2015 – Marisa Wiesman

As Director of Volunteer Services at Prairie State Legal Services (PSLS), Marisa Wiesman has significantly increased access to legal services by coordinating pro bono services within PSLS’s 36 county service area and developing a number of new initiatives.  Among other things, she has expanded the number and variety of pro bono opportunities offered, established new partnerships, and developed a successful telephone counseling volunteer program.  As a member of PSLS’s management team, Marisa has also had the opportunity to impact the policy and direction of the organization.  Prior to her current role, Marisa worked at PSLS for almost six years as a staff attorney in Rockford and later as a managing attorney in Kankakee, developing a wide range of expertise.  She has handled hundreds of divorces, orders of protection, adult and minor guardianships, public benefits appeals, evictions, foreclosures, and consumer cases.  Marisa also implemented a referral system for social service providers, resurrected a monthly walk-in clinic, and worked with the judiciary to develop eviction and foreclosure mediation courthouse projects.  Throughout her tenure, Marisa has proven to be an invaluable asset at PSLS and has helped even the playing field for thousands of people from vastly underserved communities in Illinois.

Marisa’s desire to attend law school and pursue a career in public service stems from having grown up witnessing the impact of her parents’ advocacy.  Her sister was born with cerebral palsy, and it was their parents’ persistence and advocacy that ultimately saw Marisa’s sister through college graduation.  Marisa decided to go to law school so she could advocate for individuals facing barriers who may not be lucky enough to have people like her parents in their corner.  While at the University of Minnesota Law School, she participated in both the Special Education and Public Interest Law Clinics, was involved in the Minnesota Justice Foundation Public Service Program, and clerked at the Minnesota Disability Law Center and the Child Protection Division of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

As a result of her extraordinary efforts and accomplishments advocating for vulnerable populations and increasing access to legal services, Marisa was awarded a CBF Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship in 2015, a financial award that will help meet her law school loan obligations.  “I am so grateful for this fellowship, and the support of the Chicago Bar Foundation and the Sun-Times Selection Committee.  Coming from a two lawyer household where both of us work in the public sector, this fellowship is integral to my ability to continue doing the work I love and serving the most vulnerable members of our society.”