Miami Scholars (L to R) Paul Nunez, Steven Strickland, Trinity Jordan, Caroline McGee, Valerie Toth, Erin Evashevski, Erin Fitzgerald and Alie Rothman with guest speaker Sharon Langer, JD ’79 (center), Director of Development, Disability Independence Group
The Miami Public Interest Scholars were treated to an inspiring talk from trailblazer and public interest advocate Sharon Langer, JD ’79, at their recent monthly lunch meeting.
After several years in private practice, Langer served as Executive Director of Dade Legal Aid from 1986 to 2014, where she oversaw a team of over 30 attorneys who assisted vulnerable families with legal problems ranging from custody and guardianship to domestic violence. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work with children, women, and victims of domestic violence and was the first Legal Aid attorney to serve on the Florida Bar Board of Governors.
Upon her “retirement” earlier this year, Ms. Langer took on the job of director of development at the Disability Independence Group, a Miami-based, non-profit legal advocacy center for individuals living with disabilities.
When speaking about her experiences at Miami Law and her path as an attorney, Langer shared that her law degree has allowed her to be a change agent and to reinvent herself along the way. “Law is the most powerful degree you can get,” she said. “We have the power to even the playing field for our clients.”
While at Legal Aid, Langer started Put Something Back, a program that matches private attorneys with pro bono opportunities. She shared with the Miami Scholars the importance of giving back to the community even as an attorney in private practice. “I see the best part of being a lawyer is giving a voice to the voiceless,” she said, “and this can happen whether you go into public service or not.”
When discussing the need for more funding and support of civil legal services, Langer pointed out that an average of only one in every 10,700 clients has their needs met through Legal Aid or Legal Services. She spoke of the call for a “Civil Gideon,” which would provide for the right to counsel for indigent clients in civil cases. She noted that the United States is one of the only advanced countries in the world that does not have such legal protections. The name “Civil Gideon” comes from the 1963 landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright which provided for a right to counsel for indigent clients in criminal cases.
Langer wrapped up her remarks by suggesting that although the legal profession has advanced since she graduated from Miami Law, there is still more to do. “There is so much more discrimination out there for you to fix,” she told the Miami Scholars. “Once you walk out of law school with that ticket, that degree, you have the power to make change.”