TU Law's Public Interest Board support and skills-development for future lawyers
As Madison Cataudella (LLM ’19, JD ’19) walked across the Lorton Performance Center stage in December 2019 to receive her LLM and JD degrees, she looked forward to a career as a lawyer at CharneyBrown, but also backward to three enriching years as a law student. At The University of Tulsa College of Law, 18 student organizations give budding lawyers like Cataudella opportunities to gain new knowledge, skills and a network of friends across diverse areas, including animal rights, LGBTQ+ legal matters and Indian law.
It was at law school that Cataudella discovered an interest in oil, gas and environmental issues. The expertise she gained through her studies in these areas will prove useful at Charney Brown, where she will focus on researching and drafting title opinions as well as helping clients prepare submissions to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Beyond the classroom, Cataudella’s experience as a member of the Public Interest Board (PIB) and other student organizations was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a rewarding legal career.
“Getting involved with TU Law’s student organizations equips one to practice law,” Cataudella noted. In addition to her involvement with PIB, she was active with the Board of Advocates, Women’s Law Caucus, Phi Alpha Delta, the Student Bar Association (SBA) and REELS (Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Society). “With each group you join, you acquire new knowledge and get exposed to fresh ideas. Collectively, you are able to experience facets of life and the law that might normally not be available to you. That can make you a better lawyer because there is a large chance you’ll be advocating for a client with whom you might not have a lot in common. Additionally, being able to learn from others and draw on more than just your own thoughts and experiences can broaden and strengthen your arguments and ideas, especially as a young lawyer.”
Cataudella observed that these organizations provide experience in event planning, contacting and coordinating people, setting up logistics, communicating with students and faculty, planning and handling budgets, and meeting deadlines. “All these skills are so useful out there in the professional world. Not to mention getting accustomed to communicating with people. It is hard to advocate for your client or bring ideas to your firm when you do not know how to speak effectively.”
Public Interest Board: Helping underserved and underrepresented Tulsans
For one of these groups, PIB, creating opportunities for law students to take part in community service and pro bono work is at the heart of its mission. Cataudella joined the board soon after beginning law school, and she served as its president from May through December 2019. “PIB’s goal is to assist the underserved and underrepresented people in Tulsa,” she noted. “We also strive to develop in TU Law students an enduring commitment to the community through forging strong relationships. We help students step outside their comfort zones and realize they can do more.”
City Lights Foundation of Tulsa is one of the nonprofit organizations PIB members regularly assist. In fact, it is involvement with this nonprofit’s Night Light program that Cataudella credits for finding the inspiration to pursue her own philanthropic drive. After completing a bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of Arkansas, Cataudella returned home to Tulsa. At the urging of her step-father, she joined him at one of Night Light’s Thursday evening gatherings beneath an Interstate 244 overpass in West Tulsa.
“I started volunteering with Night Light in January 2016 and I’ve never stopped going back,” Cataudella remarked. “Almost every Thursday since then I’ve been under the bridge with an incredible group of people who all have a servant’s heart for our community. This hands-on experience transformed my desire to help people into a real passion.”
Tyler Parette, a program manager with City Lights Foundation, observed that “Madison’s tenure as a volunteer staff member of Night Light Tulsa left a profound impact on our guests and volunteers. We are grateful for her dedication to those we serve, and we are confident in her ability and drive to advocate for those who find themselves in the margins.
“More broadly, the service of TU Law’s PIB has provided for the direct needs of our guests, and it is our sincere hope that PIB members will serve the interests of those experiencing homelessness for the remainder of their careers. Systemic change requires all of us, and we’re happy that the PIB is part of our growing community.”
PIB’s extensive and varied community service
Throughout the year, each of PIB’s directors selects an external organization or cause to support. “We always start with our directors’ passions,” Cataudella said. “We ask them: what comes to mind when you think of community service?”
Some PIB projects carry over from year to year, while new ones regularly arise. As an example of the latter, on Indigenous Peoples Day in fall 2019, PIB members went to Tulsa’s Guthrie Green to volunteer with local Native American groups. That opportunity was sparked by Julie Combs, a PIB director who is also the president of TU Law’s Native American Law Student Association.
In recent years, other PIB efforts have included helping at Tulsa’s annual Expungement Expo and traveling to a local elementary or middle school on Constitution Day to educate youngsters about the origins of the United States and its foundational laws. December 2019 saw the group partner with the SBA on its first Angel Tree. This entailed members buying and wrapping 150 gifts for children in need.
One of PIB’s annual signature initiatives is organizing the incoming law students’ service day, which is part of TU Law’s Foundations of Legal Study orientation. In August 2019, this encompassed five placements across the city, including the John 3:16 Mission, Women in Recovery and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
Beyond Opioid Litigation
In December 2019, PIB charted new waters for the group and the College of Law by convening the Beyond Opioid Litigation panel. Organized by Cataudella and Combs, this multi-stakeholder education and networking event brought together medical staff, attorneys, courthouse clerks, judges and people who had personal experience with opioid litigation and how their own or family members’ lives have been affected.
The creation of this unique symposium entailed a partnership between PIB and Tulsa County District Court Judge Linda Morrissey and local attorney Joel Wohlgemuth. “Madison and Julie were instrumental in generating interest at the law school and throughout the community,” noted Judge Morrissey. “They worked diligently with Joel and me to plan the event, and on the day, there was an overflow crowd of community leaders, judges, attorneys and students.”
Wohlgemuth added, “The PIB board really broke ground from the standpoint of format and substance. The event was led by a panel of true experts from the judiciary, medical profession and the bar, and it remains a matter of discussion in and outside of the College of Law. This was a step well beyond other symposia and it established a strong precedent for future PIB projects.”
“This panel was one of the most significant achievements of my career because of the grassroots approach to educating those on the front lines with knowledge to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate opioid addiction in Oklahoma,” remarked Morrissey. Noting that the program’s success was largely attributable to Cataudella and Combs’ leadership, she concluded: “The legal community is fortunate to have these two young women in our ranks.”
Do you have a commitment to community well-being and want to earn your JD from a Top 100 law school? Then consider applying to The University of Tulsa College of Law, where you will receive a high-quality education and be able to get involved in a wide variety of student organizations.
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