The Moves We Make

Richard Klawiter and DLA Piper: Legal Aid Advocates Making Strides

When you move, you take things with you. Usually these things are what are most important to you, that you would find it difficult to live without. When Richard Klawiter left his position as an LAF staff attorney in 1994 for a job at a DLA Piper legacy firm, he packed up much more than his office. “My first four years as a lawyer were at LAF and it helped shape who I am, what I think, and what I aspire to do as a professional and as a person,” he explains. “[Legal aid] is why I went to law school and what continues to give significant meaning to my law practice and my life fulfillment.” Now Vice Chair and a partner in DLA Piper’s National Real Estate Group, as well as Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, Rich has continued to play an important role at LAF, devoting his time, passion, and expertise as a member of the Board of Directors.

Speak with anyone in the LAF community and they will tell you that Chicago is a city plagued with many social and economic rifts, and your ability to navigate the inevitable obstacles the world will throw your way is determined by which side of those rifts you’re on. It will determine if you can get help when you cannot help yourself.

“I don’t think it’s possible to practice law… without considering how fortunate our clients [in the private sector] are to have the ability to hire capable lawyers,” says Rich.”Juxtapose that with the thousands of Chicagoans in less affluent neighborhoods who have limited or no access to the same justice and legal system that our fee-paying clients take for granted. I don’t feel good if I ignore that juxtaposition, unless I do something about it.”

Rich Klawiter

Rich Klawiter at LAF’s 2013 Golf Outing.

DLA Piper has been a steadfast ally of LAF for many years, and the firm’s belief in the necessity of legal aid is most emphasized through its employees. LAF is fortunate enough to not only have Rich on the Board, but DLA Piper Associates Katherine C. Jahnke Dale, Christine Bass, Joseph Carey, and Emily Snyder as active members of its Young Professionals Board. Across the country, DLA Piper was recently recognized for its dedication to making the firm’s skills and resources more accessible to pro bono partners- the New York Office received the 2016 President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Large Law Firm Category from the New York State Bar Association.  In December of 2015, as well as last month, the Chicago office hosted the training “Tight Budgets, Tough Choices,” a training exercise that places participants into positions similar to those lived out by people in poverty, and challenges them to make the same kind of difficult choices LAF’s clients face every day.

Having spent the early years of his legal career in the thick of poverty law, Rich connects deeply with the exercise, having seen these stories played out in his years involved in legal aid. “Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is a great exercise, especially when you experience some of what LAF clients must endure on a daily basis. They are faced with making impossible choices that pit one set of needs against another set of needs. Do I pay for my daughter’s books, or go without food for the day? Do I spend money on day care, or leave my child with a relative for the day? Do I spend money on housing in a safe neighborhood at the expense of my son’s private school tuition, or do I send my son to private school and hope and pray that he makes it back to my house alive every day? It is impossible to empathize sufficiently with the plight of this side of Chicago, but it is out there and experiencing it even in the superficial way the simulation allows is pretty compelling stuff and represents a call to action.”  Rich Klawiter heard that call when he decided to take his first steps into LAF’s Englewood Office at the start of his career, and he hasn’t stopped since.  In fact, on June 17 Rich will begin serving his second term as Board President.

DLA Piper is listening, and, more importantly, they are responding.  Their DC office participated in the training last week, it is already slated to take place in the Houston office, and many other office locations are looking into opening the training to their employees as well. Anne Geraghty Helms, Director and Counsel for US Pro Bono Programs at DLA Piper, said that during the Chicago December training a seasoned attorney approached her and said that it was “the best CLE program I have ever gone to.” Others have told her that it should be mandatory for all first year employees.

By joining forces with LAF, and nurturing a culture of social responsibility within the firm, DLA Piper is setting a shining example for its peers in the private sector to emulate, demonstrating how mutually rewarding and important pro bono work truly is to the legal aid community. LAF is proud to partner with DLA Piper, and fortunate to have such an outstanding ambassador in Rich Klawiter. With their help, we continue to help the people of Chicago move forward.

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