When Marsha Mansfield decided to become a lawyer, she was taking an unexpected career turn.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, she went on to teach for four years before questioning if a change was needed.
Mansfield read the book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” and learned from a personality test that her talents were best suited for work in the law.
“I decided to take the LSAT and immediately started studying,” Mansfield said. “After doing well, I applied to law school and never looked back.”
Mansfield’s first job after law school — at a plaintiff’s litigation firm — helped shape her career. Later, her desire to have more court experience led her to become a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she teaches family law and supervises students in the clinic.
“With my teaching background I thought I was well suited to represent the best interest of children in family law matters,” Mansfield said.
Her primary goal today remains making sure the justice system is open to all. She also aims to have close relationships with her students.
Mansfield is the director of the school’s Economic Justice Institute, where she oversees legal clinics dedicated to serving low-income and other clients who need help with housing, employment, family issues and consumer law. She also supervises students who work in the local family court clinic, which helps low-income clients who need help with paternity cases, restraining orders, divorce and post-divorce matters.
She helps her clinical students become competent in interviewing, negotiating, investigations and litigation. At the same time, they’re learning about how barriers that sometimes prevent people from taking advantage of the justice system.
“Marsha leads by example,” said Margaret Raymond, dean of the University Wisconsin Law School. “Her work advancing the profession and focusing on the importance of access to justice encourages her students to become involved professionally and use their skills and talents to benefit those less fortunate.”
Mansfield was at the forefront of attempts to create a pro bono program in 2011 to instill in budding lawyers at the UW law school a sense that they have an obligation to perform public service.
The program provides students with opportunities to work together with attorneys to deliver law-related services to community members.
“It has so rewarding to work with students,” Mansfield said. “I have served as a mentor for many students after they graduate and maintain wonderful relationships with them. I treasure this aspect of my work.”