LAF Hosts 2nd Annual Modern-Day American Worker Conference

IMG_2108LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group hosted its 2nd Annual Modern-Day American Worker Conference: Enforcing Workers’ Rights in Changing Times held at Chicago-Kent College of Law on Friday, March 24.  For the second year, the Conference was generously sponsored by the Polk Bros Foundation and hosted close to 70 participants.  A variety of attorneys and advocates discussed a wide range of topics affecting low-wage workers and immigrants in Illinois, including discrimination in temporary work agencies, the psycho-social impacts of wage theft and sexual assault, and document abuse.  With LAF attorneys as moderators, panelists included legal experts such as Pablo Godoy, Trial Attorney with the US Department of Justice’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, and Healing to Action Co-Founder Sheerine Alemzadeh.  Attendees included officials from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, in addition to immigration and employment law attorneys, law students, and community-based organizations assisting victims of human trafficking and low-wage workers.

Speakers throughout the day touched on some of the key legal issues impacting migrant workers’ rights in Illinois, as well as how they manifest in our modern legal system. The Conference’s opening lecturer was Sheila Maddali, the Co-Director of Restaurant Opportunities Center, who discussed the legal rights of restaurant workers and her agency’s work on their behalf.  Ms. Alemzadeh, along with Professor Jacob Lesniewski of Dominican University and Arturo Carillo of St. Anthony’s Wellness Program discussed recent research on the psycho-social impact of wage theft on workers.  In the afternoon, LAF’s Miguel Keberlein, Director of the Immigration and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, discussed vulnerabilities of low-wage agricultural workers, who have explaining how these workers have always been exempt from overtime pay standards, unlike all other sectors.  Another panel, with attorney Godoy, the Regional Director of the NLRB, attorney Kalman Resnick and Raise the Floor Director Lydia Colunga discussed document abuse discrimination and remedies for workers. As the closing panelists, Miguel and former LAF attorney Jose Alonso, shared googlemapping tools they use to identify and track places where migrant workers live and work in order to create effective outreach to workers in rural Illinois. These tools make it easier to find and keep track of migrant workers, who are often socially and geographically isolated, in order to intervene and advocate on behalf of exploited and vulnerable workers throughout Illinois.

Thanks to everyone who was able to join LAF for these enlightening discussions. Special thanks to our community partners for coming together to share information and resources. These efforts will continue to build collaborative relationships between LAF and other stakeholders in the effort to enforce workers’ rights in our communities.

February eNewsletter

The winds of political change have swept over the country, and word of massive change in programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and the Affordable Care Act is in the air.  Immigrant families are terrified of being caught up in mass deportations.  Funding for even the Legal Service Corporation itself is at risk – which would slash LAF’s budget nearly in half.
No one can predict the outcome of the political debate, but it certainly looks as if, in the words of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, “a hard rain’s gonna fall” on people who have very little shelter from the storm.

2015 Annual Report

p01-cover-croppedIn the midst of LAF’s 50th Anniversary, we also must also pause to look back at last year.  The 2015 Annual Report is finally available, here and on our website.
In it, you can read about Marleita, whom LAF rescued from a con artist who had promised renovations on her home, George Ann, for whom LAF ensured custody of her teenage son Nic, and Reine, who was able to access Social Security Income with the tireless help of LAF’s Public Benefits Practice Group, and many others.
You can also see our list of major donors from 2015.  And if you haven’t had the chance to secure your place on that list for 2016, you can make a contribution online today.

50th Anniversary Retrospective: LAF and Cabrini Green

As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary this year, we’re looking back over some of the most impactful work LAF has been involved in over the last half century.  Some of those cases have been on behalf of the residents of the Cabrini-Green Housing Development.  Check out our interactive retrospective on our website now!

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Summer Law Student Interns, and August eNewsletter

This summer, LAF hosted 31 law student interns and six law graduate Fellows. They hailed from 13 law schools across the country and served clients in each of our five Practice Groups. Our interns and Fellows brought enthusiasm for learning, dedication to our clients, and commitment to social justice.  They left with a deeper understanding of poverty law and the challenges our clients face.  As a result of the hard work of these interns and Fellows, LAF was able to provide advice and representation to more clients and impact more lives in a positive way. We are so grateful for the time that they devoted to us this summer, and wish them all the best as they head back to school later this month.  We profiled their work in this month’s eNewsletter, which you can read here.

On behalf of everyone at LAF and all the clients we serve, thank you for your generosity and support of our work.  Your investment in LAF is not just an investment in our clients’ lives, it’s also an investment in the next generation of civil legal aid lawyers, who will continue to improve the world for people living in poverty.

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.