Funk & Associates is pleased to announce that the winner of the Spring 2020 Funk Law Student Scholarship is Margaret (Maggie) Bott from the Mauer School of Law at Indiana University Bloomington. Her journey from non-profits to law school can be found below.
My motivation to study law stems from my active role at nonprofits in my city, Bloomington, Indiana. Before law school, I spent much of my time and energy volunteering or working at two organizations that I believe in: Middle Way House and New Leaf New Life. By working for my community with the goal of empowering individuals and families who are facing hardship and violence, I found my inspiration to attend law school and earn a JD degree to help vulnerable people in a powerful way as a public defender.
My first meaningful experience at a nonprofit was at Middle Way House, a local domestic violence shelter. I began to volunteer with this essential organization during my sophomore year of college. After two years of growing and learning as a volunteer, I accepted a job in the shelter as a Resident Advocate. At Middle Way House, I experienced warm, happy moments, like when residents moved out of shelter to a house of their own, or when a single mother was granted a protective order that made her and her family feel safe. Though the joyful aspects of my job in shelter did happen regularly, many of my clients faced a long series of hardships. Many times, this was due to the unfair reality that my former clients were up against a complicated legal system that seems to be stacked against them. This system continues to contribute to a cycle that keeps victims of domestic violence from leading safe and prosperous lives.
I saw this cycle turn relentlessly when my clients sought legal help. Because my clients were primarily disadvantaged women, they were often not taken seriously in the criminal justice system. They struggled to find a solution or justice for the abuse to which they were victims. This lack of justice and accountability for abusers often put individuals back into the same abusive situation or an equally unsafe situation. When I am a lawyer, I will believe victims of domestic abuse and show them empathy while I represent them and advocate for their safety through the law. I am studying the law because I am confident that I will change the course of many lives by strongly representing the reality of domestic violence survivors, particularly indigent survivors.
Because I saw many of my clients at Middle Way House become entangled in the criminal justice system, I became interested in another nonprofit in Bloomington, New Leaf New Life. New Leaf New Life serves people who are currently or formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. I started as an assistant for Women’s Think Tank, a participant led group in the Monroe County Jail that resembles a support group. Currently, I lead Women’s Medium Security Re-entry Collective and Men’s Self-Care, which are groups at the jail where we share community resources and collaborate to create plans for when the men and women are released from jail. This experience has humanized jail for me; it is no longer an unfamiliar concept that I do not have to think about. With New Leaf New Life, I make connections with real people who are incarcerated and must spend all their time squished into an overcrowded cell without privacy, proper medical care, nutritional food, or mental health services. By leading these groups, I give the participants an hour and a half where they are heard and treated like what they are: human beings. I have learned important skills by leading this group, but the most valuable take away is that everyone deserves a fair chance in the court room, and throwing people in jail is not to be taken lightly. Because I have seen the horror that is jail and have gotten to know many prisoners, I desire to study law so I may become an attorney that will withhold my biases, my fears, and my hesitations so that I can help and defend people from all walks of life.
My involvement with Middle Way House and New Leaf New Life informed my decision to attend law school. After many hours of working with and for people in my community, I saw the systematic inequalities and seemingly never-ending cycles that vulnerable people face within the legal system. I realized that I have the motivation and the ability to attend law school to fight for the average person, and I am grateful that my life went down a path that led to law school. While studying at IU Maurer, I have honed my career goals; I aspire to become a public defender. I believe this is an appropriate career for me because I want to serve the people that are most vulnerable in the criminal justice system, and I believe indigent clients are that group of people. After graduation, I intend to be a zealous advocate for individuals who cannot afford a private attorney as everyone deserves a fair shot in the court room, no matter their crimes. I am working towards this career goal by working my 1L summer at the public defender’s office in Memphis, Tennessee. I am excited to learn directly from public defenders to leave law school more prepared to effectively serve indigent clients.
My passion for the legal profession comes from real world experience in the human services field. I saw a great need for quality lawyers for survivors of domestic violence, people who come from poverty, individuals battling addiction, and other vulnerable situations, and I felt compelled to study law so I could do something for people who cannot afford a private attorney.
My law school experience has made it clear to me that I should become a public defender to help indigent clients who deserve someone on their side.