Joe Blum’s Story – Legal Services Intern

I came to Georgia Justice Project as part of my field practicum as a third year law student at the Georgia State University Law School.  I had researched nonprofits in the Atlanta area doing criminal defense work so was very interested in interning here, especially after talking with a fellow law student, Jessica Sully who had interned here earlier in the year.

I grew up in the Marietta, Georgia area in a relatively privileged environment.  After starting college at Vanderbilt, I became involved in some student political and social justice organizations.  I also developed an interest in philosophy.  Participating in these organizations—particularly the Vanderbilt Students for a Living Wage began a gradual humanitarian awakening within me.  Prior to going to Vanderbilt I’d assumed that everyone in America was on an even playing field and had their own power.  I believed that if they were doing worse than others it was because of them.  The plight of those struggling was not even on my radar.  My participation in these organizations helped to open my eyes.  It taught me to think more critically about what I took for granted.  It hadn’t occurred to me that there could be something wrong with conditions in our society—I had been blaming the affected people for their circumstances.  Although the fight continues to get a fair and living wage for the university’s custodial and food service workers, I feel the biggest success of this group was bringing it to the attention of the students and the transformative effect it has had on them—particularly for me.

The most surprising thing I’ve learned since interning at the Georgia Justice Project is how different the process is for persons accused of a crime between the inner and outer Atlanta perimeter legal systems.  A person has a substantially more difficult time in the outer perimeter than on the inside. 

I love the stuff that is not law at GJP—it’s more than just a legal practice.  There is an investment in the whole person.  I like the idea of knowing what happens to people after the case is finished.  GJP makes a tremendous effort to help people not recidivate and to move forward in their lives.  Clients are regarded in a more humane way and treated like people rather than a name on a list.  Part of this is due to the fact that there are fewer cases as compared to a public defender’s office.  GJP is a model for working with people holistically.  It is infinitely more beneficial and rewarding to me as a practicing attorney and substantially more beneficial for the clients.

“After studying how out of control our incarceration rates are in the United States, I decided I wanted to pursue criminal law because I think it’s one of the best ways to make change, especially in the lives of the criminally accused.  People with a criminal record are highly stigmatized—especially if they’re indigent.  I figure this is a good way to give people a fair chance.  Practicing criminal law is interesting to me.  It’s challenging because no two cases are the same.  I’m able to marry my passion for challenge with my desire to make a difference.  Criminal justice captures this best for me.  I feel that I have a duty to do this.”