“A Breath of Fresh Air”

Sometimes, all a person needs is to feel heard.  This particular story comes from a woman who wasn’t even a client of LAF.  One of our attorneys reached out to her to confirm the details of her problems and determine if we could take her case, and she was so grateful.  Just having someone recognize her and let her know of the possibility that she may get legal representation was enough to bring her real comfort.  This is a very common sentiment from our clients, who often feel ignored by so many. She sent this email to the attorney:

“Thank you so much for contacting me. You have no idea how much this means to me when I thought all was lost, then you called me and this gave me a breath of fresh air. I have struggled with my situation with loss of sleep and fear. Thank you so much again for being a blessing in my life.”

This is the impact LAF can have, even before we step in and provide legal assistance.  We are able to recognize people in times they feel most helpless, and hear them out.

July eNewsletter

There are lots of misconceptions about our work in legal aid.  Some people think we are the public defender.  Some think our clients must have done something wrong to need legal help.  Many think that we are exclusively funded by the government and on a level that enables everyone who needs our help to get it.
Reality is more complicated.  The communities LAF serves are those who face small and large injustices every day, like the ones Tim Hufman works to overturn every day.  LAF’s clients are innocent people like Christina and her family who are desperate for our services.  LAF’s work is often groundbreaking and complex, like Lisa’s work to bring down human traffickers.  And LAF’s funding comes more and more from individuals like yourselves, who believe in every person’s right to a fair day in court.  Every one of these stories can be found in the July eNewsletter, out now.  Read it here.
On behalf of everyone at LAF and all our clients, we thank you for your continued support over the last 50 years of LAF’s presence in Cook County.  Your dedication keeps us strong as we look forward to the next 50!

Let’s Do Lunch: Part Two

 LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series Continues with the Consumer Practice Group

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As times change, so do the methods of people who abuse systems for personal gain. Those who take advantage of mortgage lending are no exception. But as their methods grow and change, so to do the efforts of the team at LAF who stand against them. “The Life and Times of Predatory Mortgage Lending: A Tale Told Through the Lens of LAF Litigation” was the second of LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series. Dan Lindsey, Director of the Consumer Practice Group, along with Supervisory Attorneys James Brady and Michelle Weinberg, and Senior Attorney, Kathryn Liss, shared their work with a crowded room last week, teaching about how predatory mortgage lending has evolved and exacerbated racial and economic inequality in our community.

One of the cases they profiled was against Mark Diamond, a notorious home repair contractor who preyed predominately on elderly African Americans with false promises of home improvements. He overcharged for bare-bones work (if any work at all), arranged the financing so that he could directly obtain the maximum available funds from a clients’ mortgage loan, and did not provide the legally required consumer rights disclosures. LAF attorneys represented more than a dozen of Diamond’s victims and obtained over $250,000 in recovery. In June 2015, Diamond was finally stopped by the Attorney General, due in large part to the information provided by LAF and the Consumer Practice Group’s tireless representation of individual victims.

“Fraud never sleeps. And so there will always be predators of one kind or another,” they declared last week. Let the hard-working Consumer Practice Group serve as an example that there are also those who will stand up for what is right. Way to go, team!

Luncheon Recap and June eNewsletter

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After 50 years of service to the poorest members of our Chicago community, we still struggle to sum up everything LAF does for its clients.  Year after year, the Annual Luncheon is one of the best ways to share the stories of LAF, and this year’s event was no exception.
In this month’s eNewsletter, relive the excitement of the Luncheon, by perusing a profile of José Alonso, who was presented with the Solovy Award, reading Johnnie Brown’s speech about how LAF helped her keep her child, watching the new video we premiered at the Palmer House, and checking out the photos and social media from the big day.
As always, on behalf of everyone at LAF and all our clients, I want to thank you for your support.  Your generosity over the past 50 years got us this far, and your ongoing support will keep us strong for the next 50 years!  Read the eNewsletter on our website here.

Winston & Strawn: Setting up for the Future

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It is inspiring to see the number of for-profit law firms in Chicago that have active pro bono programs. These firms help balance the scales of justice by creating opportunities for their attorney’s to use their expertise to help those who are otherwise unable to afford their services. Winston & Strawn LLP has taken a leading role in pro bono work, receiving nearly 90 awards over the past decade for its efforts which include a longstanding relationship with LAF and the legal aid community.

