Advocate: Wayne Law student passionate about labor law, workers rights


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With several family members working in the auto industry, it’s no surprise that 3L Wayne Law student Phillip Keller is passionate about labor law. This past summer, he was awarded a Peggy Browning Fellowship to work at the UAW International in Detroit where he researched a wide variety of legal issues in preparation for litigation and assisted in trying a case before the National Labor Relations Board.   

“Growing up in a household that profited from union wages and benefits has played a large part in me being the first member of my family to earn a bachelor’s degree,” he says.   

“In the last several decades there has been a decline in wages and working conditions which has coincided with a decline in organized labor. I believe it’s massively important for people to be organized and work together to address the issues caused by the growth of incredible wealth inequality in the United States.”    

Keller continued clerking for the UAW after the summer Fellowship came to a close.

“I get to work on unique issues of labor law and interact with incredible, experienced attorneys advocating for working people every day,” he says.   

Keller spent his 2L year interning with the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice in downtown Detroit.   

“It’s an amazing organization that works tirelessly to advocate on behalf of both individual employees in need of legal support and advice, and on behalf of whole communities through litigation aimed at systemic change,” he says. “My experiences were always interesting and exposed me to a wide variety of legal issues at the individual and state level.   

“It was an inspirational experience to be able to support attorneys who practice law to produce the greatest good as opposed to the greatest profit.”

After his 1L year, Keller worked as a student attorney at the Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender in Ann Arbor.

“I enjoyed interacting with clients and inserting a little bit of humanity into an inhumane system,” he says. “It was rewarding to be able to explain the law and the process in a conversational way to give clients a sense of what was happening and allow them to take the maximum amount of control of the process.”

Keller is an executive board member of Wayne Law’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

“I’ve been able to work with fellow students to address issues surrounding inhumane water shutoffs in Detroit, mass incarceration, the protest at Standing Rock, immigrant detention, and others,” he says. “We’ve also provided trainings for Legal Observers who attend protests and actions to ensure the civil rights of participants are protected if law enforcement becomes involved.”

He has also done volunteer work to help bring justice to residents in Flint and Detroit.

“Being from Michigan and living in Detroit, it’s devastating to see the scale of the damage done by both the Flint water crisis and the tax foreclosure crisis in Detroit,” he says. “It can be overwhelming because so many people have been harmed and it seems like nothing an individual can do is enough when the whole system that was supposed to protect people fails massively.

“I was grateful there were avenues for me to contribute as a law student to efforts to remedy these tragedies.”

Keller helped the team at Pitt McGehee, Palmer & Rivers in Royal Oak reach out to Flint residents affected by the water crisis to build a class for a suit to provide relief for those affected and hold the state accountable.

He worked with a group at the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures to draft a city ordinance that would improve access to a tax exemption for low-income households, allowing many people to avoid foreclosure and keep their homes.

“Many people who lost their homes were qualified for the exemption but didn’t complete the process either because they were unaware it existed or the process was too burdensome,” he says.

Keller was drawn to enter the law when he studied the effects of social policy on individuals and communities in his undergrad years at Michigan State University.
“I realized quickly these policies can be a force for good but often create negative or unintended consequences,” he says. “I want to be in a position to affect the outcome of some of these policies and contribute to positive change by using the legal system to help people who are trying to remedy injustices and those typically unable to pursue legal remedies.

“I’m particularly passionate about supporting workers’ rights and organized labor, as well as opposing mass incarceration and police misconduct.”

Keller enjoys the community at Wayne Law.

“I’ve had great professors and developed meaningful friendships and connections with classmates and alumni that will continue long after I graduate,” he says.

A Frankenmuth native who now makes his home in Detroit, Keller collects and plays a variety of musical instruments, and performs in three bands in the Motor City, frequently playing benefit concerts for local causes.