Some of LAF’s best partners in the community are former LAF staff. Nobody understands the importance or the complexity of our work like alumni. Elise Tincher is one of those alums who continues to give back to LAF. Now the Chicago Pro Bono Counsel at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, she manages the pro bono efforts of Kirkland’s Chicago attorneys and helps connect them to volunteer opportunities with LAF and other legal aid organizations. “Legal aid is not only important, it is essential,” she explains. “Many of the clients I represented during my time at LAF would not have been able to obtain protection from their abuser, or keep their home, without an attorney. LAF attorneys save lives and get justice for the most vulnerable members of our society every day, and at Kirkland we are proud to be a part of the great work that LAF does.”
One particular story exemplifies the great work Kirkland does for LAF clients. Kirkland intellectual property partner Craig Leavell and associate Alyse Wu, (pictured here with Elise, R-L) volunteered with Kirkland’s Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program, where they met Steffa and her daughter Hannah. Steffa was a single mother who had been physically abused and harassed by Hannah’s father and his new wife. Steffa defended herself from one of these attacks, and then found herself accused of assault and battery. Hannah’s father and his new wife had far more money and resources than Steffa, and were trying to take her life savings away and deprive her of child support because of this trumped up allegation. Steffa desperately needed legal help, but could not afford it, so Craig and Alyse stepped in for free. They won the day in court and got the case against Steffa dismissed in its entirety. Later Steffa reached out to Craig and Alyse again, seeking help getting a passport for Hannah, without the signature or cooperation of her abusive father, so Hannah could finally go visit family in Poland. Elise put Craig and Alyse in touch with attorneys at LAF, and together they obtained a court order allowing the passport application without the father’s signature and also awarding Steffa sole legal parental responsibility for Hannah. As Craig explains, LAF helped provide “assistance and support navigating an unfamiliar area of the law in an unfamiliar court.”
Asked about the impact of LAF on clients like Steffa, Alyse told a heartbreaking story: “I’ve also always known that there’s a large need for legal services for people who can’t afford private representation–I see the numbers every year that the Chicago Bar Foundation and other legal aid organizations put out. While I understood the problems from a metrics perspective, Steffa showed me how bad the problem can be beyond the numbers – how the dearth of legal aid services can make people feel like they shouldn’t seek help when they need it. During one of our first meetings, Steffa recounted her efforts to get an appointment with the help desk at the Daley Center when she first began looking for pro bono assistance with her assault and battery case. She showed up early to wait in a winding line for hours just to put her name on the sign-up sheet. She was nearing the front of the line after hours of waiting when she began talking to the woman waiting next to her. That woman told her about the abusive relationship she was trying to escape. Her story shook Steffa, and Steffa ultimately decided to give up her spot because she thought there were people who needed help more desperately than her. It was heartbreaking to hear that a woman who clearly needed help, whose life savings and ability to provide for her child were at risk, felt that there wasn’t enough help to go around and that she needed to give up on getting help herself in favor of other people who needed it. Legal aid services are so important–they can mean the difference between life and death, between having a home or living on the streets, between being victimized by an abuser and being able to live safely. We need to keep striving for a community in which those services are readily available to everyone who needs them, a community where no one wonders if they are deserving enough of help because it is so hard to get.”
“The most compelling and rewarding aspect,” says Craig,” was seeing the relief, joy, and appreciation from the client at the conclusion of the matter It was relatively straightforward in a legal sense, but was a significant and deeply personal challenge for the client. It was a real pleasure helping the client and her daughter move forward knowing these issues were finally behind them.”
LAF is deeply grateful for Elise, Craig, and Alyse, on behalf of Steffa and all the clients like her, for their dedication to providing legal services to the people in our community who need them most.