3L, Sarah Pierce, Attends the Norman Amaker Midwest Public Interest Law Retreat

Iowa Law 3L Sarah Pierce shares encouragement from her experience at a public interest law workshop:

Not long ago, I wrote about the frustrations of being a public interest law student. Well it turns out, all this time I wasn’t alone. Emily Benfer, clinical professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, heard me loud and clear.

Last weekend, Loyola hosted the Norman Amaker Midwest Public Interest Law Retreat. Iowa Law was nice enough to send both me and another law student. The point of the retreat was to “reinvigorate” our passion for social justice. Before the “retreat” I felt beaten down by a hectic 3L year, full nonstop journal board obligations and dwindling career prospects. I was more than a little skeptical about the amount of yoga and Kumbayah it would take to get me feeling “reinvigorated” and positive about my public interest law career. I was wrong.

Emily Benfer ran the retreat and kicked it off by discussing her inspiration. She talked about being a public interest law student, and becoming disillusioned and frustrated during her first year. She thus wanted the retreat to be an opportunity for public interest law students to meet each other and professionals who have done great things in the field of public interest law. She wanted everyone to remember that choosing a career of public interest doesn’t make you peculiar in law school, but rather special. And then, when I thought I couldn’t love her more, she quoted Dr. Seuss.

What followed was a line-up so inspiring it could have made the most corporate-hungry law student choose the socially conscious road less traveled. First up were friends, colleagues, and even the son of the late Norman Amaker. Amaker, the retreat’s namesake, was an incredible civil rights attorney, who represented thousands of protestors, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We also heard from representatives from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and the Civitas ChildLaw Center.

Most inspiring however, was a talk by not an attorney, but rather a future law student: Jovan Mosely. In 1999, when Jovan was 19 years old, Cook County police chained him to a wall and denied him food, water, sleep, and bathroom for two days. They only released Jovan after he signed a confession saying that he threw punches in a fight he hadn’t even seen. He was then imprisoned for six years without a trial, until two female lawyers heard about his case and helped him receive justice. He now talks about his experience and intends to go to law school.

Even with the incredible speakers, the best part of the weekend was connecting with other public interest law students. Just like Iowa Law’s alternative spring break trips, there is nothing more affirming than the opportunity to meet and talk to other similarly inspired students. It reminds you that you’re not alone, you’re doing the right thing, and it can reinvigorate even an old, jaded 3L like myself. I can’t thank enough Emily Benfer and the rest of the planners behind the Amaker Retreat.

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