Public Interest Law: The Purest Form of Law

Published: April 20th, 2009

Category: News

The legal system, for many in our society, is an enemy to be hated, despised, and avoided at all costs. This is especially true for individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.

The system is designed to provide a fair and unbiased forum for the administration of justice. In practice, however, many individuals, particularly those with lower-incomes, feel slighted, wounded, and betrayed by the very structure that vows to serve and protect them.

Restoring the faith in the system, then, is a major component of public interest law. The legal system is not a mortal enemy. Instead, it is a life-long friend and a forum for the aggrieved, regardless of economic status. I am drawn to public interest law because I believe in this forum and I want to ensure that everyone has access to it.

Whether they need help saving their home from a pending foreclosure action or are desperate to receive the public benefits to which they are entitled, everyone deserves their day in court and a lawyer by their side whose primary goal is to advocate zealously for her client. I want to be that advocate.

Thus, my Public Service Fellowship, funded by the Florida Bar Foundation, has been incredibly instrumental in my quest to become that advocate. Through the fellowship, I have had the opportunity to do research on complex and intriguing issues like foreclosure actions, international custody issues, and retirement account distributions and have seen firsthand what a difference an attorney can make in the lives of our city’s less fortunate.

In my work as a Public Service Fellow, I saw similar types of victims. I saw victims of chance, victims of circumstance, victims of poor choices, and victims of wearying generational cycles. Each case presented a new scenario that required a unique strategy and a dedicated plan of operation.

From them, I learned not only of the great desire for the legal protection of our community’s citizens, but of the ever important necessity. Without this protection, too many men, women, and children fall through the cracks of our nation, lost, forgotten, and without the chance for meaningful survival. Legal Services is, for many, a lifeline.

For others, it is a fresh start. Of course, there are the clients who lie, who demand services without working for them, and who seek only to abuse the system. But, for that forty-five year old mother, recently widowed, who needs disability compensation to provide for her young family, or for the eighty-two year old woman dying of cancer whose only concern is to ensure that her three adopted daughters of six, seven, and eight are taken care of after she is gone, or the father whose family was evicted in retaliation for his attempt to provide a clean, safe, and habitable home for his wife and two boys, Legal Service attorneys provide hope.

Recently, I had a prominent Gainesville attorney tell me that he envied public interest lawyers because they got to practice law in its purest form. At the time, I didn’t really know what he meant. However, there is something to be said for advocating, not just for an individual’s property or personal interests, but also for that person’s livelihood.

Public interest law truly gives a new meaning to the phrase “life, liberty, and property” and I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the practice.

Crystal Talley worked this past year for Three Rivers Legal Services as part of her Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowship, sponsored by the Center for Governmental Responsibility and the Center for Career Services.