A report on the financial challenges facing public interest lawyers caught the attention of Kimball Anderson while he was on the leadership track on the CBF Board 12 years ago. The report revealed that these lawyers were not only underpaid, but many carried exorbitant school debt, causing them to leave the sector after a year or two.
At the time, however, a law school debt of $60,000 was considered to be high; today, it is not unusual for a recent grad to be saddled with a six-figure burden. In response to skyrocketing student debt, Kimball and his wife Karen Gatsis Anderson, notable philanthropists and Chicago attorneys, funded a groundbreaking public interest fellowship through the CBF in 2002 to help dedicated lawyers pursue these important careers. This year, the Andersons decided to renew their eponymous fellowship with the CBF for another five years, which will award five outstanding new legal aid lawyers $50,000 each to help with repayment of their law school debt. It is the couple’s second renewal since the fellowship was first awarded in 2003.
“The purpose of the fellowship is to identify the brightest public interest lawyers and enable them to stay in the profession by giving them some assistance with school debt, said Kimball, who was recently honored with the prestigious Justice John Paul Stevens Award in September. Kimball is a nationally-recognized trial lawyer with almost 40 years of experience at Winston & Strawn LLP. The need is still there, and the existing fellows have made us proud.
[pullquote align=”right”]The Anderson Fellowship set an extraordinary precedent for others in the legal community, and it inspired the formation of new fellowships.[/pullquote]Current and past fellows exhibit a deep devotion to their cause and have made significant contributions in their respective fields. The latest fellow, Catherine Longkumer, gave up a scholarship at Penn State for the chance to be a part of the University of Michigan’s new anti-trafficking legal clinic. In 2012, she joined the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services as an Equal Justice Works Fellow to help launch ATLASST, an anti-trafficking initiative that provides holistic pro bono legal services to survivors of human trafficking.
We’re confident going forward that the fellows will continue to make an impact on the lives of their clientele and serve as great examples for all lawyers, added Karen, who is currently involved with Equip for Equality and The Montessori Network.
The work of past fellows is living proof that the fellowship has enabled these talented lawyers to not only stay with their careers in public interest work, but excel in them. As Kimball noted, They’ve really made significant contributions in their respective public interest fields.
Todd Belcore, the 2011 recipient, is the Community Justice Lead Attorney at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, where he helps people with criminal records gain a second chance by overcoming employment barriers. He also founded a nonprofit, The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, which had sold-out showings and brought in people from around the world. Belcore said that while words fall short in showing his gratitude towards the Andersons, he hopes that his actions via the work he does will better demonstrate his thanks and appreciation for their selfless generosity.
While the CBF’s Anderson Fellowship has a dollar amount attributed to it (and we appreciate that), you cannot put a dollar amount on how much it means to those who are fortunate enough to receive it, said Belcore. You cannot put a value on what it feels like to finally be able to pay to get your car fixed, repair a burst pipe, or withstand any of life’s emergencies. The Anderson Fellowship gives us the comfort to know that we can withstand life’s emergencies, and the indescribable feeling that comes with being able to experience life’s joys.
[pullquote]This is the Andersons’ second renewal since the fellowship was first awarded in 2003.[/pullquote]The 2007 fellowship allowed Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez to stay in his line of work and elevate his career to new heights, as he was recently appointed Director of the Immigrant and Workers’ Rights Practice Group at LAF, which aids migrant farmworkers. Although public interest work was the reason he went to law school, Gutierrez said that financial strain had him just days away from resigning from his staff attorney position with the group before he received that fateful call from Karen.
I feel a debt to them in many ways, he said, praising the couple’s genuineness and benevolence. It wasn’t just the money, but the confidence, the gesture that someone believes in the work you’re doing enough to try to alleviate some of the issues that keep you from doing it. I try to be the best advocate that I can so that they know their investment is meaningful.
The criteria for Anderson fellows include a commitment to public interest work, academic achievement in law school, and outstanding character and integrity. Candidates are recent graduates who are presently working for or have accepted an offer with a CBF-funded public interest law organization.
The couple is very invested in the entire process, as Karen chairs the selection committee. The single most rewarding thing is I get to call the recipients and hear their reactions, said Karen with a smile. It’s obviously very emotional for both of us. They stay up-to-date on the fellows’ career paths and even maintain great relationships with some of them, as Karen shares that Miguel sends family photos with holiday cards.
The Anderson Fellowship set an extraordinary precedent for others in the legal community, and it inspired the formation of new fellowships, including the Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship, on whose committee Karen also sits.
We’ve provided a small drop in the bucket here, and the bucket’s so big that it needs more philanthropic support, said Kimball. I’m hopeful that others will see the success of the program and replicate their own.
You can find more information on the Anderson Fellowship and the many outstanding recipients here.