How I Got My Public Interest Job: Stewart Ralphs, Salt Lake Legal Aid Society

In our “How I got my job” feature, we continue to focus on attorneys who work in the public interest field.  One of our alums, Stewart Ralphs, is the Executive Director of the Salt Lake Legal Aid Society.  Below is Stewart’s description of his job and how he got there. 

What do you do? 

Director of Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.

Where are you from and where did you go to law school?

I am from Ferron, Utah and brag that I can “out poor” anyone’s claims to humble origins.  I went to law school at the then- University of Utah, College of Law.  We were not yet the S. J. Quinney school yet.

What kind of activities did you do in law school?

I played a LOT of basketball to stay sane and work off tension.  I also participated in the internship programs.

How did you first make contact with your employer and how did you get this job? 

I did one of my third year internships with Legal Aid Society and got to know the director, Rex Olsen and most of the lawyers.  After graduation, I took a  couple of pro bono cases from Legal Aid, and while I was still out job searching, they had an attorney position open up and both the director and senior attorney called me up asking if I was interested in it.  I have been employed by Legal Aid, in several different positions since then.

What does your typical day involve for you/your work? 

I have my own case load of family law cases, so I usually spend several hours on those cases, but my main responsibility is the administration and fundraising for Legal Aid.  I also spend a significant amount of my time on policy issues with the legislature, bar, court, and other non-profits.

What are the best (and worst, if you want) parts of your job?

Legal Aid clients pay a one-time sliding-scale fee for their divorce/custody case.  Once that is paid, I get to prosecute the case however it needs for an equitable resolution – therefore, the case prosecution is NOT driven by billing and collecting from the client.  I love this “pure” practice of law and to be able to obtain “justice” for my clients, regardless of their financial situation.

What tips and advice do you have job-seeking students and/or alum? 

Get involved in pro bono activities in your community!!!!!  Almost all the lawyers at Legal Aid and Utah Legal Services have interned or volunteered with us.  We tend to hire folks that we have worked with in the past.  Doing pro bono work also allows you to intermingle with more experienced lawyers in your field.  Finally, lawyers have a special responsibility to help those without resources to access our legal systems.  Also, it makes you very proud of the profession in which you have chosen to spend your life.