Giving thanks

Five attorneys who have gone above and beyond

Pro Bono

Meg Benson

Meg Benson has worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the oldest pro bono organization in the country, for more than 30 years. As executive director, she coordinates the agency’s bench, bar and law firm relations and directs its program management and funding. A family law litigator, she still handles minor guardianship and custody cases.

November 2015

November is a time to give thanks. Although thankfulness should be constant in your life, it isn’t always. As Thanksgiving nears, let thoughts of gratitude come to mind.

Attorneys have a lot to be thankful for — a good education, a satisfying career and a decent lifestyle. Once in a while, however, we need to thank those among us who elevate our profession and make us all look really, really good.

Shauna Prewitt is an example. An associate at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Shauna is not your stereotypical big firm drone. A national advocate of legal protections for mothers who conceive children through rape, Shauna has been instrumental in advancing and passing federal and state laws that free mothers of rape-conceived children from having to co-parent with their rapists.

By going public with her own story, she opened countless doors and got the attention of state and federal legislators. In the past five years, Shauna has helped pass legislation addressing the custody rights of rapists in 14 states. Illinois’ statute, that she drafted, is a national model. But Shauna doesn’t limit pro bono work to her personal cause, she also serves as guardian ad litem for children in guardianship cases, handles asylum, immigration and domestic violence cases and … the list goes on and on.

This summer, Shauna was honored with The Chicago Bar Association/Chicago Bar Foundation Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award for her passion, her activism and her hard work.

We can also thank Jenner & Block partner Gabriel Fuentes, who received the Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award from the CBA/CBF.

Gabe has spent more than 5,000 hours on pro bono work during his 17 years at Jenner, handling indigent criminal defense, prisoners’ rights and asylum cases. He also handles cases involving the protection of minority voting rights and free speech. That’s just his pro bono caseload. On top of that, as co-chair of Jenner’s pro bono committee, Gabe has mentored scores of attorneys on their pro bono work, initiated training programs for legal aid issues and expanded the firm’s pro bono referral network and collaborations with legal aid programs.

Corporate Counsel Claire Battle of ArcelorMittal USA deserves thanks for her impactful work on behalf of tenants in Chicago’s eviction courts. She monitored and recorded information on dozens of eviction hearings which helped lead to court reforms. She also participated in outreach programs to teach low-income individuals their rights and responsibilities as tenants. Her 20 years of pro bono work within the corporate legal community has not only helped to protect and to expand services for low-income tenants across the city, it encourages other corporate counsels to do the same.

Claire is this year’s recipient of the CBA/CBF Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award.

We also should thank those who teach and inspire the next generation of public service attorneys. As director of public service programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law since 2007, Mary Bird-Murphy has made it possible for thousands of Loyola law students to experience the benefits of public service.

Believing that the law has the potential to significantly change society for the better, Mary works to instill that vision in every student that graduates from Loyola’s law school. In recent years, more than two-thirds of Loyola students have participated in public service activities.

From teaching inner-city students about legal careers to funding public interest law fellowships; from creating a public service certificate program to holding days of service during first-year orientation, Mary makes it hard for any student to avoid public service during law school.

As a result of her work, the CBA/CBF honored her with its 2015 Leonard Jay Schrager Award of Excellence.

Finally, let us thank Leslie Landis, chief administrator for the Cook County Circuit Court’s Domestic Violence Division and recipient of the CBA/CBF Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award.

Public servants are too often overlooked when it comes to recognizing and thanking attorneys for their work. Leslie has dedicated her entire 30 plus year career fighting for victims of domestic violence. Her current job gives her broad responsibility across the court system. She trains judges, triages victims and coordinates the departments that work within the Cook County court’s domestic violence system.

In 2011, Leslie helped launch the Pro Bono Project, a collaboration of 19 law firms, the Domestic Violence Clinic and the Domestic Violence Court. In addition to significantly expanding the clinic’s capacity, it introduces hundreds of Chicago attorneys to this vulnerable segment of society, turning them into passionate advocates for victims of domestic violence.

On behalf of Chicago’s lawyers, thank you Shauna, Gabe, Claire, Mary and Leslie. You honor us. We are indebted to you for improving our profession and for making us look good.

C’mon folks, follow their examples and do pro bono work. Happy Thanksgiving.