Now that she understood the stigma attached to victims of domestic violence, she knew she couldn’t stand by and watch. The way society treated these women, and the lack of legal options they had, required action.
“The feminism bug bit hard,” Conklin said, “and I had to do something about it.” While supporting herself as a hairstylist, she enrolled at Cooley Law School in 1992.
Conklin did her legal internship as a law clerk at the Lansing office of Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services Inc., where she worked with people who were HIV positive. During that time, women were losing custody of their children simply because they were HIV positive.
Again, their legal options were limited, and Conklin stepped in to help. She traveled to community-based organizations and led workshops on state and federal housing laws and rights. She accomplished this by working with a Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS grant in the greater Detroit area.
She also worked with women and parents that were HIV positive and helped them plan for their children’s futures, since survival rates for those with HIV were shorter at the time. Conklin enlightened groups of women about their legal options regarding the future of their children while empowering them to maintain custody as well.
After passing the bar, Conklin went to work at Legal Services of South Central Michigan, where she handled domestic violence cases.
She parlayed this experience into working for the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and led the Civil Justice Project, which trained other attorneys, judges and legal advocates to represent victims of domestic violence in family law and civil law matters.
This work led to the Pro Bono Project for Domestic Violence Victims, which trained more than 600 attorneys across the state to deal with family law cases regarding domestic violence. In exchange for free training, materials and technical assistance, each attorney agreed to take on three cases, or 30 hours, of pro bono work in the field of domestic violence to pay it forward.
Today, Conklin stays in touch with domestic violence cases through pro bono work as she focuses on advocating for people with disabilities.