Rewards of Public Interest Law Lure a Fisherman
18, 2000 -- Joe Geever quit school at the end of
the 11th grade and, like many others in his small fishing
community in California, eventually went to work on the ocean as
a commercial fisherman.
the supply of fish began to dwindle and the off-shore fishing industry
there went into the tank. Geever, by then in his mid-30s, came east
to visit his sister and look for new work. "I'd been kicking
myself for not getting an education as a kid," he recalls,
and he took some courses at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Then, "I just got hooked on it."
thinking a lot about the problems of the fishing industry, he transferred
to the University of Virginia and received his B.A. in economics.
By now set on some kind of public service career, he entered the
University's highly rated law school, because "law school
seemed to me a way to make a difference."
has never deviated from that goal. Last year, because of his commitment
to public service, he was named the recipient of the school's
first Linda A. Fairstein Public Service Fellowship. This May, still
without his high school diploma, he'll receive a law degree
at age 46.
course work has been intense, he says. In the summers he has worked
with the local legal aid society, and in a low-income housing clinic,
and with a lawyer handling civil rights cases. "It's been
rewarding work," he says. "There's a big part of
the population that doesn't understand the law and doesn't
get legal assistance."
has also made time to work as a drug and alcohol detox technician
with the local mental health agency and to organize a self-help
group for addicts in prison in Staunton. "It was offering them
some support from outside," he says. For prisoners, "it's
helpful to know somebody outside cares."
Geever's main public service interest remains linked with fishing
and the water. "I'd been around the ocean since I was
a little kid," he says. This summer he will take a clerkship
with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
in Silver Spring, Md., where he worked last summer on fisheries
law, and he hopes to be able to continue in a position there or
in a related agency.
he says, he would like to be able to help the fishing industry directly.
"In a word, it's in trouble." Fish are depleted from
over-fishing, pollution and coastal habitats impacted by development.
"The Chesapeake Bay is a prime example," Geever says.
"It's a major problem." A long-range hope of his
is to help mobilize fishing communities to become more involved
in environmental issues to protect their areas and their work. "This
is a valuable resource that's being depleted. You just assume
it will be there forever and now species are being threatened with
is happy that the U.Va. law
school has been steadily expanding its offerings in public interest
law and public service clinic opportunities for students. A student-organized
public service conference this year highlighted numerous public-interest
law career paths, from the local to the national level, that alumni
However, the rewards of public service work are not primarily financial,
Geever makes clear. A critical factor enabling him to continue his
studies has been the law school's offering a low-interest,
long-term loan-assistance program for graduates going into public
going to law school with a vision of public service work may find
it tempting not to follow through on that dream," Geever says.
There can be significant debts to pay and lucrative job offers in
other fields. "You have to be realistic that there will be
the sacrifices, he says of his law school experiences, "I wouldn't
trade it for anything."
the need is great. "There are real problems that are going
to take creative solutions."
Geever can be reached at (804) 296-5264 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856