Dean Conklin '14: A Voice for Juvenile Rights

Dean Conklin '14 once envisioned himself as the general manager of a major league baseball team, but this Los Angeles County native saw a greater opportunity to give back to the city he loves through public interest work. “Though, I still watch more Dodger games than anyone should,” he said.

Conklin received his BA in Media Studies from Emerson College and after that he pursued a Masters in Sociology from California State University, Fullerton. While taking courses on social issues, the acute needs of the public interest caused him to change focus. After receiving his Masters, Conklin left his job with the Dodgers and turned his sights to law school. This career move was certainly a curveball, but he hasn’t looked back since.

With a mindset to aid underserved populations in Los Angeles, Conklin researched schools in the area. “Every law school presented a public interest component, but I saw that Loyola was the school that put public interest first,” he said. 

As a first-year student, he joined the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) and became the 1L representative. He sought advice from Sande Buhai, director of the Public Interest Law Department, for opportunities to gain experience. With Buhai’s help, Conklin scored an externship with Mental Health Advocacy Services after his first year of law school. “The faculty and administration at Loyola are invested in the students to a degree that I’ve never seen before,” he said.

“On my first day [at Mental Health Advocacy Services] I was given 12 clients to call and by noon I was already involved in their cases,” he recalled. With only the first year of law school under his belt, the pressure was on. “If you check the wrong box on a form, someone who desperately needs services, like medication, might not receive it.” The stakes were high, but the work brought him a sense of fulfillment.

He thrived from direct interaction with clients and it affirmed that public interest was a natural fit. In his second year at Loyola, Conklin sought experience in juvenile rights work. “I couldn’t imagine being 11 or 12 years old and having anything less than the foundation that my parents gave me,” he said.

He signed up for Professor Gary Williams’ Civil Rights Litigation Seminar which placed him at Public Counsel doing policy work for the Children’s Rights Project. It was there, that Conklin realized his passion for juvenile advocacy. “It’s an incredible experience to spend 8-10 hours a day helping people. Loyola has given me the opportunity to come into people’s lives and try to make things easier for them.” 

Throughout his time at Loyola, Conklin remained heavily invested in PILF. He was elected vice-chair his second year and served as the co-chair in his third year. The student organization raises tens of thousands of dollars each year to fund student public interest projects and summer jobs. For Conklin, handing over the award money to a peer who works for a great cause is the best part.

“When I think of my experience here, the people stand out the most,” he said. “I love being surrounded by smart and ambitious students who have really worthy goals.”

He also values the accessibility of the PILF alumni network, which remains involved with the school and the students in the organization. This camaraderie enables Conklin to reach out to PILF alumni whenever he has questions on an unfamiliar law or needs to seek career advice from someone established in the field.

“The trick is to tap into the resources that Loyola offers, since school itself only takes you so far,” he advises. “I feel that Loyola has given me a lot of practical experience through internships and clinics, and that experience is what employers look for, in terms of skills that translate directly to the job.” 

In his third year, Conklin worked in Loyola’s Youth Justice Education Clinic whose mission is to prevent juvenile offenders from entering the school to prison pipeline. “When I think about all the years of my life that I’ll put into a career, I want to do something that I feel is rewarding on my drive home,” he said. In addition, he externed at the Alliance for Children's Rights, which advocates for the rights of impoverished and abused youth.

In 2014, Conklin was awarded one of Loyola's Post Graduate Fellowships in Public Interest Law which will enable him to assert legal access to mental health services for foster youth at Learning Rights Law Center. In addition, PILF selected Conklin as the recipient of the Sande Buhai Award for his commitment to public interest law and the Board of Governors recognized his significant contribution to the law school by presenting him with the Alumni Association Award.