Once a month, Katten Muchin Rosenman associate Alyse Sagalchik, 31, goes to school.
It’s Jose de Diego Community Academy in Humboldt Park. She shows up at 4 p.m., only in months when school is in session. She heads down to the former nurse’s office and sees who’s waiting in line. She sees if there’s a Northwestern Pritzker School of Law student there to shadow her. She sees who else from Katten or the legal services program LAF is there.
Then she goes to work.
Sagalchik is a volunteer at the Katten Legal Clinic at Jose de Diego, once a month trading her work in Katten’s corporate department to provide legal services and advice for those who need it. LAF awarded her a 2017 Volunteer of the Year award for her work aiding low-income members of the Humboldt Park community on Chicago’s West Side.
“What you often find is that the individuals are not confident enough because they’ve not confronted the law, or they’ve confronted the law and it’s only been a negative experience,” she said. “They need a lawyer to assure them they’re on the right path or to guide them to the right path.”
The demand is great, but the supply is increasing. When Sagalchik started at Katten, the firm had trouble getting associates to volunteer. Now, Sagalchik said, she sometimes has trouble finding an open slot at Jose de Diego.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CL: How did you get involved in the clinic?
Sagalchik: It was actually something that I asked about before I decided to lateral and come over to Katten. It was important to me to be at a place where they have a real commitment to pro bono work. I spoke with Jonathan Baum, who’s the director of all things pro bono at Katten. He shared with me the various different ways the firm has formal commitments to pro bono and highlighted the clinic as one of the main ones and one of its most unique commitments. I joined the firm in December of 2015 and I think my first time at the clinic was probably in February of 2016.
I went in actually being a little bit terrified because a lot of the clients come in with fairly novel issues but also they deal with areas of law that I don’t typically work with on a daily basis. Before coming to Katten, I had primarily focused my pro bono work on immigration-related pro bono matters and at the time that was one of the only things that the clinic categorically did not do. Since then it’s changed and now they do address immigration-related issues, but basically the only two categories at the time that were off-limits were immigration and criminal law.
All of my fears of being uncomfortable ended up being unfounded, and I just sort of loved the process of meeting anywhere from two to, at the maximum, five possible clients each time you go and the different fact patterns they come in with and the instant ability to feel you’ve made a difference.
CL: Why was immigration off the table?
Sagalchik: That changed with the [Trump] administration. We found that so many people were coming in with immigration-related questions that it wasn’t really adequate to refer them all to LAF’s immigration-related services. There was, in fact, stuff we could do for them at the clinic that would directly help them immediately.
CL: What legal services do you provide?
Sagalchik: Often, I sit a client down, introduce myself, ask them “What brought you here today?” and that opens up the gates, generally. Issues I’ve heard run the whole gamut of what you can imagine. There are a lot of landlord-tenant-related issues, there are public benefit issues. A number, I would say, focus themselves in family law-related matters whether it’s divorce, domestic violence, orders of protection, child custody issues, you name it. It’s a pretty good mix, I would say, of men and women. Lots of different ethnic backgrounds and the unifying theme is they all just don’t know where to start.