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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We all have good intentions when it comes to volunteering, but oftentimes we either do not know where to start or have limited availability.

But whether you are volunteering weekly, monthly, or even yearly, any time you dedicate your expertise to helping individuals less fortunate, you are involved in public interest volunteering.

Here are opportunities for individuals to find their volunteer journey – whether they are a newly minted volunteer or those with experience seeking to broaden their volunteer
Continue Reading Get Involved: Public Interest Law Volunteer Opportunities

One of the tragic circumstances of our criminal justice system is the prevalence of crimes being perpetrated by children, otherwise known in legal terminology as juveniles. While it may come as a surprise given their age and natural proclivity to following instruction, juveniles make up a substantial portion of criminal offenders in the United States. That dynamic is present in Wisconsin as well, with 26,910 juveniles arrested by county, tribal, and state agencies within the state during the calendar
Continue Reading No Place Like Home: How Placement Options Impact the Juvenile Court System

In the landscape of American society, the impact of incarceration on families reverberates deeply, yet often remains overlooked.

Startling statistics reveal that, currently, an estimated 6.5 million adults have an immediate family member incarcerated, underscoring the prevalence of this issue.1 To further put it in perspective, one in seven people have had an immediate family member spend one year or longer in prison, while one in 34 people have experienced the anguish of having a loved one incarcerated
Continue Reading How Attorneys Can Support Families Affected by Incarceration

As public interest attorneys, we often represent low-income clients at a low point in their lives, such as during an illness, injury, job loss, incarceration, eviction, divorce, etc. When clients are struggling, it can be helpful to provide resources for as many benefits as they may be eligible for to get them back on their feet. One of these benefits is assistance with their energy bills. Did You Know? According to the
2020 Energy Burden Report by the American
Continue Reading How Energy Assistance Benefits in Wisconsin Can Help Your Clients

As attorneys, we must balance our duties and responsibilities between protecting our clients and following our own ethical obligations. The
Supreme Court Rules provide guidance but even with that direction, the practical application can be difficult. The Ethical Landscape While most communication with a client is protected by the well-known attorney-client privilege under Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 20:1.6, it does not allow for perpetuating certain conduct, including lying to the tribunal. Wisconsin attorneys are bound by a duty of
Continue Reading An Ethical Quandary: Clients Who Lie

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw. ​​
When meeting with prospective clients or when going over paperwork, retainers, contracts, etc., attorneys often discuss the “attorney client relationship.”

Morally, our clients deserve to know the bounds of the representation about to be provided, and ethically, we have a duty to talk about what that relationship is going to look like going forward.1

However, as a profession, attorneys often
Continue Reading Communicating with Clients in the Digital Age

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This program was created as a way to provide monthly cash assistance for need-based individuals.

To get SSI, a person must be disabled or at least 65 years old and have very limited income and resources – otherwise known as assets. In fact, the SSI program has the strictest asset limits of any federal program. Right now, SSI recipients cannot have more than $2,000
Continue Reading Keeping Recipients in Poverty: Problems with Supplemental Security Income Asset Limits

It’s easy to take for granted that the documents and accounts we use every day reflect our true conception of ourselves – knowing that we’ll see the right name or gender identity listed on things like our driver’s license, birth certificates, Social Security information, and passports – and all of the many, many other things that flow from one or more of those documents: voter registration, insurance information, bank accounts, credit cards, and more.

For a growing number of
Continue Reading No More ‘Deadnames:’ Petitioning for Name and Gender Marker ID Changes in Wisconsin

Wisconsin, in addition to its extensive dairy industry and cold winters, is notable for being
one of the few states in the country where juveniles are subject to adult prosecution at age 17.

Thus, in Wisconsin, a juvenile can go through the adult criminal justice system a full year before reaching the age of adulthood. Naturally this dynamic is a matter of controversy, as it can have wide-ranging consequences for the individual charged.
Advantages of Juvenile Court
It is
Continue Reading The Freedom to be Kids: Observations of Charging 17-year-olds in Adult Court

​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