2020 Tillman Scholar

Austin Field

University of Washington

“I joined the Army because I wanted to protect people. I decided to become a public defender for the same reason: to help vulnerable people when they need it most.”

A Seattle native, Austin studied international relations at Tufts University, researching civil-military relations and conflict prevention while studying abroad in both Chile and Ukraine. After graduating from college, Austin decided to pursue his interest in conflict prevention by attending Army Officer Candidate School.

Upon earning his commission, Austin deployed to Afghanistan as an infantry platoon leader. While deployed, he led counterinsurgency operations and served as a combat advisor to the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police. His interactions with Afghanistan’s troubled legal system convinced him that strengthening the rule of law was a vital prerequisite to ending violence. After attaining the rank of captain, he left the Army to learn more about using the legal system to end violence.

Austin’s interest in the relationship between violence and the legal system led him to organizations dedicated to using the law to protect vulnerable people. First, he joined the newly formed law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink, LLP, where he managed the firm’s administrative systems while conducting background research in support of civil rights litigation aimed at stopping neo-Nazi violence. He then became an investigator with the Bronx Defenders, a public defense organization. At the Bronx Defenders, he investigated cases ranging from misdemeanors to homicides and discovered that America’s legal system did little to protect the most vulnerable. Now in his first year at the University of Washington School of Law, Austin intends to become a public defender and work to create a justice system that protects everyone in need.