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For those about to rock: We salute you, and all of Chicago’s pro bono rock stars

August 01, 2017
By Chicago Lawyer
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.

mcb@cvls.org

Do you have any professional role models? Clarence Darrow or Thurgood Marshall? Barack Obama or the Notorious R.B.G.? While these are excellent role models, why not consider Kathleen Robson or Salvador Lopez? What about Gary Wachtel, Trisha Rich or Sandy Morris?

If you don’t already know them, it’s time you meet Chicago’s very own pro bono rock stars.

Kathleen Robson and Sal Lopez formed Robson & Lopez as a socially conscious law firm. The philosophy of service they posted on their website makes that clear. “Robson & Lopez was founded on the ideals that lawyers serve clients and the community and not the other way around. Robson & Lopez … believe in giving back to their community.”

These two attorneys have taken hundreds of pro bono mortgage foreclosure defense cases and other litigation matters from legal aid agencies in addition to doing their own informal pro bono from time to time. They also volunteer hours at the Daley Center’s Foreclosure Help Desk and the federal court’s Bankruptcy Help Desk. This summer, the Chicago Bar Foundation recognized these giving law partners with the Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Award.

Gary Wachtel, senior director at Discover Financial Services, founded his company’s pro bono efforts in 2012. While, in the beginning, he did nearly all of the planning and execution of Discover’s pro bono efforts himself, the program grew. Over the last two years, more than 90 percent of Discover’s lawyers and paralegals have participated in pro bono work.

Gary has made it easy for his team to find something they want to do by offering them a wide variety of pro bono opportunities. They can provide direct client services, do community presentations, help with mock trial training for high school students, staff a help desk at the Rolling Meadows courthouse or volunteer for a walk-in clinic in the South Side community of Woodlawn. As a result of Gary’s extraordinary and energetic efforts, he received the foundation’s Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award.

Trisha Rich, an associate at Holland & Knight, was awarded the foundation’s Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award — an honor reserved for attorneys age 36 and younger.

Trish’s area of practice is professional responsibility. A leader in her field, Trish founded the Attorney Defense Initiative to provide pro bono legal assistance at the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission for attorneys facing disciplinary action who cannot afford to hire counsel. According to Trish, who takes some of the most challenging cases herself, “In many cases, these attorneys engaged in acts as a direct result of their impairments and they are unable to meaningfully participate in the process. We help them through the process, point them in the right direction for treatment and help them to salvage their livelihood.”

Sandy Morris received the John C. McAndrews Pro Bono Service Award from the Illinois State Bar Association for years of providing direct pro bono services to individuals in a broad spectrum of case types. Throughout her career, Sandy has represented pro bono clients in collection defense cases, mortgage foreclosures, evictions, tort defense, guardianship and adoptions. Adoptions are her favorite cases; she’s handled five in the past two years. Sandy nearly always has at least one pro bono case going while also serving on the boards of directors of two legal aid programs.

There really isn’t enough room here to include all of the great work done by these and other award winners: Howard Rubin, DePaul University College of Law, recipient of the foundation’s Leonard J. Schaeger Award of Excellence; Sheri Mecklenburg, U.S. Attorney’s Office, recipient of the Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award; Sarah Hess, Legal Counsel for Health Justice, recipient of the Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship and Daniel J. Lesser, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, recipient of the Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award.

Chicago’s legal rock stars — role models for us all.

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