Career Counselor: Law adviser guides students pursuing public service work

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Jill Roberts studied sociology in undergraduate school, she was struck by the different forms of inequality in society.

“I thought the best way to address some of those issues would be to become a lawyer and to fight for the most vulnerable clients,” she says.

Earning her J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law, she focused on public interest law and public service.

“I believe everyone deserves equal access to justice to ensure their legal rights are protected, regardless of where they are from, income level, education level, or language skills,” she says.

She completed a post-grad judicial clerkship at the Executive Office for Immigration Review, Detroit Immigration Court through the U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General’s Honors Program.

“This was a tough job for me,” she says. “I saw so many unrepresented immigrants and wanted to be advocating for them. Instead, part of my job was writing removal/deportation orders. It was a good experience to work in-depth with immigration laws, to challenge myself with research and writing, and to learn about issues facing people around the world.” 

Roberts worked as a litigator in Chicago for more than six years, practicing family, housing, and criminal records law at Cabrini Green Legal Aid. She also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago representing clients living in poverty in multiple areas of law as part of the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children.

“Working in legal aid is so rewarding because of the clients and their gratitude. For many this was the first time anyone had heard their story, let alone stood up for them,” she says. “I was proud to be the vehicle to help children receive special education services, to keep families housed, to clear criminal backgrounds to allow people to move forward with their lives, and to maintain connections between parents with their children.”

Moving back to her native Michigan in 2015, Roberts joined the Michigan State College of Law Career Services Office where she is an adjunct professor and Assistant Director for Career Development, working to cultivate the next generation of lawyers.

“I particularly like working with law students and recent graduates to help them achieve their goals of working in a public interest career or incorporate pro bono service into their work. Doing so also allows me to stay true to my goals and values of public service,” she says.

“Public service legal careers are difficult to navigate and the process can be frustrating, so I enjoy being a resource that can guide them through the thick of it. I also enjoy staying connected to the public interest legal community and finding out about new opportunities to serve the public.”

She works extensively on the MSU Law externship program, which through this summer is exclusively at nonprofit, government, or court placements.

“I encourage students to be strategic with externships and to be thinking about future career options,” she says. “This summer we have 107 students at 75 different sites 22 different states plus D.C. as well as one foreign country. Placement sites vary from District Courts in Michigan to Federal Courts; Prosecutor and Public Defender offices from Oregon to Indiana; United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals to Legal Services of South Central Michigan.”

While living in the Windy City, Roberts was a regular volunteer with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and active in the Chicago area legal aid community as part of the Chicago Bar Association Legal Aid Committee, Illinois Legal Aid Online stakeholder committee, and Cook County Tenant Advocates consortium. Now, she volunteers weekly with Michigan Legal Help to chat with pro se litigants obtaining legal information to help them move forward with their case.

A native of Frankenmuth, where her parents still reside, Roberts makes her home in Okemos.

“I like being back in Michigan and closer to family after nearly 10 years in Chicago,” she says. “And although I’ve yet to make it to an MSU sporting event, I do like the energy of a university. I’ve enjoyed many of the area walking trails, Arts Night Out events, and shows at the Wharton.”

Passionate about travel, she has visited all seven continents and has served as a People to People Student Ambassadors delegation leader, chaperoning junior high and high school students on 2-3-week long international trips. 

“There’s something wonderful about meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, and trying new things,” she says.

Roberts has now thrown her hat in the ring for election to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, a nine-member panel that upholds the Code of Judicial Conduct.

“I believe there must be oversight at all levels of government, including the judiciary,” she says. “Judges directly impact people’s lives and they should only do so within the bounds of the law. There is enough injustice in the world, the court system should be a place where everyone has access to be heard and is provided due process.”
 

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