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3L student uses time in law school to prepare for career in public interest field

November 1, 2016 | Students

A passion for social justice is the driving force behind much of what 3L Marla Trinidad does on a day to day basis. From volunteering with local organizations to interning with the Legal Aid Society of New York City to serving as the new executive director for the Moritz College of Law’s Pro Bono Research Group (PBRG), a large amount of her time is dedicated to helping others.

“I’ve said since before law school I was always interested in helping other people and the community. I’m now getting a chance to pursue a career in that area,” she explained.

Trinidad knew from an early age that she wanted to work in a field that would allow her to serve society in a meaningful way. A high school social justice class was the key to, as she put it, turn “passion into action,” inspiring her to consider a career in the legal field.

Knowing she eventually wanted to study law, Trinidad opted to immerse herself in other disciplines during her undergraduate studies. A liberal arts major, she studied topics such as classical literature and globalization. She also dove headfirst into philanthropic work, joining organizations like Buckeyethon and Pay it Forward here at Ohio State.

“I thought to myself ‘If I’m going to dedicate my life to the law, I want to learn more about my community, so that I could better understand how to apply what I would learn in law school.’ So I stepped into work with philanthropic, nonprofit student organizations,” she said.

When it came time to begin looking at law schools, Trinidad said the Justice for Children Clinic here at Moritz was a big reason she decided to stay to pursue another degree from the university.

“Having gone to Ohio State for undergrad, I fell in love with the campus and the Columbus community even more than I had growing up here. But what made Moritz really stand out for me was the Justice for Children Clinic, I’m really interested in working with juveniles and Moritz is one of the few law schools that has a very strong program focused on children-centered practice,” she said.

In the two years that she has been here, Trinidad has made sure to take advantage of every opportunity to gain experience in a wide array of public interest areas outside of just juvenile-related topics. From volunteering with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus to interning with the Legal Aid Society in New York City this past summer and now serving as executive director of PBRG, she’s gained a great deal of experience in a variety of areas, allowing her to tailor her skill set to benefit her as she pursues work in the public sector after graduation.

“At the Legal Aid Society in New York City, I worked on housing and public benefits issues, and it was an example of why I love public interest so much, because they actually allow you, from my experience, to work with direct service,” she explained.

“I was able to work with the clients,  make the phone calls,  follow up with them, and do correspondence and legal research and writing, but I got more invested in the work that I was doing. Specifically, I was able to work on one case throughout the whole summer. It was a long-term project and it was a disabilities case. I worked on interviewing the client and relevant witnesses and I acquired all of the medical records and went through them. The issue was the client was way too young to be on disability, but had been on disability as a child and then 18 hit,  got kicked off and so we were working to get benefits back. The day before the end of my internship, I actually got to represent our client in front of the social security judge, of course under the supervision of the practicing attorney, but she let me ask and answer any relevant questions. It was nerve-wracking, but very exciting. We think it was successful, but we won’t hear the results for another couple of weeks.”

Trinidad brings that same enthusiasm and drive to her work as the head of the PBRG. Her goal for the upcoming year, which happens to be the group’s 20th year here at the law school, she said, is not only to raise awareness about the work they do researching questions for pro bono attorneys across the state, but ensuing students with an interest in public service have the opportunity to gain experience in an area they have a passion for.

“PBRG gives students the opportunity to work with practitioners in the public interest field and to do more than just put pen to paper. It’s actually working in an area of the law. They’re all civil practice issues, but we try really hard to pair students with interests in pro bono work like wills, trusts, and estates or family law or juvenile law, with those issues or practitioners in those areas so that so they can learn a little bit more about an area they might be interested in,” she said.

“I really care about this organization. When I first joined as a 2L I was really shocked I hadn’t heard of it before because it’s a really unique opportunity, and I care about students who are interested in public interest and I want to make sure that they know that this is an opportunity that exists and it seemed like being in this leadership position would be the best way to ensure its growth.”