Desiree Koger-Gustafson’s grandmother knew she was going to be a lawyer before Desiree did. For years, Desiree worked in the health field, harboring a desire to go to Medical School one day. But as she pursued this dream, she kept hitting roadblocks. “I retook the MCAT several times, my GPA was where it should be, but I could never get in,” Desiree says. “So I started to think maybe this wasn’t the direction I was supposed to go in.”
In her job at the time, she was starting to get a taste for some legal work. “I was doing HIPAA compliance for a long-term care organization and really kind of liked doing the law—the specifics and nuances of what needed to be done.” For the first time, she started to wonder if she ought to consider a career outside of the health field, but the prospect of switching was daunting. “I didn’t know any attorneys,” Desiree says. “I didn’t know anything about the legal field, and that was scary.”
Despite her apprehension, she took the LSAT and applied to Law School. “I decided I was going to follow paths where the doors opened for me. That I would ride the wave that [God] wanted me to instead of fighting it,” she says. Desiree was immediately accepted to Law School and decided to move forward with a legal career. “If these were the doors that I was supposed to walk through, I was just going to close my eyes and do it,” she says.
After completing Law School, Desiree learned about the Legal Clinic’s Ft. Wayne intake site for new clients, and she began volunteering. She assisted with intake, and occasionally took on volunteer cases. “When I learned that we had gotten a grant to open an actual satellite office, I applied and got the position,” she says.
Serving as the Director of the Ft. Wayne Office since then, Desiree gets to wear more hats than if she were working at the main office. Boasting a staff of only Desiree and Ft. Wayne Paralegal Catherine Warney, they can organize their work and office as they see fit. “It gives us the freedom to mold our organization to Ft. Wayne. To make the decisions that are good for the needs that we see up here,” says Desiree.
There also isn’t any time to get bored, which is perfect for Desiree, who craves the variety of legal work she sees in her position. “I get to help whatever cases come through the door. They may be Immigration, and largely they are, but they could also be Social Security. I’ve done Family Law; I’ve done Small Claims; I’ve done Expungements,” she says. “I get to do a little bit of everything, which can be difficult, but in another way, it’s nice not to be narrowed or pigeon-holed into one specific area.”
Also a wife and the mother of four boys, Desiree has her hands full, but is so glad she took the dive into nonprofit legal work. “I just felt like my heart and what was more important to me was to be involved with a not-for-profit,” she says. “I felt like I made that decision really early in my life.”