Spotlight on 2011 PILF Grantee, Elizabeth Pearce

By far one of the greatest ways USF Public Interest Law Foundation helps to make an impact in our community is by providing grants to USF Law students who choose to pursue unpaid summer legal work. This past summer, 25 remarkable students were selected to each receive grants of $4,000. We are proud to offer these grants through the generous donations we receive throughout the year as well as through several fundraising events sponsored by USF and PILF.

Our largest fundraising opportunity is the Annual PILF Gala and Auction. This year’s Gala and Auction takes place on November 4th. As the Auction draws nearer, we want to take a moment to introduce our most recent 2011 Summer Grantees in the Q&A’s below.

From Architecture to Criminal Defense: 2L Elizabeth Pearce Opens Up About What Motivated That Career Change.

Elizabeth Pearce lived in New York City before coming to San Francisco for law school.  She was an undergraduate student at Barnard College at Columbia University.  This past summer she worked in the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office in Martinez, CA.


Why did you choose law school, and why USF in particular? 

My undergraduate degree was in architecture, and while I am fascinated by how buildings and urban design shapes our world, I realized that I missed working with people. I believe the law provides a practical way to interact and help people who are most in need. I chose USF on a bit of a whim, I wasn’t planning on leaving the East Coast, but many friends and mentors told me I would love San Francisco. I looked up USF and the more I read about it, the more I knew it was a perfect fit for me – a small, supportive school, with a strong public interest core.

What kind of work did you do this summer?

I worked on motions for various attorneys in the office. My first motion had to do with destruction of evidence, and my second was trying to sever counts against my client so that he can have two separate trials. The attorneys around the office wanted to make sure we got a complete sense of the job, so we also joined them on jail visits, watched preliminary hearings, and even got to help with jury selection.

What do you find most interesting about the work you are doing or the organization you are working for?

Some of our clients have never had someone tell their story or fight for them. Being able to serve this role, by visiting them in jail, hearing their side of the story, and writing motions on their behalf for the court is inspiring and invigorating.

Are you interested in public interest legal work as a career? What sort of law would you like to practice?

This summer allowed me to have a first-hand look into the criminal justice system and the work of a public defender. While there were difficult and challenging days, I hope and plan to continue doing public criminal defense work throughout law school and after I graduate.

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