Let’s Do Lunch

The First in LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series: Meet the LAF Housing Practice Group

IMG_0671IMG_0669The LAF Housing Practice Group has been doing pioneering work of late.  Some cases have created headlines, like the win for Cabrini-Green residents that’s been covered across local news.  Other cases are poised to be groundbreaking, involving civil rights issues like gender inequality and racial disparity that have just begun to garner long-deserved media attention.  Even others are stories that never get told but have a significant impact on a person or family or community.  Attorneys Dennericka Brooks, Neha Lall, Larry Wood, and Lizzie Rosenthal took time over lunch today to talk about the Housing Practice Group’s accomplishments and the trails they continue to blaze. “It’s an uphill battle,” said Dennericka, “but I’m ready to fight. We’re ready to fight.”

Often, LAF’s incredible work remains understated to all but the clients whose lives they’ve helped change for the better.  By bringing back the Brownbag Roundtable Series, LAF has invited other attorneys and social service workers to engage with the organization’s day-to-day victories, its phenomenal staff, and gain further insight into the crucial public service legal aid is.

The Housing Practice Group is the first of this year’s series, and it was a powerful start.  With four other practice groups and newly established medical-legal partnerships, there are plenty more thought-provoking ways to spend a lunch hour coming soon.

Sidley Austin LLP: Outstanding Ambassadors and Partners in the Fight Against Poverty

LAF is beyond grateful for the partnership it has forged with Sidley Austin LLP over the years.  Sidley has long championed the fight for equal justice, and not just from the sidelines.  LAF recently had the great fortune to work alongside Sidley attorneys on a landmark civil legal justice case.  The team ensured that the rights of residents in the former Cabrini Green housing project were upheld by repeatedly taking the Chicago Housing Authority to court and holding them accountable to fulfill their legal obligations to build affordable housing units in the redevelopment of the old Chicago housing project.

Sidley was recently honored for their commitment to pro bono service when the 7th Circuit Bar Association presented the firm with its Pro Bono and Public Service Award for 7th Circuit Awards Dinner - LAF teamOutstanding Work in the District Courts of Illinois.  This not the first time Sidley Austin has been recognized for its work with LAF and its clients.  In May 2012, the Judges of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association presented Sidley Austin with its Award for Excellence In Pro Bono Service.  This award recognized Sidley Austin’s representation of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council in an earlier federal case challenging CHA’s illegal relocation of residents without providing proper notice, adequate alternative housing, and sufficient social services to aid in the relocation.  Pictured here are members of LAF’s staff  who attended the award ceremony to cheer on their teammates from the recent Cabrini litigation.

In addition to the outstanding pro bono partnership LAF has built with Sidley, members of the Sidley community have consistently stepped up over the years to be vocal ambassadors for our work and our clients.  LAF has awarded its Champion for Justice award in recent years to both longtime supporter and former Managing Partner Charles W. Douglas, and Pro Bono Coordinator Richard O’Malley, Jr.  Sidley partner Maja Eaton has been a die-hard member of the LAF Board of Directors, serving as Board president from June of 2013 to June of 2015.  David Majors, a Senior Manager in Sidley’s Strategic Planning and Analysis practice was a founding member of the LAF Young Professionals Board and served as the 2014/15 YPB Co-Chair.

Most recently, Sidley once again led the charge in supporting LAF and legal aid in our community by increasing its annual financial contribution by 50% to $150,000 in 2016, to commemorate LAF’s 50th Anniversary and the firm’s 150th Anniversary.  But even then, just increasing its own support was only part of their commitment to us – Managing Partner Larry Barden also sent a letter to the other Chicago law firms asking them to increase their support by 50% as well.

LAF, and the people we help, are extremely fortunate to have such steady and committed partners like the people at Sidley Austin LLP.  We cannot thank them enough for their continued partnership and support.



Reflections on the Importance of Legal Aid

Recently, Judge Robert Dow, a District Judge for the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the court liaison to our William J. Hibbler Pro Se Assistance Program, along with Associate Judge Elizabeth Joskins Dow, of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit (Will County) in the Family Division, wrote a wonderful tribute to LAF and our 50th Anniversary.  They published it in the The Circuit Rider, the Journal of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association, and generously excerpted it for us.   You can read their Reflections here.

In it, they extol the work of legal aid providers like LAF, noting:

“legal aid services enhance the dignity and self-worth of clients, simply by giving individuals access to a lawyer who can help them navigate a complicated legal system. When clients obtain access to government benefits to which they are entitled, they sometimes can avoid dire circumstances, including homelessness and malnutrition. […] When clients find greater stability in their lives – whether through a job, access to health care, child support, an order of protection, or any other means – they often are better able to provide for themselves and less reliant on social services from the government or nonprofit providers such as Catholic Charities.”

