CPIL Skills Series is a success for second year running

The Center for Public Interest Law hosted three new skills series in 2013-2014, building on the success of last year’s program. Each series gives students the opportunity to learn about different areas of public interest law while gaining practical and transferable legal skills. The topics selected for this year’s series were based on the interest of past student participants.

The program started in September with the Public Benefits Skills Series, taught by alumna and Adjunct Professor Mary Rita Luecke. This series focused on applying for Social Security and gave students a comprehensive understanding of the steps involved in securing SSI or SSDI for a client. Students attending the series reported that it offered a practical approach to introducing the topic and that they felt better prepared for an internship in this area of law.

The second skills series, which began in February, focused on immigration law, specifically U Visas. U Visas are temporary visas that provide immigrant victims of certain crimes to legally remain in the United States while they participate in the investigations and legal proceedings against their perpetrators. The five-week series was taught by Olivia Villegas (JD ’10), a staff attorney in the Immigration Project at Life Span Center for Legal Services and Advocacy. She represents clients in VAWA self-petitions, U Visa petitions, conditional residency battered spouse waivers, adjustment defense, and, on a limited basis, removal defense.

During the series, students learned the intricacies of the U Visa process and gained a foundation to assist clients with securing these visas. The final skills series focused on starting a public interest practice. For four consecutive Mondays in April, students learned from a variety of solo practitioners and gained an overview of the process of starting a law practice. Noelle Brennan (JD ’95), who has been a solo practitioner for the last two decades, taught the first session and gave students insight into daily realities of running your own law firm.

Students also heard from practitioners who focused on commercial litigation, which afforded them time and resources for a strong pro bono practice. In addition, alumni participants in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Justice Entrepreneur Project and criminal defense attorney Molly Armour presented in this series. The series demonstrates CPIL’s ongoing commitment to offering skills training options for students.

After attending all three of the skills series, student Jimmy Garfield remarked on their value as a supplement to traditional classes. “Instead of just learning legal theory, you get to talk to practitioners who are in the trenches every day,” he said. “They don’t just tell you how law should be, but how it is.”