Helping Dedicated Advocates Serve Others

CBF Report November 2014

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Helping Dedicated Advocates Serve Others

By Angelika Labno  |  CBF Administrative & Communications Coordinator

Ensuring equal access to justice in our community starts with dedicated advocates pursuing and remaining in careers in legal aid and public service. One of the CBF’s key priorities is to address the growing financial hurdles facing legal aid lawyers in our community, who are increasingly finding that a career in legal aid and public interest law is simply untenable from an economic standpoint. Lawyers graduating today typically have mortgage-sized law school debt while working for relatively modest salaries at pro bono and legal aid organizations. Thanks to a number of generous donors, the CBF has created several considerable fellowship and scholarship programs to help make it possible for committed attorneys to carry out this important work amidst what can be significant financial challenges and, in doing so, help ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community have access to the protections of our justice system.

On October 15th, the CBF presented the 2014 CBF Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowships to five attorneys who have dedicated their careers to legal aid, and the 2014 CBF Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Law Scholarship to a first year law student who plans to pursue a career in public service. In addition to these programs, the CBF awards the annual Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship, as well as the Moses Scholarship.

CBF 2014 Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowships
Through a generous $2 million cy pres award from a case involving the Chicago Sun-Times, the CBF created the Sun-Times Fellowship to provide significant loan repayment assistance to legal aid and public interest attorneys. The CBF now awards five annual fellowships of up to $50,000 per fellowship to attorneys who demonstrate a commitment to public interest work, academic achievement in law school, and outstanding character and integrity.

The 2014 CBF Sun-Times Fellowship recipients (from left): Jessica Schneider, Michelle Fitzsimmons, Rachel Weisberg, Verity Sandell, Caroline Manley.

The 2014 CBF Sun-Times Fellowship recipients (from left): Jessica Schneider, Michelle Fitzsimmons, Rachel Weisberg, Verity Sandell, Caroline Manley.

The CBF’s 2014 class of Sun-Times Fellows all are providing critical services to low-income and disadvantaged members of our community. These exceptional attorneys have made enormous personal financial sacrifices to do this important work, and this Fellowship will help alleviate some of these financial concerns and make it more manageable for them to continue their careers in legal aid.

Caroline Manley, a staff attorney at Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL), ensures that vulnerable seniors without access to legal services receive the assistance they need. Over the past three years, she has launched 10 Senior Legal Assistance Clinics in both the suburbs and in high-need urban communities, where low-income seniors receive advice or direct representation from CDEL volunteers on a wide array of legal issues impacting this population. Caroline is responsible for recruiting and training volunteers and directly representing a caseload of clients.

Verity Sandell is a staff attorney at LAF and works in the organization’s Children and Families Practice Group’s Education Project, through which she represents children who are in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in special education and school discipline matters. All of Verity’s clients have experienced significant abuse and neglect, and many have disabilities that make learning difficult.  Her advocacy is critical to ensuring that children with special needs receive appropriate educational supports and are not excluded from the educational services that are so important to their wellbeing.

Jessica Schneider, a staff attorney at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, protects Chicagoans’ civil rights. Through the organization’s Fair Housing Project, she handles intake for housing discrimination cases and represents fair housing plaintiffs. Jessica also helped launch the Educational Equity Project, through which she oversees volunteer attorneys who represent students in expulsion hearings and spearheads related legal and policy work such as addressing the disproportionate effect of school discipline on low-income students and students of color.

As a staff attorney and ADA Project Manager at Equip for Equality, Rachel Weisberg’s advocacy and expertise have been instrumental in advancing civil rights for people with disabilities in Chicago and beyond. Rachel litigates disability rights discrimination claims and has helped clients win favorable outcomes in cases ranging from the denial of housing to the exclusion from businesses to the reduction of State-provided home services critical for independent living. In addition, Rachel educates and trains employers, schools, and businesses about ADA compliance to prevent discrimination before it happens.

Michelle Fitzsimmons, a staff attorney at Prairie State Legal Services, Inc., has helped ensure access to justice for thousands of people from vastly underserved communities in and surrounding Rock Island, Illinois. She represents clients in a broad range of civil legal matters, including evictions, orders of protection, public benefits denials, divorce, and custody/visitation matters. Michelle also serves as the organization’s Housing Task Force Co-Chair, providing substantive law trainings to attorneys and social service agencies as well as housing law guidance and support to her colleagues.

CBF 2014 Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Law Scholarship
The CBF Marovitz Public Interest Law Scholarship has been awarded annually since 2004 to an incoming first-year law student attending one of the nine Illinois law schools. The Scholarship provides $40,000 in tuition assistance to help ease the financial burden of law school and enable the recipient to pursue a career in public interest law. This Scholarship was made possible through a generous planned gift from the late Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz.

The 2014 CBF Marovitz Scholarship recipient Mary Lou Villanueva

The 2014 CBF Marovitz Scholarship recipient Mary Lou Villanueva

Mary Lou Villanueva, a first-year law student at DePaul University College of Law, was awarded the 2014 Marovitz Scholarship.  Mary Lou has long dreamed of becoming a public interest lawyer so she can provide much needed legal assistance to people in her community of Little Village. Having witnessed firsthand her family members’ and neighbors’ struggles, Mary Lou feels a sense of duty as a bilingual speaker to give back and provide affordable counsel to non-English speakers threatened by deportation, fleeing domestic violence, facing mortgage foreclosure, or being exploited in their workplace.

Mary Lou stood out to the Selection Committee because of her passion, her extensive efforts to address societal injustices, her many accomplishments, and her steadfast commitment to increase access to justice in her community,€ commented Andy Marovitz, Chair of the CBF Marovitz Scholarship Selection Committee. She exemplifies the type of student my uncle had in mind when he created this scholarship through the CBF.€

 

 

For more information about the CBF’s fellowship and scholarship programs, visit www.chicagobarfoundation.org or contact Ryanne Easley, CBF Director of Grants, at reasley@chicagobar.org or 312-554-1247.