Jarred Reiling knows the face of domestic violence.
For nearly three months he has heard the heart-wrenching stories of abused women — one so severely beaten that a judge called it the worst case he had ever seen.
Such emotionally gripping work isn’t for everyone, but for Reiling, 23, it pushes him to take action.
“I have the ability to go home and not think about [domestic violence]. Some people don’t,” Reiling said. “It kind of fuels my fire to do my part and do what I can do.”
For the past 11 weeks, Reiling, a second-year student at the Florida International University College of Law, has worked as a Summer Fellow with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Domestic Violence Project.
He is one of 40 law students — about half of them minorities — participating in The Florida Bar Foundation’s 2009 Legal Services Summer Fellowship Program, through which the students explore careers in public interest law at legal aid offices throughout the state.
For Reiling, the fellowship has added fuel to his passion for helping domestic violence victims, which has been burning since his days as an undergraduate at Florida Atlantic University and ultimately led him to law school.
The Lantana native received his bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and has worked as an intern at a domestic violence shelter in Pasco County — even staying there for a couple of nights to understand better the experience of those who weren’t there by choice.
“I wanted to get the full effect of what it was like to be completely dislocated,” Reiling said.
While emotions can run high at a shelter, Reiling has learned to focus on the methodical, meticulous and relatively emotionally detached process involved in protecting the legal rights of domestic violence victims.
At Legal Aid, Reiling does legal research the staff attorneys don’t have the time to do — given their enormous caseloads — and he frequently goes to court with lawyers representing clients, an opportunity envied by his friends from law school.
Reiling’s presence is also a tremendous benefit to the office, said supervising attorney Kathryn Oleksy, who heads the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Domestic Violence Project.
“With the economic crisis we have a real crunch as far as more clients than ever who need services. Jarred has been really good with helping prep our cases,” Oleksy said.
Reiling hopes to follow law school with an Equal Justice Works fellowship and one day practice public interest law. If he ends up practicing at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, he’d be one of several attorneys there who started along their career path by participating in the Foundation’s Legal Services Summer Fellowship Program.
“I’ve always had an interest in doing public interest law, as a result of what brought me to law school in the first place,” Reiling said. “But working here this summer has solidified that. It’s definitely something I very much want to do.”
Learn more about the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County at www.legalaidpbc.org