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,
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.”