March 16, 2016 – It’s a passion he’s always had: advocating for those who can’t do so for themselves.
A public defender in Milwaukee who specializes in juvenile cases, Robert Mochel has been named as the 2016 Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year, an experience he describes as “humbling.”
“There are many outstanding lawyers throughout the state who could have just as easily been selected,” Mochel said. Being selected for the award “speaks volumes to the training and opportunities with the Public Defender’s Office. I would not be where I am today without the oversight and mentoring I have received from all my colleagues at the Milwaukee Juvenile Office, especially Sally Barrientes.”
The seventh annual award, given by the Young Lawyers Division, pays tribute to a young lawyer who has made an impact in his or her practice area, in service to the State Bar of Wisconsin, and in service to the community. To be nominated, lawyers must be under age 36 or in practice for less than five years, and must be a member in good standing with the State Bar.
Dedicated to Working with Children
Mochel’s volunteer work was an outlet for this passion even before he became a law student, volunteering to work with children as a middle- and high-school student, and later as a college student.
“With my background in working with kids, I knew that no matter what career I chose, I wanted to work with that population,” Mochel said.
After majoring in social welfare and justice at Marquette University, he attended Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, because of its specific program in juvenile and family law.
New Lawyers: Register by March 18 for Free Leadership Conference
Mochel will receive the award at the Seventh Annual Young Lawyers Leadership Conference on Friday, April 1, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison.
The conference, sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division (YLD), offers free CLE for all new lawyers regardless of age. The Young Lawyers Division is committed to providing leadership training and networking opportunities to members.
The program focuses on fostering the knowledge, skills, and motivation new lawyers need to become active members in the State Bar, local bar associations, and other public service organizations.
Find out more about the conference in this InsideTrack article, Feb. 3, 2016.
How to Register
Register by March 18 for this popular event and learn from judges, experienced practitioners, and your peers.
And after law school, he continued to pursue his path. “I was fortunate to be hired by the Wisconsin State Public Defender and assigned to their Milwaukee Juvenile Office. Through my work there, my passion for working with children and families has just continued to grow,” Mochel said. “As a public defender I provide a voice to the voiceless and represent some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and it is not something I take lightly.”
It is a learning experience for him. “Each client is unique, and has his or her own story,” Mochel said.
It is important to build trust and show he truly cares about the outcome of their case – including being available for them at any hour of the day or night. “As sad as it is, I have had many clients where, as their attorney, I am the most consistent adult figure in their life – and I only see them every few weeks at court,” Mochel said.
His job requires him to act equally as lawyer and social worker. “I have found that at times more things can be accomplished through a little social work than a legal motion,” Mochel said.
Mochel is a “zealous advocate for his clients,” said Robin Dorman, regional attorney manager at the State Public Defender’s Office in Wauwautosa, who nominated Mochel for the award.
“He is a standout among his peers,” Dorman said. “He represents that most vulnerable of all clients in a compassionate and holistic manner. His courtroom presentations are eloquent and passionate because he is extremely client-centered.”
It was while working in the Public Defender’s Office, Mochel discovered an unmet need in the justice system, Dorman said.
The Expungement Project
It all began in 2014, when Mochel participated in the “Face Forward Program,” which provided services to 16 to 24-year-olds with juvenile records but no adult records. A component of the program included expunging qualifying juvenile records in an effort to remove barriers. Barrientes and Mochel developed The Expungement Project to expunge juvenile court records after determining that the Public Defender’s Office could assist with the expungements.
Juvenile records can cause serious problems once children reach adulthood.
“We noticed that the biggest barrier to juvenile expungement was finding former clients, and educating the community about the importance of seeking expungement of past juvenile adjudications,” Mochel said.
The Expungement Project identifies eligible children and assigns volunteer attorneys for representation.
“This program has been extremely effective in meeting its goal of assisting children as they age out of adolescence and become responsible adults, to not suffer lifelong consequences for an often impulsive act during childhood,” Dorman said.
More than the Worst Thing
Mochel has seen many clients who have their lives put on hold due to a juvenile adjudication from as long as 10 years ago.
“Individuals are more than the worst thing they have ever done – and The Expungement Project really highlights this,” Mochel said. “I have seen the incredible ways in which individuals have changed and turned their lives around and taken steps to ensure that their past mistakes don’t hinder their future.”
The results have been very positive. “Our whole goal with this project was to increase the number of juvenile expungements being done in Milwaukee, and while we still have a long way to go, we have definitely seen some very positive results,” Mochel said.