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 of the most frustrating experiences while researching is coming up against a paywall or running into something that is purportedly only available through a subscription service. Many attorneys do not have the benefit of unlimited LexisNexis or Westlaw subscriptions, or other similar research tools.Fortunately, if you are looking to get yourself something this holiday season, Santa (aka our PILS blog, in this instance) has just the thing wrapped up in a blog post, just for you: a compilation
Continue Reading Free Research Tools for Wisconsin Attorneys

In a recent American Bar Association poll, the top reason given by prospective students for attending law school was to pursue “a career in politics, government, or public service.” Also in the top four reasons for attending law school included “an opportunity to be helpful” and a desire to “advocate for social change.”

It is encouraging that so many people go to law school looking to have a positive impact on their community. Given the students’ motivations and
Continue Reading Making a Change, One Intern at a Time

On Sept. 1, 2021, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee launched EvictionFreeMKE, a pilot program aimed at providing legal representation for individuals in Milwaukee County facing eviction.

The program is funded through commitments from the United Way and Rescue Plan Act funds from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee. Anyone in Milwaukee County at or below 200% of the federal poverty level who has an eviction case brought against them now qualifies for a free attorney.
Data Points
Continue Reading ‘A Screaming Need:’ Why Eviction Defendants Need Representation

Most people have heard the term “food stamps,” but if you have not used the program yourself or helped another person use it, you may not understand what the program entails.The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – often referred to as “food stamps” – is the
third largest social safety net program in the U.S. The federal SNAP program is administered in Wisconsin through the FoodShare program.1The
purpose of the program is to supplement the food budget
Continue Reading Wisconsin’s FoodShare Program: Overcoming Stigma with Older Adults

For many of us working in the public interest law field or taking cases for reduced pay, hearing the question “Should I hire a ‘real’ attorney?” is common.

It can also be infuriating and disheartening. However, by understanding the reasoning behind the question and how to answer it, the question can not only help your own mental health as the attorney, but also strengthen trust with the client and build a good relationship.

Aside from Frank Abagnale, nobody
Continue Reading When Your Client Asks ‘Should I Hire a Real Attorney?’

As the weather becomes warmer, many of us will enjoy the use of Wisconsin’s navigable waters. Wisconsin has approximately 15,000 lakes and 33,000 miles of rivers and streams.1

Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine applies to surface waters of the state. The doctrine is expressed in the Wisconsin Constitution, Article IX, section 1, yet is more clearly summarized in the Wisconsin Supreme Court case Illinois Steel Co. v. Bilot:2
The title to the beds of all lakes and ponds,
Continue Reading ‘Enjoyment of the Waters’ and Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine

The core benefit of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) – tax-free forgiveness after 120 qualifying payments with a qualifying employer – is well and widely known.

Because of the tax-free forgiveness, PSLF borrowers are incentivized to maximize the amount of their forgiveness by minimizing the dollar amount of their qualifying monthly payments. In other words, because PSLF is tax-free, the borrower is not penalized by a loan balance that grows each month.1

One of the ways a borrower
Continue Reading Minimize PSLF Payments by Maximizing Retirement Contributions

March 31, 2021, brings the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium – which means that rental assistance will be more important than ever to keeping tenant housing secure from eviction.1 Here’s how you can help your clients who need rental assistance.
Tips on Rental Assistance
Tenants should be prepared to provide details about themselves and their situation. It can be jarring for those new to assistance programs to have to provide personal information,
Continue Reading When COVID Eviction Moratorium Ends: About Wisconsin Rental Assistance Programs

As public interest attorneys, we recognize the problems for which our clients seek our help are often just one part of a much bigger issue or issues.

For example, a client who seeks help with divorce, custody, and placement may also need help obtaining a restraining order and/or applying for public benefits if their household income has changed.

As a section, PILS endeavors to provide training and resources to our members so we can, when appropriate, approach our client
Continue Reading The Crime Victims Compensation Program

As we enter a new year, many of us, myself included, are hopeful for a better 2021. And in having hope for 2021, we also bear the pain and grief of 2020.

Grief and loss are not new concepts for 2020. However, in 2020, grief and our ability to address, confront, and manage it changed.

Because of COVID-19, we have been denied many of our usual rituals and support systems to address grief. These include in-person funeral or other
Continue Reading Hope and Grief in 2021

As pure and abstract as we’d like the operation of justice to be, we all know the practice of law is embedded within an inherently unequal society, and that our work is exacerbated by and perpetuates severe systemic, institutional, and interpersonal inequity.

Conversations around power, inequality, and oppression can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable, but they are valuable and necessary, in order to examine the theories of social interaction and change that underlies our work.
The Interactions of Status,
Continue Reading A Framework for Considering Privilege

Approximately 37,000 people in Wisconsin who were previously deemed ineligible for an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) may now be entitled to one.1 A recent ruling in a class-action lawsuit means that people in jail or prison cannot be denied a stimulus payment based solely on their incarceration status.2

It’s important to understand who is affected by this court order and what steps, if any, they need to take in order to receive their payment. The deadline was
Continue Reading CARES Act Economic Impact Payments and Incarcerated Persons

Public Interest Law Section BlogOctober302020 Working with Domestic Abuse Survivors: What Advocates Want You to KnowMegan L. Sprecher and Araceli WenceDomestic abuse is a serious societal problem, the ramifications of which are felt in every community. Megan Sprecher and Araceli Wence provide tips for working with survivors of domestic abuse.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the perfect time for attorneys and other legal professionals to commit to learning more about the issue and consider ways to
Continue Reading Working with Domestic Abuse Survivors: What Advocates Want You to Know

There are many factors that go into making a decision regarding health care coverage. With the Open Enrollment beginning soon, it is important to know what changes there are, given both issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in the Health Insurance Marketplace during 2020.
Open Enrollment
The Health Insurance Marketplace Open Enrollment Period runs from Sunday, Nov. 1 through Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.1 Coverage begins Jan. 1, 2021.2 If you do not enroll in a
Continue Reading Health Insurance Marketplace: What You Need to Know Now

Just like you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge the contents of an executive order by its title.

President Donald Trump’s Memorandum for the Secretary of Education issued August 8, 2020, is titled:
Memorandum on Continued Student Loan Payment Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic
At first blush, you may assume this is just a continuation of the legislature’s previously enacted CARES Act, which allows for deferred student loan payments to count toward Public Service
Continue Reading Update: Latest on COVID-19 Loan Relief Order and Public Service Loan Forgiveness

During the Covid19 pandemic, there is uncertainty as to what will happen with the start of the 2020-21 school year in approximately three months. Parents may have unease about their children returning to a classroom as we wait for the development of a vaccine.
Wisconsin offers the option of attendance with a virtual charter school.
Charter Schools in Wisconsin
All charter schools in Wisconsin are “public, nonsectarian schools created through a business-like contract of ‘charter’ between the charter governance
Continue Reading Virtual Charter Schools in Wisconsin