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Student Spotlight: Riley Franklin

​Public Interest Law Student Riley Franklin Seeks to "Help People on the Ground"​

Riley Franklin
Public interest law student Riley Franklin (’23) holds leadership positions with DePaul Law’s Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL) and Public Interest Law Association (PILA), while also interning with the Legal Aid Society. CIPL Executive Director Shaye Loughlin says, “Riley is dedicated to his public interest law career and also to supporting his fellow students on this path.” 

Franklin’s interest in law started while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He already had considered attending law school, but after taking a course on the Politics of Economic Inequality he was convinced it was his future. The class taught him about America’s systemic issues with race and class and about significant injustices still occurring throughout the country. He was particularly troubled by how often nuclear waste is buried on indigenous grounds, causing higher rates of radiation-related illnesses, including cancer, among people living on those reservations.  These people are left with little recourse, and disappointingly, Franklin was repeatedly told, “That’s just how the law works.”  

DePaul Law’s breadth of public interest and social justice initiatives, including the Civil Rights Legal Clinic and the first-year Public Interest Law Legal Writing Section, drew Franklin to Chicago. His work with CPIL and PILA allowed him to become heavily involved with various public interest-related activities, including the annual PILA Auction, which raises money for summer scholarships for classmates pursuing unpaid public interest legal positions. Last year’s auction provided support for a record number of students, and organizing it further impressed Franklin with how “DePaul Law is willing to put their money where their mouth is and help students pursue public interest law. Professors actually care and help students achieve this career path.” His other PILA programs bring in speakers who demonstrate just how vast the public interest law field is, as it encompasses criminal defense, civil rights and election law, among many others.  

Franklin’s primary interests are criminal defense, housing and environmental law. During the summer after his first year, he worked for the Cook County Public Defender’s Multiple Defendants Division. He considered it a “powerful experience. I dealt with some horrible cases and saw a lot of injustice in the system on behalf of my clients.” For the past year, he has been part of the Legal Aid Society’s Health, Housing and Economic Stability team, and “I absolutely love it.” Franklin helps tenants fight wrongful eviction, finds alternative housing or other resolutions, and works with landlords to keep people housed. He gives special thanks to his Legal Aid Society supervisor, Chandra Smith, and managing attorney, Mia Siegel, for being incredible mentors. Continuing with Legal Aid Society for his next (and final) semester of law school, Franklin hopes to get more courtroom experience and work closer with the Cook County Early Resolution Program.  

Although Franklin has yet to work in environmental law, he hopes to do so eventually. His dream job would be in the field of environmental racism. This niche and underexplored area of law considers how industries build in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, causing inhabitants to suffer from higher rates of various diseases. Lawyers in this area help community members sue industrial polluters for medical treatment, among other things.  

Most importantly, Franklin says he “will just be happy to do something in public interest law.” He is constantly inspired by how much people care about the subject matter. As he explains, “If you can’t find excitement or engagement in the legal community, you will find people engaged in and leading grassroots movements in these communities. As lawyers, especially as public interest lawyers, our job is to help the people on the ground doing good work.”  ​