We are deeply grateful for the Judges’ commendation, and urge you to read it for yourself to see how important LAF’s work is for our community.


50th Anniversary and April 2016 eNewsletter

We have some things to celebrate in this month’s eNewsletter (though not the weather!).  LAF turns 50 this year – and we salute all the people who’ve worked here in that time frame, and all the clients we’ve served, and all the supporters who’ve kept us afloat.
One of those clients achieved a great victory this month, which will benefit her and her family.  But it will also change the way a local housing authority deals with women who are the targets of domestic violence.
And we are encouraged that MacArthur Genius Award Winner Matthew Desmond has opened people’s eyes to one of the biggest problems poor people face:  eviction and what it does to communities.  Eviction happens because people living in poverty face the impossible task of juggling to pay their rent, put food on the table, keep the lights on, or have heat.  So it starts with poverty, and the no-win choices poverty imposes.  But once a family is evicted, it is driven even deeper into poverty by having to move into worse housing, living with more stress and illness, and often enduring job loss.  Children bounce from school to school until they drop out.  And homelessness is often the end result.   At LAF, we try to stop this cycle every day.  But Professor Desmond’s book, Evicted, has people talking about housing policy in a whole new way.
If only the State of Illinois had a budget, we would be full of hope and enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t – we are now at the end of month 10 of the current budget impasse, and there is no end in sight.  For LAF, no state budget means that, from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, we will not be paid for almost $1 million in work the State has given us contracts to provide.  Our reserves fell by more than $800,000 in 2015.  The LAF Board will spend another $300,000 of our reserves in 2016 to help with an anticipated $620,000 deficit this year.  We are currently working hard to identify savings to fill the rest of the hole.
As much as LAF has been hurt by the budget situation, many of our partners in the social service sector have been hurt much worse.  According to a recent United Way survey, 88% of respondents in Chicagoland have cut the number of clients they serve or eliminated whole programs.  Almost half of them have tapped into their cash reserves.  Nearly a third have laid off staff, and 5% have had to skip payrolls.   And, of course, the clients we all serve have been hit the hardest of all.
The next 50 years at LAF are starting off with big challenges!  Read about them and much more in our latest eNewsletter!

Miguel’s Wellstone Award

Miguel - Wellstone AwardWe are proud to congratulate the Director of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, Miguel Keberlein, who recieved the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award in a ceremony last night.  It was awarded by the Freedom Network, a national alliance of advocates working with survivors of human trafficking.   The award is named in honor of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both champions of human rights and justice. The Wellstone Award recognizes individuals and agencies that have made a unique or outstanding contribution to combating human trafficking and slavery in the United States.  Miguel received the award for his advocacy on behalf of migrant seasonal farm workers, who are often victims of human trafficking.  An excerpt of his moving acceptance speech follows:
Miguel - Wellstone Award 2“We all come to this work for different reasons and from different backgrounds.  For myself, I spent much of my youth growing up in my mother’s home country of Guatemala in a very remote village during the height of the civil war.  War is not kind and the atrocities one witnesses can easily shake one’s belief in mankind.  But there are always lessons to be learned and much good can come from the darkest of moments, something I am always reminded of when I work with our clients.  My father has always considered Don Quixote as his hero and I’ve received the book as a gift from him on several occasions throughout my life.  I look back now and I know why.  In the face of reality in a world that too often tells us we can’t, sometimes we are required to forge ahead by seeing the world for all that it can be.  I believe in a world the way Paul and Sheila Wellstone saw it, the way my father sees it, and indeed the way Don Quixote sees it.  Together we can create a world where respecting human dignity is the cornerstone of our society, and where human trafficking is something of the past.”

Congratulations, Miguel!

Supreme Court Victory and March 2016 eNewsletter

In this month’s eNewsletter, we shared a story of victory at the Illinois Supreme Court.  Last fall, LAF attorneys Miriam Hallbauer and Tim Huizenga appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court on behalf of a client who was denied unemployment insurance benefits even though her former employer had no evidence she’d violated any workplace policies.  This was the first misconduct case the Court had heard in years, and lower courts had substantially watered down the misconduct requirement (which disqualified a worker from getting benefits), from a deliberate violation of a known rule to anything the employer could call misconduct.  Because of Miriam and Tim’s work, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down an opinion that squarely rejects the lower courts’ interpretations, noting that “an employee should not be disqualified unless she engages in conduct she knew was prohibited.”  This decision will have an enormously beneficial impact for our clients and others seeking unemployment insurance benefits.