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McGinn makes transition from classroom to courtroom

McGinn makes transition from classroom to courtroom

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On the surface, you wouldn’t think there were a lot of similarities between teaching and being a lawyer. But Colin McGinn, an assistant state public defender at the Milwaukee’s State Public Defender’s office, sees them every day.

“So much of what we do as public defenders is take a complex and archaic system and put it into plain English so people can understand. There’s a teaching element to that,” said McGinn, who has worked as a teacher in both Milwaukee and Ecuador. “Everyone in our office is part teacher, part social worker and part attorney.”

His teaching background has also helped when it comes to speaking in front of juries, McGinn added. “Talking in front of 13 jurors and a judge is a lot easier than talking to 100 students,” he said.

After teaching for six years, McGinn, whose dad worked in the public defender’s office for 35 years, said he was looking for a new challenge.

“I wanted to be close to a segment of the Milwaukee County community that’s most in need of empathy and legal services,” he said. “It feels good when clients or their families thank you or they leave your office happy. That’s what keeps you going.”

Robert Dvorak, a lawyer at Halling & Cayo S.C., pointed out that since January, McGinn has tried five cases before a jury, none of which resulted in a conviction for his clients.

“Colin demonstrates an understanding of his role in an adversary system and executes it exceptionally well. His sense of what is just and fair, and his instinct for what is either fact or something else, has been vindicated by every jury that heard from him,” he said. “It’s attorneys like Colin that keep the criminal justice system from straying too far off course.”

As a public defender, McGinn carries a heavy caseload, involving a variety of cases ranging from drug possession to assault.

“I’ve only been doing this a year, but it’s incredible what has already crossed my desk,” he said. “I like that every day is different, but that uncertainty is a double-edged sword, since the schedule is unpredictable and some clients have a lot of uncertainty in their lives and you need to work with all of that too.”


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