CBF Sun-Times Fellowship Gives a Lifeline to 50 Legal Aid Attorneys

In the past 15 years, cy pres awards directed to the CBF have made a tremendous impact in our work to make the justice system more fair and efficient for all. One award gave the CBF the opportunity to launch the groundbreaking, 10-year CBF Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship program, designed to help make it feasible for lawyers to devote their careers to working in legal aid.

The 2013 Sun-Times Fellows. Erica Spangler Raz is second from right.

This program, which was created in 2007 with a $2 million cy pres award in a case involving the Chicago Sun-Times, has helped 50 of the most talented and dedicated attorneys in our community stay in public service in the face of significant student debt loads. This fellowship addressed a crisis facing lawyers in our community who are increasingly finding that a career in legal aid and public service is simply untenable from an economic standpoint. Whether at public or private law schools, many law students take out significant debt to attend, with many also having undergraduate loans. Lawyers graduating today typically have mortgage-sized law school debt well in excess of $100,000 while working for relatively modest salaries at pro bono and legal aid organizations.

The fellowships were awarded through a competitive process to legal aid attorneys who demonstrated a commitment to public interest work, academic achievement in law school, and outstanding character and integrity. The fellowship recipients provide vital legal services to low-income and disadvantaged members of our community.

Erica Spangler Raz, a staff attorney with the Community Law Project of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, received the CBF Sun-Times Fellowship in 2013. While receiving Fellowship payments, she and her husband were able to buy a house, which drastically reduced their previous three-hour, one-car commute. This move has had a much more positive impact for me and my family than I ever thought it could, and of course it would not have happened without the financial assistance of this Fellowship, Erica said. Upon recently receiving her final Fellowship payment in 2018, Erica told the CBF, Had I not received this fellowship, I would make my final loan payment after my infant son graduated from college. But thanks to the lump sum payments from the Sun-Times Fellowship, my balance is more than half-way paid off in five years, and the Fellowship allowed me to continue working in legal aid.

Although this program has ended, the problem it helped address has not gone away. The CBF continues its advocacy efforts to tackle this important issue, including reforming the student loan system and preserving the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. In addition, thanks to the generosity of Kimball and Karen Anderson, the CBF continues to award the groundbreaking CBF Anderson Fellowship, the inspiration for the CBF Sun-Times Fellowship, to help legal aid attorneys manage their student debt burden while working in legal aid.