So later on down the road, when I think I will ultimately probably return to public interest work, I’ll have a broader skill set to offer.
Q: You said that working at a firm will help you get to work in federal court. Why is that?
A: I really think that if you start knocking on some of those professors’ [at the Bluhm Legal Clinic] doors and ask them where they started out, quite a few of them started out at law firms early on in their career. I think when you’re doing complex federal level litigation, there’s a complexity that you don’t find in a lot of places. When you’re suing the state for money, it’s great if you have a criminal background, but it’s just not the same. [In the] big firm world that’s what they do, they fight over money [and] they fight over property. Really, the law boils down to: can you write, can you research, can you figure out the complex problems. There’s a [false] assumption that only big firm lawyers can do that.
Catherine, or “Katie” as she prefers, (JD ’13) is a former student of CFJC immigration attorney and associate professor Uzoamaka Nzelibe. Today, she is completing the first year of a two year fellowship with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, PA. The first year of the fellowship focuses on a broad survey of child welfare and juvenile justice, while the second year will focus on research and writing related to immigration for children.
Q: What interested you about immigration law in law school?
A: I actually knew I wanted to do immigration work before I came to Northwestern. My background had some connection to immigration since I was little. My mother is from Ecuador and my father has always been involved in international relations work. We had this revolving door at my house of hosting friends and family and other people who came to the U.S. on the same humanitarian visas that I ended up helping people apply for in the clinic. We would travel and see how people lived in other countries, and I was curious as to why there was such a difference in the standard of living from one place to another, and why it was hard for people to come here to the U.S. and stay for a certain period of time.
Q: Did you become a lawyer to do immigration advocacy?
A: I ended up working in Ecuador with immigrants and refugees from Colombia and I thought that maybe I would do international development work or social work. As I worked with immigrants and refugees, I realized that there was a real need for people who understood the law and how the law could be used to protect them. There’s no replacement for finding basic needs and services for people when they’re in a new country. But the way that I thought I could serve people best was to get them their [legal immigration] status and then they’d have more power to advocate for themselves.