The support of Winston & Strawn has long helped LAF maintain its position on the forefront of legal aid work in Cook County. Members of the firm have been pillars of our organization for many years, lending their strength and guidance through the good times and the more challenging: Lawrence Desideri, a partner at Winston & Strawn, currently serves on LAF’s Board of Directors, and former Board members include Gary Johnson- now President of the Chicago History Museum, and current partner, Sam Park.  One of LAF’s longest serving and most outstanding Board members was Mary Hutchings Reed, a retired Winston & Strawn partner and dedicated supporter of legal aid. Mary was one of the founding organizers of LAF’s much beloved annual Golf Outing and generously donated one of the most sought after silent auction items at the annual Justice Is Served event: good times, good food, and good company while sailing aboard her and her husband’s boat on Lake Michigan. Last year, LAF recognized Mary for her generosity over the many years as a Champion for Justice and role model of legal aid advocacy.

In turn, former LAF employees have found positions at Winston & Strawn that allow them to continue to nurture the passion for public interest law that first brought them into the legal aid profession. “The best part of my job at LAF was working with inspiring clients who showed me the most tremendous strength in the face of adversity,” says LAF alum Maria Kutnick.

Maria now works as Pro Bono Manager at Winston & Strawn, overseeing the firm’s West Coast and Houston offices, and sharing responsibility for the Chicago office. She also supervises the immigration pro bono practice attorney based in the Los Angeles office, manages the national immigration pro bono practice, and connects Winston & Strawn attorneys to pro bono opportunities.  “There was never a shortage of clients in need who were all equally deserving of quality legal representation. My transition to Winston afforded me the ability and resources to continue to provide assistance to these clients but on a much larger scale.”

Winston & Strawn employees are proactively and wholeheartedly engaging with the future of public interest law and legal aid. In 2007, LAF honored Winston & Strawn attorneys Kimball and Karen Anderson for their commitment to the legal aid community and the people of Chicago. Kimball and Karen understand intimately the challenges young lawyers face when entering the legal profession, a struggle compounded by astronomical law school bills. The Anderson Fellowship aims to help abate law school debt for an exceptional young lawyer pursuing a career in public interest law. Three LAF employees have received Anderson Fellowships: Dennericka Brooks, Senior Attorney in the Housing Practice Group, in 2008, Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez, Director of the Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, in 2007, and former LAF employee Sarah Biehl, in 2006.

All of these extraordinary individuals are reflective of the sense of social-responsibility that is alive and thriving in Winston & Strawn’s offices. The firm’s employees are motivated by vision of a more equal future, and they are striving to create a legal system that is accessible and full of people as passionate about this goal as they are. We are tremendously grateful to have them on our team here at LAF.

The Giving Kind

Catherine Masters and Schiff Hardin Foster a Pro Bono Mentality

“We do not restrict the kinds of pro bono work our lawyers handle. Instead we encourage them to pursue their pro bono passions,” reads Schiff Hardin’s pro bono page. It is encouragement that Schiff’s attorneys thrive on, and there is perhaps no better single example of what the support of for-profit firm can do for a not-for-profit legal aid organization than Catherine Masters, a partner at Schiff Hardin. Catherine has been an invaluable member of LAF’s Board of Directors since 2014, and currently serves as Co-Chair of the Board Fundraising Committee.  Catherine also collaborates with LAF attorneys on complex cases. Most recently, she assisted LAF in successfully appealing a case before the Illinois Supreme Court, recovering unemployment benefits for an LAF client.

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Photo from Schiff Hardin

“Everyone deserves access to justice — especially those with limited financial means, whose legal problems have magnified (even existential) importance,” says Catherine in an article released internally at Schiff Hardin. “We all work on high-profile matters, but no higher profile issue exists than the life issues LAF’s clients face: securing a safe home, appropriate education, employment, freedom from abuse, opportunity.”

For her pro bono work and counsel, Schiff Hardin awarded Catherine its June 2016 Community Service Award. In additional recognition of her commitment to public interest law and her belief in the necessity of legal aid, the firm has made a generous donation to LAF to celebrate its 50th year. Schiff has created a work environment that fosters public aid and volunteer action, and it  has, in the true spirit of a volunteer, turned its efforts outwards to LAF and other legal aid organizations. LAF is grateful for the firm’s years of support and partnership, and admires Schiff Hardin and Catherine Masters for making pro bono work a priority.