The Executive Board of the Public Legal Services Society at McGeorge School of Law works to engage students in meaningful public assistance and public policy-related legal work. (From left to right) Megan Shaw, Alek Kocher, and Kirsten Weber pose for a photo in the back row of the image. Winnie Ellerman, Alexis Martinez, Katherine Van Horn, and Kristale Chaney pose for a photo in the front row of the image.

The Public Legal Services Society (PLSS) at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law invites the university community to the organization’s annual Spring Celebration Event on Friday, April 14 from 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Founded in 1990 at McGeorge, the mission of PLSS is to advocate for social justice by supporting students and recent graduates pursuing careers that serve the public interest. Most public interest internships are unpaid; PLSS provides modest grants to help students defray living expenses while they volunteer as summer interns.

PLSS depends on the support of alumni and community members to fund the summer grants. All proceeds from the Spring Celebration Event will go to funding the public interest work of students. In order to qualify for the Summer Grant Program, students must fulfill a minimum of 15 hours of community service throughout the school year at various community organizations. Donate to the PLSS Summer Grant Program.

Learn more about the impact of the program from previous grant recipients below.

Ilana Shoyket – United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Ilana Shoyket, a third-year law student, interned last summer as a judicial extern for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In this position, Shoyket assisted in the Office of Staff Attorneys in San Francisco. Some of her assignments included researching and preparing cases to present to oral panels.

Shoyket said that the grant was beneficial to her because she would not have been compensated for her work without the grant.

“This grant is extremely helpful to students to make sure that, if the public sector is where they want to work, that they can do that without having financial problems come up, because otherwise they would not be getting paid for their hard summer work,” Shoyket said.

Shoyket is also the former community service outreach chair of PLSS and is currently on the executive board. Shoyket says that the organization was a way to meet other students with the same career goals as her.

April La Torre – Office of the Public Defender in Hawai’i

Third-year law student April La Torre remembers joining PLSS when all her law school classes were virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was looking for community, and I knew that I wanted to go into public interest law,” La Torre said. La Torre found this community through PLSS.

La Torre is currently on the executive board of PLSS.  Last year, she served as the vice president.

Over the summer, the grant assisted La Torre with her move to Hawai’i, to work at the Office of the Public Defender. She worked primarily in the appeals division, writing writs of certiorari for the Supreme Court, and assisted the felony unit.

“The grant is extremely important because it is easy to come into law school and pursue a path that will have immediate financial gain, such as private law,” La Torre remarked. “The grant is an easier way for students to access public interest internships.”

Alek Kocher – California Department of Water Resources

Alek Kocher, a second-year law student, spent last summer working in the Legal Counsel’s Office at the California Department of Water Resources. The experience provided him with an introduction to public interest law.

Kocher, who currently serves as the vice president of PLSS, joined the organization to pursue his interest in government law. He says that the opportunity to apply for the summer grant program was another incentive to get involved.

“The summer grant allowed me to be able to take an unpaid position without worrying about rent or groceries and be able to just focus on my job,” Kocher explains.

He described the funds as a stress reliever. Kocher is grateful to all the donors who have contributed to the grant program.

“It is so helpful in ways that unless you are in the position of getting the grant it can be hard to understand how meaningful it is,” Kocher said.

Elizabeth Griswold – Sacramento County Office of the Public Defender

When third-year law student Elizabeth Griswold came to McGeorge, she was drawn to public interest work.

“I came to law school because I knew I wanted to do public legal services of some variety, and the Public Legal Services Society seemed like a great place to get more involved in that,” Griswold said.

Last summer, Griswold had an opportunity to represent indigent clients through an internship in the Felony Trial Division at the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office. There, she gained valuable experience conducting research as well as writing and arguing motions in court.

Law school is a career change for Griswold, who is both a wife and mother. Receiving the grant has offset some of her family’s expenses and enabled her to accept an unpaid internship.  Internships in public service areas are traditionally volunteer positions.

“The grant is very helpful for those of us who come to law school and want to pursue careers that we feel are going to better the world,” she said.

Kirsten Weber – Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office

Second-year law student Kirsten Weber currently serves as one of the co-vice presidents of PLSS.

“I joined because I am a huge fan of advocacy and public service,” Weber explained. “I wanted to work in public service, so I figured this is where I’d fit.”

Last summer, Weber had the opportunity to work at the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. Over the duration of her internship, she gained valuable experience observing trial and preliminary proceedings, working on dismissals of misdemeanor cases, and reading “jail mail.”

Weber is thankful for the grant, as it assisted her in paying for housing and gas in the Humboldt area.

“Thank you to the donors for giving me the ability to afford an internship in an area that is really difficult to afford and for giving me the opportunity to have my foot in that legal community and field,” Weber said.

Angela Fuentes – Sacramento County Office of the Public Defender

Third-year law student Angela Fuentes joined PLSS during her first year of law school because the mission of the organization strongly resonated with her.

“I wanted to use this privilege of achieving a higher education to give back to my community and be a resource for others, and I felt like PLSS already provided opportunities for students to do that through community service events,” Fuentes said.

Last summer, Fuentes worked at the Sacramento County Office of the Public Defender as a certified law clerk, which gave her daily opportunities to represent clients in court and on the record. Fuentes also regularly interviewed clients and negotiated with the District Attorney’s Office.

Fuentes said that the summer grant assisted in alleviating the burden of paying summer living expenses. It also helped her to build a court-appropriate wardrobe, since she was speaking on the court record every day.

“I know that a lot of students would not be able to partake in these nonpaid positions without grants such as the PLSS,” Fuentes remarked. “I was able to focus on working full time at the Public Defender’s Office, really focusing on these practical lawyering skills and making connections to the community, without worrying about working a second job to pay for necessities.”

Donate to PLSS Summer Grant Program.

For more information about McGeorge School of Law, visit our website.

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