Megan Wall, managing attorney at St. Johns Legal Aid, is passionate about the law and the protections if affords, especially to special needs populations. She speaks frequently to Council on Aging groups throughout the county about senior issues and presents a "People's Law School" at the Southeast Branch library.
What can you share about your background?
I am one of nine children from five parents in a complex, multi-state, spread-out "family." My Army colonel father taught me to work hard and love our country; my hippie mother taught me to question authority and not follow rules blindly; my ex-priest stepfather taught me to believe in justice and stand up against tyranny no matter the cost; my siblings have taught me that what does not break you, makes you stronger (but childhood traumas can break you). I embrace my highly unusual background, and all the mixtures and lessons in it, and have tried to use what I learned to understand and have empathy for others.
How did you choose the University of Florida?
I went to high school in Florida, so UF was the best state school in Florida. And I needed in-state tuition and loans, even while working throughout college.
What is a “public interest” organization?
It’s an organization focusing on equal justice under law, as opposed to "how much justice can you afford?"
What sparked APIL?
I went to a public interest law conference in Washington, DC, while in my first year of law school and heard Ralph Nadar speak about starting such a group at every law school. The goal was for students to be able to participate in summer internships with nonprofit public interest law organizations that generally cannot pay interns. For low-income law students, strictly volunteering was not a viable option. They needed some income to eat and pay the rent. The organization would pay law students a modest amount to live on so they could accept unpaid, yet valuable, internships. Because of that influence, we came back and started APIL at UF Law where it is still active today!
You lecture about senior legal topics at the Ponte Vedra Council on Aging, other COA locations, and present a "People's Law School" at the South Branch library. What inspires you to address senior issues?
A large portion of St. Johns County is over 60 years of age, considered "senior." Our office focuses on seniors, the disabled and the low-income, and provides information and resources to these special needs populations. We all are more vulnerable as we age — more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse — and I want to arm seniors with knowledge because "knowledge is power." I also want them to be on the lookout for red flag issues and events, and then know where to call if they have issues or questions (legal aid, of course!). Unfortunately, seniors even need to be wary of some attorneys who may prey on them and their resources. So seniors need to know who they can trust and who they can turn to in any situation — since Legal Aid does not charge fees, we have nothing to sell and no motivation to obtain a share of anyone's estate, assets, income or resources.
Tell us about your role as managing attorney at St. Johns Legal Aid.
I have the pleasure of working with an amazing team of three dedicated, talented, caring and capable professionals — an office manager and a paralegal — who have a strong work ethic and a deep and unyielding commitment to serving their community. Three of us started this office together 15 years ago and the fourth has been part of our team for about two and a half years. She stood out even as a volunteer attorney when she was in private practice, so we recruited her as soon as we had an opening!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to go out into nature with my husband Bryan — whether in our own backyard, the top of a mountain or a desert canyon — all of nature feeds us, inspires us, invigorates us. We want to protect and preserve it to the best of our abilities and we adamantly want everyone else to do the same — even those corporations that are allegedly "people" under the law!
What is one thing even close friends would be surprised to learn about you?
I think people see me as a rebel, but to a large extent I am a strict "rule follower." I believe everyone should follow the rules in life unless there is a good reason not to, such as a political reason or bad/discriminatory law, for example. I always drive the speed limit, with my seat belt on; I never cut in line, or lie or cheat. I pay every penny I owe on my taxes, I let people know if they have given me back too much change, and so on. I want good, fair, just rules and then I want everyone to follow them. I am passionate about equal justice under law because that is the rule. "Liberty and justice for all" — that is how it is supposed to be. Life should be fair. I really believe that at every level.