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 https://www.wisbar.org/formembers/groups/pages/join-a-group.aspx (login required).

Section website: https://www.wisbar.org/forMembers/Groups/Sections/PublicInterestLawSection/pages/home.aspx

​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

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