2022 – Shelisa M. Thomas
“Shelisa is my angel.”
Those words were spoken by Corzell Cole, a client who Shelisa Thomas represented in a clemency case.
While Shelisa is still early in her legal career, her inspiring commitment to pro bono and access to justice has been on display from the time she started law school at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, where she would go on to graduate Cum laude in 2019. Now an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP she already has committed over 1,800 hours to pro bono work since joining the firm, spanning a broad range of areas including immigration, veteran’s rights, and wrongful convictions. Perhaps the most notable was her successful pro bono work that led to the resentencing and release of Corzell Cole earlier this year.
Shelisa and Corzell met when she was in law school through the Northwestern Prison Education Program. At the time Cole was serving time for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, and he had been fighting his convictions for more than 19 years before he met Shelisa.
After Shelisa joined Skadden, Cole contacted her to ask if she would be willing to take on his case. She said yes and immediately got to work. The road to developing Cole’s clemency petition was not easy, but Shelisa and her team were able to draft a petition that Cole described as a “petition that gave me a voice.” Their efforts paid off in December of 2021 when Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow reviewed the clemency petition and vacated Cole’s initial sentence. Cole then became the first person in Illinois to be resentenced under a new Illinois law that took effect on January 1, 2022 and allows for resentencing “when the sentence no longer advances the interests of justice.” Cole was released in March of 2022 and is now working towards a bachelor’s degree in Social Science at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.
Shelisa is an inspiration to lawyers and legal professionals everywhere, and a shining example of the power of pro bono work to change lives.