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Criminal Defense, Civil Rights and Family Law: Michelle Fujii ’18 at Law Office of Phillip Brigham, LLC

I surprised myself with my second co-op job. Since I worked at a law firm my last co-op, some may think working for an attorney this co-op is the opposite of a surprise. But the thing is, all summer and all fall, I dreamt of living somewhere warm during the winter. I thought I would end up in New Zealand, Mexico, or California. I definitely did not anticipate spending the winter in Chicago.

But here I am, having conquered a month in the Windy City! I have learned to equip myself on snowy days with hats, scarves, gloves and layers. And I have enjoyed some very mild weather as well, since Chicago is having an unusually warm winter. But most importantly, I have been learning a lot at Law Office of Phillip Brigham, LLC, working as a legal assistant to attorney Phillip Brigham. He is a solo practitioner mostly focused on criminal defense, civil rights and family law. What makes him special is his mission to provide affordable representation to people who would not otherwise be able to obtain representation in court, and to always be working on at least one pro bono case, even though none is required by Illinois law.

I have learned more about the work of a lawyer in the last month than I ever could have reading books, searching online, watching movies, or even just talking to someone who would know. Working closely with Phillip on a day-to-day basis, I get a peak into all of his cases, his meetings with clients, and out of office work such as going to depositions, going to court dates, and obtaining files from court. I have also learned how to draft different types of legal documents and do legal research. And most of all, I get all of my questions answered regarding things that I would not have otherwise even thought to ask if I had not been exposed to this job.

My typical weekday starts with making lunch and eating breakfast before taking the train downtown. This is one of my favorite parts of the day because I get to listen to music and read my book on the train. Once I get to the office, it is straight to business. My long running job right now involves reviewing hours upon hours of video footage of street surveillance cameras and looking for our client. The footage is often blurry and of very low quality, which prompts me to wonder why this is so in this day and age when technology is so advanced. Besides this being a rather tedious job, it can be boring as well, so I remedy this by listening to fun podcasts, such as Radiolab. (I’m learning so much about science and technology!) I also help with different cases Phillip is working on by reviewing files and drafting documents. Some recent ones have been divorces, child custodies, an attempted murder, and an international child abduction. At the end of the day, I make the same trip home, and spend the evening making dinner, doing homework, chatting with my roommate or snuggling with two cats. I squeeze in some exercise if I have time. And I would say my biggest personal challenge right now is learning to consistently get eight or more hours of sleep a night. On weekends, I like to walk around and explore different parts of the city, meet up with my friend at Myopic Books, try out different restaurants, or run on the Bloomingdale Trail. Public transportation is great in Chicago, and it has made it really easy for me to get around.

Once again, I have found myself truly appreciative of the unique experience that is cooperative education at Antioch College. Not only do I get practical work and living experience that I would not have gotten at a different institution, but I am also able to take advantage of Antioch’s great network of alumni and colleagues and learn from those who are making a difference in people’s lives. This co-op alone has already taught me so much about the legal process and how our justice system works. I am still undecided about law school and feel no pressure to change this as I am still a sophomore in college, but when I do make this decision, I am sure to draw upon this experience of working for Law Office of Phillip Brigham for direction and insight.

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Michelle Fujii pursued a self-designed major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Ecology and Culture with Spanish and Japanese Language Focuses at Antioch College. Michelle grew up traveling between Japan and the United States, and while at Antioch enjoyed traveling back and forth between family, co-ops, and her college in Ohio. Her academic interests range from cultural and ecological issues to international affairs and social justice. Michelle has worked at Outten & Golden, LLP in New York as a paralegal intern, at Law Office of Phillip Brigham, LLC in Chicago as a legal assistant, at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University as a Foreign Affairs Aide, and as a fourth year At Antioch conducted independent research in Buenos Aires, Argentina while volunteering for a non-profit organization dedicated to planting trees in the city, Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda. On campus, she further cultivated her professional experiences by working for the Office for Academic Affairs, the Office of Admission & Financial Aid, as a Japanese Language tutor, editor of Antioch's student-run newspaper The Record, and the President of Antioch's Community Council.

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