More Law School Students Choosing Public Interest Path

Shelby County Asst. Public Defenders Bill Robilio (standing) and Phyllis Aluko (center) meet with new law interns.
Shelby County Asst. Public Defenders Bill Robilio (standing) and Phyllis Aluko (center) meet with new law interns.

Defending poor people accused of crimes. It’s not the career path you’d imagine most aspiring young attorneys would pursue. But increasingly,  law students are choosing public interest practices for internship experience.

This trend is consistent with research on millennials that shows this generation is generally not as driven by money as their parents’ generation.  Rather, millennials are often drawn to careers that make the world a better place.

“I am lucky to have been born into the position I am.” That’s Ashley Geno, a third year law student from the University of Memphis School of Law.  She’s a Fall intern with the Shelby County Public Defender.  It’s the only internship she applied for this semester.

“I come from a family of doctors. I was always going to be able to go to undergrad. I was always going to be able to go to graduate school. I know a lot of people who need a public defender come from poor backgrounds, have mental illness or little education.  I should show my appreciation for the privilege of practicing law by helping those who need it most.”

This week, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office welcomed Geno and three other new interns. They join three returning volunteers and three law clerks. This summer, the office hosted twelve new interns.

Supervising attorney and internship coordinator Phyllis Aluko says she’s always surprised and pleased with the interest the public defender’s office receives from law students.  Particularly, in recent years, she’s noticed that the number and quality of the applicants have steadily increased.

During the summer, the office also typically draws attention from law schools across the country.  This summer, the office selected two interns from New York City.  In the past, the program has attracted interns from as far away as Great Britain.

“We are the largest indigent defense program in the region, ” said Aluko.  “It has a lot to do with our ability to attract quality applicants.”

Listen to this podcast about whether Public Interest Law is right for you.

Visit our partner Gideon’s Promise for information on its summer law clerk program.

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