Neil McGinn was born and raised in Milwaukee, then headed to California for law school. While there, he worked in the Oakland-Alameda County public defender's office, and it ignited a passion. He pursued a career defending people who could not afford legal representation. When McGinn was offered a public defender job back in his hometown, he grabbed it.
Neil McGinn took his first case as a public defender in Milwaukee 35 years ago. He's still at it.
"Most of my clients are charged with some level of felony from three and a half years all the way to life. Our goal is to get the possible outcome for our client. We're representing a person who is without funds, and is being prosecuted by the government," McGinn says.
McGinn says he is seeking something that is just and fair for his clients. He says it is not a depressing occupation.
"Sure, there are days when you are down, but there are days when you are on top of the world because you see someone get out of jail and get hugged by their family. There are certainly positive outcomes, you see people who turn their lives around," McGinn says.
McGinn points to such things as a drug treatment program instituted by the courts as one example of a significant positive change that's occured in recent years. Under the program, certain clients are placed into drug addiction rehabilitation programs and given an opportunity to change their behaviors versus being locked up. McGinn says the results of the program are encouraging.
McGinn says some aspects of his job get easier with time, simply because you've done them before. However, he adds, other aspects are always challenging.
"The job requires a real commitment, it requires not just the time but the energy and the investment. It's not for the faint of heart," McGinn says.
McGinn says looking back on his career, he likes to think he has had a positive impact on his clients.
"I like to think I have helped people get their lives back on track to become better fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and better members of the community in general," McGinn says.
McGinn says he still hears from some of the clients he represented years ago.