Working in the Public Interest is a student-run conference at the UGA School of Law. Every spring public interest law students bring practitioners from around the world to Athens, Georgia to speak about pressing issues of the day in public interest law. The purpose of WIPI is to create a forum where public interest law students can bring the issues that matter to them to the table. Furthermore, organizers and attendees of the conference are given great networking opportunities with professionals in various fields of public interest law. 

Entirely student organized, WIPI seeks to bring together eminent practitioners in their respective fields, students, and faculty to discuss practical approaches to lawyering that promote social justice and human rights for all. The Conference seeks to highlight dynamic, creative ways to combat social injustice through the vehicle of the law. WIPI is committed to institutionalizing a public interest law conference in the Southeast. We feel the social history, political climate, and economic conditions of the Southeast are unique, and we hope that by providing a forum to address persistent social injustices we may get one step closer to resolving some of the major public interest law issues in the Southeast.

Email us at wipiconference@gmail.com.


Advisor:  Associate Professor Alexander W. Scherr

Executice Director Dana Leader dml12294@uga.edu
Logistics Director Katie Wroten knw25317@uga.edu
Hospitality Director Grace Liu graceliu@uga.edu


Conference Information

The 12th Annual Working in the Public Interest (WIPI) conference will shine a light on current social issues affecting the law and potential solutions that the law can offer in social injustice situations. Key topics to be explored during the event’s three panels include: issues surrounding vulnerable persons in custody, expanding access to justice through community lawyering, and healthcare access and disability rights.

Francys Johnson will present the keynote address at 2:20 p.m. Mr. Johnson is a recognized as a seasoned civic leader and fights to eliminate the burden of inadequate education, poverty, racism, and homophobia as state president of the Georgia NAACP.

The event is free for members of the UGA community. For attorneys, three continuing legal education credits are available at a total cost of $75. The fee for all other entrants is $10. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Larry Walker Room, Fourth Floor of Dean Rusk Hall, University of Georgia School of Law, Athens, Georgia


Continuing Legal Education Credits (CLE) Available

This event offers three hours of regular CLE credit. To receive CLE credits attorneys must register for the entire conference.



2017 Conference Schedule

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Larry Walker Room, Fourth Floor of Dean Rusk Hall, University of Georgia School of Law, Athens, Georgia

  • 9:00-9:30: Breakfast and Registration
  • 9:30-10:40: Panel 1: Vulnerable Persons in Custody
  • 10:50-12:00: Panel 2: Expanding Access Through Community Lawyering
  • 12:00-1:00: Lunch
  • 1:00-2:10 Panel 3: Healthcare Access and Disability Rights
  • 2:20-3:30 Keynote: Francys Johnson, President of Georgia NAACP

Panel Descriptions

Vulnerable Persons in Custody

Vulnerable persons face numerous issues when they enter custody. Panelists will cover prison, jail, and detention center issues with a focus on individuals who may be particularly vulnerable in these settings, including LGBTQ persons, undocumented persons, and those living in poverty.

Moderator: Russell Gabriel, Director, Criminal Defense Practicum, University of Georgia School of Law


Jamie Roberts; Public Defender, Troup County Public Defender’s Office

Rachel Grossman; Paralegal, Economic Justice, LGBT Rights & Special Litigation, Southern Poverty Law Center

Leanne Purdum, Human Geographer and GIS Analyst, University of Georgia School of Geography

Expanding Access Through Community Lawyering

Community lawyering can lead to expanded access to justice. Panelists who have successfully used community lawyering to get results will explain their work and demonstrate what determined, creative public interest lawyers can accomplish.

Moderator: Christine Scartz, Managing Attorney, Family Violence Clinic, University of Georgia School of Law


Morgan Kauffman; Staff Attorney, Health Law Unit, Atlanta Legal Aid

Tirien Steinbach; Executive Director, East Bay Community Law Center

Diane Park; Undocumented Student Alliance at University of Georgia

Healthcare Access, Disability Rights, and Olmstead Advocacy

An overview of the past, present, and future of healthcare access and disability rights law. Panelists will cover topics ranging from deinstitutionalization to the intersection of transgender rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Olmstead decision.  This panel was organized in conjunction with the University of Georgia Institute on Human Development and Disability (IHDD).

Moderator: Elizabeth Weeks, J. Alton Hosch Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law


Susan Jamieson; University of Georgia IHDD, Attorney (Retired), Atlanta Legal Aid

Talley Wells; University of Georgia IHDD, Director, Disability Integration Project, Atlanta Legal Aid

Leslie Lipson; Of Counsel, Georgia Advocacy Office

Ezra Young; Director of Impact Litigation, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund


The WIPI Conference was founded by UGA Law Students in 2005. Kelly James, Rakesh Parekh, Heidi Taylor, and Vanessa Volz teamed up to develop a conference proposal. Dean Rebecca H. White of the UGA School of Law graciously offered to support the endeavor and WIPI was born. The first annual WIPI Conference was held in April of 2006, and former Senator John Edwards served as the inaugural keynote speaker.

Past WIPI Conferences and Panel Research Papers (2015 Panel Research Papers forthcoming)

WIPI Awards

In 2007, the WIPI Executive Board established the Milner S. Ball Lifetime Achievement Award to honor practitioners that have dedicated their careers to public interest work. The award is named for Professor Ball, who founded UGA's Public Interest Practicum and inspired many UGA students to pursue their interests in public interest law.


2014 - Stephen Bright, President and Senior Counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights
2012 - Don Keenan, Founder, Keenan's Kids Foundation
2011 - Doug Ammar, Executive Director of Georgia Justice Project
2010 - John Whithead, President and Founder of the Rutherford Institute
2009 - J.L. Chestnut, Civil Rights Advocate 
2008 - Phyllis Holmen, Executive Director, Georgia Legal Services Program
2007 - Prof. Milner S. Ball, Caldwell Professor of Constitutional Law, UGA, & Founder of the UGA Law School Public Interest Practicum

The WIPI Executive board also created the WIPI Student Achievement Award to honor law students who, through their work in public interest, made a significant difference in the lives of the indigent or under-served. Candidates for the award should be current law students, who did not receive compensation or monetary reward for their efforts. Work performed in clinics, internships, and externship for class credit is acceptable. Please send your nominations for both awards to wipiconference@gmail.com.


2012 - Touch Thouk, 3L, University of Saint Thomas School of Law
2011 - Emma Hetherington, 3L, University of Georgia School of Law, Co-Founder Public Interest Law Council
2010 - Nikki Thanos, 3L, Loyola Univeristy College of Law in New Orleans Louisiana
2009 - Rebecca Williford, 3L, University of North Carolina, President of Disability Law Association.
2008 - Steve Weyer and Terri Porter, Co-Chairs of EPIC 2008, Inspiration Awards, Emory Law School
2007 - Cliff Williams, 3L, Georgia State University College of Law and Georgia Innocence Project Intern


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