By Katy Macek | Photography by Hillary Schave
As director of LIFT Wisconsin, Marsha Mansfield wants to make legal services accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Mansfield started her career as a special education teacher before she went to law school. She worked for a small litigation firm for almost 18 years and then joined UW-Madison’s Law School faculty.
In 2019, she and a group of colleagues co-founded LIFT Wisconsin — then called LIFT Dane — after winning a nationwide competition. The organization and its companion Legal Tune Up online tool (legaltuneup.org) helps people search the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice’s criminal records and the state’s circuit court records for any issues — such as a suspended driver’s license or a dismissed eviction record — and address them without hiring legal representation, which is costly. As Mansfield explains, these issues can cause headaches in applying for jobs and housing — which is crucial for getting ahead in life.
“One in four individuals in the country has a civil legal problem, and many people don’t even know they have one,” she says. “People will be better off economically, mentally and physically when they have fewer weights around their shoulders.”
Legal Tune Up speeds up a process that can take months or even years for some people to do on their own. They also host pop-up clinics around Dane County to help clients in person.
“I want to make Legal Tune Up a household name in Dane County so people know and go there regularly to make sure their legal health is just as good as their physical health,” she says.
Recently, Racine and Jefferson counties were added to LIFT’s capabilities, but Mansfield hopes to eventually reach across the state, especially rural areas that have limited access to attorneys. Amazingly, Legal Tune Up is a pioneer for this type of program — one in which people can search for all of these issues in one place — in the U.S., Mansfield notes.
Jennifer Binkley has known Mansfield for more than 20 years and is director of the Family Court Clinic at UW-Madison’s Law School — a clinic that Mansfield started. Binkley says Mansfield’s passion and determination set her apart.
“She’s just rare in that she’s always working to find solutions,” Binkley notes. “She’s about action and implementation — and that’s an amazing quality.”
Mansfield’s final goal for 2023 is to hire her replacement at LIFT Wisconsin. She thinks new and different ideas will launch LIFT into the future — though she imagines she’ll help train her replacement and stay involved with the organization.
“It’s humming along, but I think we can benefit from younger leadership with new ideas and new connections,” she says. “I’ll change my position, but I’m not changing my focus.”
What makes a good lawyer?
“A good lawyer is knowledgeable, compassionate and equipped with excellent people skills. A lawyer plays many roles, as an advocate, a counselor, mediator and negotiator, and a good lawyer has to excel at all while maintaining a strong ethical compass. As a mentor, I try to instill these values in the new lawyers that I work with.”