Dan Wingate (J.D. ’23) was sitting in a court hearing for a co-worker when he realized that the legal system needed more people who were equipped and eager to represent individuals who faced discrimination.
In his seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army, Wingate witnessed his fellow servicemen and women encounter the criminal legal system and saw first-hand the devastating and dehumanizing effects of the Department of Defense Directive 1304.26, more commonly known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“I’ve never liked bullies, and the law should offer a level playing field for people to confront them,” he said.
A few years after he returned from the service to his hometown of Atlanta, he opened a small pub in the Kirkwood neighborhood that became a nexus for community service and social justice. When a co-worker, a young man of color, ran into a conflict with the legal system, he was represented by a public defender who was overworked, overwhelmed, and overloaded.
It was the final push Wingate needed to apply to law school so that he could once again be of service in an area of critical need: public defense.
Wingate’s intention to be a public defender came from a desire to practice what he and others call “Good Law.” To our Georgia State Law community, Good Law refers most simply to practicing law with a holistic, interconnected approach to those who need legal assistance. It is an impulse to use the law to help the whole person, recognizing how easy it can be for individuals to be disadvantaged by technicalities in the law, find costly legal representation that is out of reach, and for minor incidents to have cascading consequences.
Rather than sum it up himself, Wingate defers to the words of his late classmate, Alex Patafio, who wrote, “Lawyers have a moral obligation to serve regardless of their full-time positions; wherever and whenever able, lawyers should prioritize #GoodLaw.”
One of the core principles of practicing Good Law is pro bono service, where an attorney provides legal representation without charging for their services. Wingate got involved with pro bono projects early in his tenure as a law student.
“The Pro Bono program saved me my 1L year. My cohort was almost completely virtual, and I had a really hard time connecting with classmates and the law. Through the Pro Bono program, I was able to connect with clients and see firsthand how transformative the law could be,” Wingate explained.
Wingate participated in the Alternative Spring Break program, lent his services to people seeking gender-affirming name changes, and he was among the cohort of students who responded to the Attorney General’s Call to Action to address the housing and eviction crisis in the U.S. in 2021.
“I was able to meet, listen to, and advocate for clients who needed just the little legal assistance I could offer,” he recalled “Those clients are the ones who made the law make sense. They taught me how important it was to listen to every client’s story, to see them, and to truly acknowledge them.”
Wingate’s commitment to working in public interest earned him the inaugural “Alex Patafio Public Interest Leadership Award,” along with his classmate, Zoe Siepert, and he counts it as his proudest accomplishment during his law school years.
“Alex was a tireless advocate for the overlooked and underserved. She spoke truth to power with a mighty voice and fierce style. Her dedication to service will live on in the countless people touched by her indomitable spirit.”
Wingate takes that spirit with him into the next steps of his career, beginning with a position as an assistant public defender in Dekalb County, Georgia this fall. He also intends to stay connected with the public interest programs at the College of Law, helping to build their influence.
“I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to attend the COL. And I can’t wait to help it produce even more amazing #GoodLaw attorneys in the future.”
-Written by Lauren Allred