When third-year law student Jack Swiney went to work at the Kanawha County Public Defender’s
office last summer, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I expected it to be quite overwhelming, as generally people in these offices are overworked and underpaid, like firm life without the luxury of the money,” the St. Albans native said.
Instead, he found himself loving the environment, especially the opportunity to interact with clients and make an impact even before graduation.
“You find these people in the worst position they’ve ever been in and you just want to help,” he said. “Working with the public every day was the most rewarding part of the job.”
Swiney will get to continue his public interest work after he graduates from the College of Law, as the WV Fund for Law in the Public Interest recently selected him as the Post Graduate Fellowship Award recipient for 2023. The award includes a paid fellowship for one year of post-graduate employment at one of the Fund’s public interest partner organizations and a bar course stipend. Swiney, 27, hopes to work with a state public defender’s office.
During his time at WVU Law, Swiney had the opportunity to work with two judges. He interned with Hon. Michael J. Aloi in the Northern District of West Virginia and also completed an externship in Putnam County Circuit Court with the Hon. Phillip Stowers. The experiences were transformative, he said, because despite the pressures of their dockets, both judges showed true empathy for everyone they encountered.
“In an adversarial system, I didn’t expect to see such genuine compassion for people every day,” Swiney said. “As someone who has a desire to work with that group, seeing judges who displayed that kind of compassion was really affirming.”
The West Virginia
Fund for Law in the Public Interest, a non-profit organization, funds both
post-graduate fellowships like Swiney’s and summer fellowships for WVU College
of Law students at public-interest entities throughout the state.
Kimble praised Swiney’s selection.
“In his time
here at the WVU College of Law he has displayed a commitment to public interest
law in both his academic approach and his service to Public Interest
Advocates,” Kimble said. “I am certain he will work to make an even better West
Swiney came to WVU Law with undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Anthropology and a Master of Public Administration, all from WVU. He is a member of the Child And Family Advocacy Clinic, the Lugar Trial Association, the Public Interest Advocates, the ADR Society, and OUTlaw.
Swiney said the post-graduate fellowship has made it possible for him to stay in West Virginia.
“Now I have a reason to stay and work in the state I love,” he said. “I am thankful to the Fund for giving me a reason to stay and work for people I care about.”