Public Interest Blog | Public Interest Law Section

This blog offers section members its Tip of the Month, brief articles by members on recent developments and helpful resources. Published by the State Bar of Wisconsin's Public Interest Law Section.

This section provides a forum for public interest lawyers statewide to discuss and promote public interest issues and concerns. The section monitors and proposes legislation, sponsors CLE programs, works closely with law students, has an email list, and publishes a newsletter.

Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin may join the section by visiting (login required).

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​One or two months’ rent at move-in can be a large amount of money to save up, and getting that money back can be crucial.

When tenants leave a residence for a new one, their landlord is required to return their security deposit or inform them the amount they are receiving within 21 days of vacating the property, per the ATCP 134.06(2). Tenants are required to leave a forwarding address with their landlord, or have their mail forwarded with
Continue Reading Tip of the Month: 5 Tips to Get a Security Deposit Returned

In the 2021-22 school year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recorded 16,454 (nearly 2%) of students as being homeless. This is an increase from the 2020-21 school year, which recorded 13,431 (1.6%) of Wisconsin students as homeless. This already too-high number is likely an undercount, as “for a variety of reasons, some young people don’t report that they are homeless.”1 Homelessness for youth correlates to poorer outcomes for emotional and physical health, lower school achievement, and increased dropout
Continue Reading The McKinney-Vento Act: Maximizing School Stability for Homeless Youth

If you have been practicing law in Wisconsin, you may have thought about what it would require to practice law in a neighboring or other state as well.
Each state requires its own admission process set forth by supreme court or board of admission rules in that state. Most states allow for admission by motion, sometimes called reciprocity or comity, for practicing lawyers who have already been licensed for a certain number of years.
Kate Cook, Indiana 2012, is
Continue Reading Thinking of Practicing Outside Wisconsin? Here is Every State’s Requirements for Admission by Motion

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the wait to time get an initial decision in Wisconsin on a Social Security disability application has gone from about three months to more than eight months.

And that’s not including the appeal process, which can take additional 12 to 24 months, from the time of submission (Request for Reconsideration after initial decision denial) to ultimately appearing before an administrative law judge (if the Reconsideration is denied), then having
Continue Reading What’s the Hold Up? Delays with the Social Security Disability Decisions

Wisconsin farms, like others around the nation, increasingly rely on the strenuous labor of immigrants and temporary guestworkers. The economic, historical, and social factors that led to this dependence are complex. The U.S. has a history of encouraging employers to invite temporary workers from Mexico and other countries during periods of labor shortages. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Wisconsin employers participated in the
Emergency Labor Farm Program of 1943, known as the Bracero Agreement, offering short-term labor
Continue Reading Ag Industry Leaders: Immigration Reform Is Necessary to Our Agriculture Economy

Many of the divorce and paternity cases I handle involve a pro-se adverse party who frequently has plenty of experience with the criminal court system.

After those experiences, the adverse party often requests that the court appoint them a lawyer – after all, they’ve had one appointed before in the same courts. After such a request comes a difficult explanation that Wisconsin does not appoint an attorney for civil cases,1 and then the dawning realization at some point
Continue Reading Right to Counsel in Wisconsin Civil Suits – and a Call to Action

​We learn in law school to stay in our lane. As attorneys, we bristle at the notion of giving legal advice on matters where we have limited expertise.

These reactions come from a good place and are completely warranted. Not only is there an ethical obligation not to provide incorrect information, but there is also a codified expectation that we as attorneys provide clients with an informed understanding of their rights and explain the practical implications of any legal
Continue Reading Referral Madness: How We Can Do More By Reaching Out To Each Other

The safety of individuals with disabilities that are not immediately apparent may be at risk during encounters with law enforcement and first responders.

To reduce these safety risks, a person may now voluntarily designate a nonapparent disability on a driver’s license, identification (ID) card, and vehicle registration. This way, individuals can be discreetly identified with a medically verified cognitive, mental, neurological, or physical disability.

The goal, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association, is to help alert law enforcement
Continue Reading Tip of the Month: Disclosing Invisible Disabilities on IDs Can Increase Safety

Please note that any opinions expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent any position of the State Bar of Wisconsin nor any State Bar section. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes to the legal profession, including changes in how Wisconsin lawyers can fulfill their continuing legal education (CLE) credits. Now another change may be coming. SCR 31.02 requires Wisconsin attorneys to take a total of 30 CLE credits during every two-year reporting period. A
Continue Reading Are Changes Coming to CLE Requirements?

“Never trust the translation or interpretation of something without first trusting its interpreter. One word absent from a sentence can drastically change the true intended meaning of the entire sentence.” – The Writings of Suzy Kassem

The need for qualified interpreters in our judicial system continues to increase in Wisconsin.

According to the U.S. Census bureau, 3% of Wisconsin residents report speaking English “less than very well.”1 The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says that 8.6% of
Continue Reading Increasing Access to Justice through Court Interpreters

Setting aside the other benefits of a public interest legal career, if you have moderate or high qualifying student loan debt, working for a public interest employer may be your smartest financial move – even if the salary is low. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) allows those with qualifying student loans to discharge the balance of their student loans tax free after working at a qualifying employer for 10 years while making 120 qualifying monthly payments. Public Service Loan
Continue Reading On Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Success Stories and Financial Considerations

For attorneys involved in child protective services (CHIPS) cases, it is helpful to understand the various forms of economics involved in the payment of care for the children. My perspective is from the circuit court level, primarily as guardian ad litem in Sheboygan County cases. The first part of this article sets forth the types of funds that are available in CHIPS, minor guardianship, or post-TPR adoption cases. The second part of this article briefly takes a broader perspective
Continue Reading Tip of the Month: Economics and Children in Protective Care

In law school, we were taught different strategies in communicating effectively with clients. Often, however, there isn’t a discussion on how best to interact with indigent clients. Here are a few tips that anyone can use when connecting with clients who do not always have reliable means of communication. Tip #1: If the client’s number is out of service, try again later. Indigent clients do not always have money to consistently keep their cellphone on and in service.
Continue Reading Tip of the Month: 5 Tips and Tricks: Communicating Effectively with Indigent Clients

Being a new attorney can be tough for anyone. Law school prepares you to read, research, and analyze the law, but it does not necessarily prepare you for the day-to-day practice of the legal profession.

Inexperienced attorneys can feel completely overwhelmed by their first year(s) of practice, particularly public interest attorneys who may work for small, underfunded organizations that do not have the time, energy, or resources to grow and mentor their new hires.

Fortunately, many law schools are
Continue Reading What We Wish We Knew Then: 11 Tips for New Public Interest Attorneys

“Bring your authentic self to work!” Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode so well for professionals of color.

Specifically, I’m going to speak about Black women. One, I’m a Black woman. Two, it’s Black History Month.

Let’s learn together.
Microaggressions at Work
Merriam-Webster defines “microaggression” as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).

My authentic self sometimes shows
Continue Reading Tip of the Month: Check Your Assumptions When I ‘Bring My Authentic Self to Work’

Animal law has become a legitimate area of study and field of practice among law students, practitioners, and professors who believe the interests of animals deserve meaningful consideration within the legal system.1Growing interest in the subject is reflected in the rapid development of animal law courses and groundbreaking lawsuits that cover a broad range of animal-related legal issues with the goal of advancing the legal status of animals.Now is a great time to get involved in
Continue Reading Animal Law: A Rising Area of Public Interest Law