Keith Forrest, Jonathan Baum, and Katten Muchin Rosenman: Taking a Stand for All of Chicago
It is easy to allow your world to narrow, to develop a habit of operating entirely from the comfort of life as you know it. As a result, we lose touch with the fact that our world is much larger than the one we choose to see. Social tunnel vision is a core reason behind the vast disparities maintained within Chicago, and it exists across economic statuses, races, cultures, religions, genders, and professions. “I think that, so often, when you work outside the pro bono field, you tend to forget that not everyone can afford our experience and expertise,” says Keith Forrest, Litigation Paralegal Supervisor at Katten Muchin Rosenman, Manager of Katten’s Firm Litigation Center, and a volunteer at LAF who devotes his spare time to giving clients living in poverty exceptional legal service they could not otherwise afford. “I have always seen the law, imperfect as it is, as an instrument for making things more fair,” adds Jonathan Baum, Director of Pro Bono Services at Katten and another dedicated pro bono volunteer at LAF. “But it only works if you have a skilled and dedicated lawyer. For those who cannot afford one- who are those who most need one- that’s where legal aid in general, and LAF in particular, come in.”
The value Keith and Jonathan place on legal aid is reflected in the priorities of the firm they work for; Katten Muchin Rosenman has been a generous supporter of LAF for years, and the results have been tangible in some very special ways. In 2013, Katten Muchin Rosenman partnered with LAF and The Law Project to establish the Katten Legal Clinic at Jose de Diego Community Academy, a project designed to assist low-income families of students at the public school. On each third Wednesday of the month, attorneys from Katten, LAF, and The Law Project provide free legal advice and services in a variety of areas, including public benefits, housing issues, and family law. “The whole experience of working with LAF to establish and maintain our Katten Legal Clinic has been one of the most rewarding chapters of my legal career,” says Jonathan. He’s been involved in legal aid work since the beginning of his career, and has spent a majority of that time partnering with LAF in varying degrees. “Working in legal aid in Chicago over the past 30 plus years, how could I not have not known about LAF? It is the premier provider of legal services for the poor in Illinois. Also, many of my best friends, and most respected colleagues, in the legal profession have worked for LAF over the years. I stay involved both because the work LAF does is so important and because nobody does this important work better than LAF.”
Keith speaks of opportunity that is full of invaluable lessons, lessons seasoned pro bono attorneys like Keith and Jonathan are eager to pass on “I’ve been in the legal profession for 29 years; my primary role has been to support corporate entities rather than individuals in need. Over the years, working with pro bono matters has given me the amazing opportunity to assist those persons who cannot afford legal aid.” As the manager of the legal clinic, I’m always surprised by how uncertain/nervous our new volunteer attorneys are when they first come to the clinic.Their comfort zone is tested in a way they have probably never experienced before.” It is in those moments outside our comfort zones that our world is widened, and Kattin Muchin Rosenman knows this is where the road there begins to a stronger, more just, and more engaged Chicago legal community.
Jonathan Baum and Keith Forrest are just two of the many fantastic employees volunteering across LAF’s network of support: General Counsel Ted S. Helwig is also Vice President of LAF’s Board of Directors, and Partner Jared Heck and Associate Thomas Maas are involved members of LAF’s Young Professional’s Board. Katten and its employees are powerful examples of what could be: a world where for-profit law firms aid and further empower not-for-profit legal aid organizations, partnering together for the betterment of their shared communities. After all, the attorneys at LAF and the socially-conscientious people working at Katten are driven by the same thing, perhaps best summarized by Keith: “I feel our most important job is to treat people with respect and compassion, to truly listen to what people need. And that, at the end of the day it is perfectly fine to tell someone that we don’t know the answer to their problem, but that we will find one for them. For myself this is the most important service we can provide- to assist individuals in creating a road map so that they arrive where they need to be in their lives.”