Erin Diaz

Staff Attorney at Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service

2015 | Lansing, MI

University of Notre Dame | Political Science and International Peace Studies

Erin Diaz, ’15, brought more than just her “teacher voice” with her to law school. Being a teacher stimulated her passion for safeguarding children’s access to education, specifically focusing on special education and rights for children with disabilities. When she left the classroom behind, she planned to work with the law.

At MSU Law, Diaz found her goal supported by faculty. “I was really lucky that I had some professors, like Professor Kristi Bowman, who took me under their wing. She’s the one who asked me at the beginning of my 3L year: ‘What are you going to do next year?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m going to take the bar exam and see where I land because there are not many jobs in special education law.’ And she said, ‘Have you heard of the Skadden Fellowship?’”

The Skadden Fellowship Foundation offers prestigious two-year fellowships to law students pursuing careers in public interest law. Diaz explained that it’s often described as the Peace Corps of the legal field. The application process is intense, and highly competitive, and it requires each applicant to develop a project idea and find a sponsoring organization where they can complete their project.   

“(The sponsor is) there to supervise you to make sure you don’t commit malpractice, and to teach you how to actually be an attorney, because you don’t learn how to be an attorney in law school,” Diaz said. “I still consider myself a ‘baby attorney.’ I’m still learning every day what to do and what not to do.”

Diaz completed her fellowship at Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, an organization designated by the Governor to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. She explained her work with parents of disabled children, and the challenges they often face advocating for their children in a courtroom. However, with the assistance and encouragement of an attorney, Diaz said the parents gain the power to speak and be a part of the process.

Her fellowship with Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service ended in 2017, at which time she was brought on as a full-time staff attorney for the organization. Now she works primarily on special education cases. 

When it comes to having and maintaining confidence and drive as an attorney, Diaz stays focused on what’s at stake for her client. “You know you’ve got the law on your side, the rest of it is to develop the argument to try and get to the other side of what’s going on, and remembering that you aren’t there for yourself,” she said. “You’re there for someone else, and they really do have something to lose, so you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be ready to fight to make sure that you don’t mess their life up. (That thinking) has been helpful.”

MSU Law has graduated three Skadden Fellows: Sarah Warpinski-Ladd, ’13; Erin Diaz, ’15; and Monica Andrade-Fannon, ’17. “You’re due for another one,” Diaz noted.