Alumni Spotlight: Robin B. Wagner (JD ’14)

Wagner is an attorney at Pitt, McGehee Palmer & Rivers

Tell us about your path to law school and the legal profession?

Prior to law school, I had built a successful career in higher education. I worked in university administration, career services and international studies programs. Even though I was rising through the ranks, I enjoyed the work less and less. At the same time (around 2010), I was inspired by the advances occurring in LGBTQ rights and saw how lawyers were playing a leading role in the movement. Witnessing their advocacy moved me and was the impetus for my transition into the legal profession. That said, the law has always been a part of my life as I come from a family of lawyers. My parents are both attorneys and my maternal grandparents graduated from law school back in 1932. 

Why DePaul Law?

My wife (Sharon) and I were working in Chicago and so my choices were the law schools in the city. When I visited DePaul, I was impressed by the commitment and passion of the faculty, staff and students to make the world a better place. I am Jewish and at first I did not know anything about the Vincentians, but DePaul’s Vincentian mission of service and social justice spoke to me and fell in-line with my desire to attend law school. Furthermore, I liked that DePaul Law had a special first-year writing section for public interest students and the College of Law’s outstanding civil rights clinic was a strong selling point as well.

How did the College of Law’s public interest program help prepare you for practice?

By collecting a group of people (faculty, staff and classmates) that really cared about social justice and lawyering for the public good and benefit. This created a very strong and supportive community and gave students like me the opportunity to interact with leading attorneys in our field. For example, I was able to develop a relationship with alumna Karyn Bass Ehler (’05) and we still regularly keep in-touch. In addition, I was able to have amazing experiences such as summer clerkships at Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union. And in my third-year, I was able to clerk at Stowell & Friedman, Linda Friedman’s (’85) firm. This clerkship was a defining moment in my law school experience. The mostly female firm was filled with smart and incredibly fast on their feet attorneys advocating passionately for their clients. I was hooked. I knew then I wanted to go into private practice as a civil rights attorney. 

Tell us about your legal career and practice?

Sharon is a college professor and was hired by the University of Michigan during my third-year of law school. After my graduation, we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. My plan was to work as a judicial clerk for a few years to learn more about the Michigan legal community. I clerked for The Honorable Judith Levy of the United States District Court – Eastern Michigan District, which was a wonderful experience. From there, I searched for a position that would allow me the opportunity to practice civil rights law similar to the experience I had at Stowell & Friedman. After a brief stint in legal aid, I received that opportunity at my current firm, Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers.

Every day I’m advocating on behalf of people who have been wronged and who are in search of justice. While our firm is small, the environment here is fast-paced and focused on finding ways to repair the harm that has been done to our clients. My work has been focused on housing and employment discrimination. I have also worked on cases involving police abuse and the denial of police services to African-American communities.

Why did you and Sharon provide the generous matching gift for last spring’s successful Public Interest Law Summer Scholarship Crowdfunding Challenge?

I believe strongly that summer opportunities provide law students with invaluable experiences that provide the structure for future career success. Even today, pretty much on a weekly basis I draw on experiences and learning moments I had during my summer clerkships. For public interests students doing the greater good, these critical summer experiences are not paid. Therefore, students are forced into a very difficult position of balancing finances with their need to spend a summer in practice. 

DePaul is not a wealthy school. We do not have the resources of a Northwestern University or University of Chicago to fund every student who wants to spend a summer working at a public interest law organization. Sharon and I were fortunate last year to be in a position to make a special gift. In honor of my five-year law school reunion, we made the gift to help inspire my classmates and others in the DePaul Law community to support this worthy cause. We were thrilled with the success of the challenge campaign and the ability to provide more funding for these vital scholarships.

What advice do you have for DePaul Law alumni about supporting the College of Law?

Remember where you came from and the role that DePaul has played in your professional life. We were all once that 1L student searching for opportunities. Whether it is making a gift or simply having coffee with a student to share your wisdom, there are many ways for alumni to make a positive difference. In my time at the College of Law, the alumni of our public interest community were so supportive. Their support and caring still resonates with me and fuels my desire to give back. By doing so, we can build a stronger institution for the next generation of DePaul Law students and alumni.

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