Fighting for the underdog


U-M Law graduate launches career as a public defender

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

For five years after earning his undergrad degree, Scott Gallagher worked at various jobs in the criminal justice world.

“I even tried to be an addiction counselor,” he says. “But my favorite job was working for public defenders in D.C.—I was an investigator and I realized I wanted to go to law school so I could be like the lawyers I worked for.”

Clearly it was the right choice—when Gallagher graduated in May from the University of Michigan Law School he was honored with the Ralph M. Freeman Scholarship, given out by a trust founded by a longtime federal judge in Detroit. Every year each law school in Michigan gives one Freeman Scholarship award based on the school’s own criteria. The U-M awards the scholarship to a 2L or 3L student who has demonstrated true excellence in the fields of criminal law and procedure. “I could not be more proud and honored to get it,” Gallagher says.

The highlight of Gallagher’s time at MLaw was working at the Juvenile Justice Clinic. “That's where I had the honor and duty of representing kids facing criminal charges—it's a big weight knowing a criminal conviction can change the course of a kid's life,” he says.

“Professor Kim Thomas runs the clinic, and it was amazing to learn from such a badass lawyer. She's the kind of lawyer who fights to stop courts from shackling kids in the courtroom. Even if she knows she's probably going to lose, she fights like an underdog at the championship. That's the kind of lawyer I want to be.”

After his 1L summer, Gallagher worked for the nonprofit Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, doing poverty law on the border.

“I worked for clients in a rural county facing criminal charges, housing clients facing sleazy landlords, clients recovering from a natural disaster, clients dealing with immigration consequences of criminal charges, homeless children seeking better treatment from their school district and many other clients facing issues in the wide spectrum of poverty law,” he says.

During his second summer, Gallagher was back in his native Centennial state, working for the Colorado Public Defender. “I’m from Colorado, I want to be a public defender, and lucky for me, my home state has a whole bunch of the best public defenders in the country,” he says. “It was a dream job for me, and I’m lucky enough to have an offer to start there in October.

“My career goal is to be an effective public defender, listening to my clients and making it uncomfortable every day for the government to mass process people into prison.”

During his time as a Wolverine, Gallagher rounded up student volunteers to help the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission in Lansing. “Basically I bribed students with gummy bears to read and summarize legal documents for a good cause,” he says.

He also was awarded a Certificate of Merit for his outstanding performance in the “Constitutionalism in South Africa” class.

“I have a love for South Africa,” he says. “Before law school I got a master's degree from the University of Cape Town. I did most of the degree remotely while working two jobs in Washington, D.C., but I got to live in Cape Town for about seven months to finish up the master’s.

“My interest is coming full circle,” he adds. “My master's degree was about how we should stop relying so much on criminal punishment. It was good to read and write about the theory—but now, I'm excited to hit the ground fighting.”