MLaw grad has passion for public interest law

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Spending a good part of her early childhood underfoot at her grandfather’s law firm, Dana Leib knew as early as age 12 that Lady Justice was calling her name.

Active in her high school’s debate and mock trial teams in Overland Park, Kan., Leib continued with debate and mock trial through undergrad years at Wesleyan University, and in May graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.

Her passion is public interest law—and as a 2017 Skadden Fellow, she is returning to the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem where she interned last summer.

“It’s an organization filled with people I truly admire doing work I deeply care about, and I’m looking forward to helping them focus specifically on the problem of the Administration for Children’s Services’ use of old foster care records against former foster children in the child welfare system,” she says.

Her fellowship project focuses specifically on current parents who were former foster children, and that population will make up the majority, if not all, of her clients.

“I hope to be able to successfully argue evidentiary motions to prevent the introduction of old—usually mental health—records from when those parents were in foster care themselves as evidence against them in their current cases,” she says. “My goal will be to eventually build up a body of case law that protects the privacy of these records and to create a toolkit for other lawyers to make similar arguments in their cases.”

Leib was drawn to public interest law because it directly addresses systemic problems she wants to work on solving.    

“I knew I wanted to work to alleviate the many legal obstacles that affect vulnerable populations, and the non-profit, direct services approach was the one that made the most sense to me,” she says. “After my internships and clinical experiences, I knew public interest law was the field in which I wanted to work. I enjoy working with individual clients to figure out how to get them what they need from systems that purport to help them but often aren’t really set up to do so.”

She was a student attorney in the Child Welfare Appellate, Child Advocacy Law, Pediatric Advocacy, and Juvenile Justice clinics.

“I enjoyed the opportunities to gain practical experiences and skills in a community that values work outside the classroom as well as inside,” she says. “I really immersed myself in the clinical program, one of my favorite parts of Michigan Law.”

She also was both an associate editor and managing executive editor of the Michigan Journal of Law Reform; and served as a head coach of Future Advocates in Training, an organization that coaches mock trial at Ypsilanti High School.

As lead editor for Oyez, she was responsible for summarizing facts and procedural history of cases when the Supreme Court initially decided to hear them, and for summarizing opinions.

“I’ve really enjoyed this work because the focus is on making the legal language and technical nuances of arguments accessible and informative to a non-legal reader, she says. “I like being a part of a project that is trying to bring the Supreme Court a little closer to the people these decisions affect.”

Leib enjoyed her three years in Ann Arbor. “I love how engaged the Ann Arbor community is—the University and other organizations are always bringing great speakers, film series, and other events to Ann Arbor, and I tried to take advantage of as many as I could,” she says.

“It’s also been really inspiring to see how much the Ann Arbor community is involved in local issues, especially dealing with Flint and in the aftermath of the recent election. It’s a great community to be a part of and to learn from. Also, I would be remiss in not mentioning my deep and abiding affection for the Ann Arbor food and coffee scene, which I will dearly miss.”

In her leisure time, Leib can usually be found with her nose buried in the pages of a good book. “I have a tendency to commit to too many book groups,” she says. “I loved that Ann Arbor has so many independent and used bookstores, and I have a special place in my heart for Literati.

“I also travel as much as I can—I’m trying to get to all 50 states and all seven continents—so I sometimes have to participate in book groups via Skype.”


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