Pat Wrona is the embodiment of CARPLS’ core mission: that no one should face a legal problem alone.
In 1995, Pat joined CARPLS as a part-time attorney and later became a supervisor. Since 2007, Pat has been CARPLS’ Director of Legal Services. Pat supports a 50-person staff that delivers services in thirteen practice areas through CARPLS’ hotlines, advice desks, and statewide projects and collectively provides over 80,000 legal consultations a year. Over the past 15 years, with Pat’s quiet leadership and guidance, CARPLS has become a national leader in legal service delivery innovation.
Pat is an expert in employment law, so when the pandemic created the largest number of unemployed workers in Illinois history, Pat monitored the ever-changing unemployment landscape and assisted many clients facing job insecurity. In response, Pat created BennyFits Illinois, a virtual assistant that helped thousands navigate the unemployment process at a time of overwhelming need.
As the “front door” of legal aid, Pat ensured that CARPLS transitioned seamlessly to a virtual model when the pandemic hit, finding creative ways to provide needed services. With Pat’s leadership, CARPLS would later expand services further to play a core role in the Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt, COVID HELP Illinois, and New Leaf Illinois projects, bringing critical help to many thousands of people in need.
As an adjunct professor at DePaul University-College of Law and IIT Chicago Kent College of Law, Pat has shared her passion for public interest with the next generation of lawyers. She also served as Chair of the CBA’s Legal Aid Committee and assisted the Lawyers’ Trust Fund’s Advisory Committee on issues of limited scope representation and access to justice.
Her legal aid colleagues write that “Pat approaches her work with CARPLS’ low-income clients with the same rigor and dedication she displayed in private practice. She is the consummate professional.” Pat has always done that outside of the spotlight for her entire career, making her a very fitting recipient of this year’s Morsch Award.