Partner Helps Second-Year Associate Win Second Pro Bono Jury Trial in Two Years
For the second time in two years, Jenner & Block Partner Louis E. Fogel and second-year Associate Emily K. McWilliams teamed up to win a jury trial for a pro bono client. The case stemmed from a car accident that occurred in January 2015. The client, Sakib Choudhury, initially filed a pro se complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, alleging that the defendant collided with his car while the defendant was attempting to merge lanes on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. The defendant’s insurance company denied the claim, forcing Mr. Choudhury to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to repair his car. Although he prevailed at non-binding arbitration, the defendant’s insurance company still refused to settle the case.
At that point, the Chicago Bar Association and CARPLS (Cook County’s largest provider of free legal services) reached out to the firm seeking pro bono representation for Mr. Choudhury.
After a one-day trial in which Ms. McWilliams conducted voir dire, selected the six-person jury, presented opening statement, questioned two witnesses on direct and re-direct examination, cross-examined the defendant’s fact witness and made the closing argument, the jury awarded Mr. Choudhury $3300, which was 30 percent more than the defendant’s final settlement offer. The award included transportation-related costs for the four months that Mr. Choudhury did not have access to his vehicle.
Summer associates Mila Babic, Jing X. Quek and Smitha B. Uthaman attended the trial, joining Mr. Fogel and Ms. McWilliams in the judge’s chambers for argument on motions in limine and jury instructions.
Associate Emily K. McWilliams Discusses What Jenner & Block's Pro Bono Work Means to Her
Emily K. McWilliams is an associate in the Litigation Department in the firm's Chicago office. Her pro bono practice is varied and includes representing, among others, a retired school teacher in a civil suit.
Q: What kind of pro bono work do you do at the firm? (Describe individual cases or the programs that you are involved in that provide a pipeline of pro bono work to the firm).
Emily: I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of pro bono matters since joining the firm. I have represented a plaintiff in a civil suit through CARPLS, a Cook County legal aid agency; secured dismissal of criminal charges against an indigent mother facing imprisonment for drug distribution; and expunged the criminal record of an immigrant whose minor infraction 30 years ago was preventing her from obtaining employment. I also negotiated a settlement for a pro bono client who was a defendant and counter-claimant in a breach of contract case, and am currently assisting a client in getting her prostitution conviction expunged under the Illinois Victims of Sex Trafficking Act.
Q: Describe one or two of the most significant pro bono cases you have worked on while at the firm.
Emily: As a first-year associate, I represented a retired school teacher of limited means in a civil suit for negligence against a large company. After the company refused to settle, a partner and I tried the case to a 12-person jury. After months of preparation, I conducted voir dire, presented two witnesses on direct and re-direct examination, and made opening and closing arguments. After a one-day trial and three hours of deliberation, the jury awarded our client the full amount of damages requested. Through this case, I was able to build a meaningful relationship with a client in need while also gaining significant litigation experience.
Q: Why is it important to you to do pro bono?
Emily: Everyone deserves to have high quality legal representation. Through pro bono work, I can support and empower individuals who are in true need of a helping hand while empowering myself by gaining firsthand experience and building litigation skills.
Q: How has Jenner & Block supported you in your pro bono practice?
Emily: Jenner & Block has enthusiastically supported my pro bono practice since the minute I started at the firm. The partners who have supervised me on pro bono matters have taken the time to give me guidance and have also encouraged me to take ownership of cases and run with them. Mentorship is the greatest resource of all that Jenner & Block has offered so far on my pro bono journey.
Q: How has pro bono helped you professionally?
Emily: Through my pro bono work, I have had invaluable opportunities to develop my skills as a litigator and strengthen relationships with experienced attorneys in the firm, across practice areas. Most importantly, I have been able to build relationships with clients who are in need of legal assistance and give back to the community.
Q: What would you tell others about your experience doing pro bono?
Emily: One of my clients told me that as she worked with Jenner & Block, she felt that she was finally learning how to effectively advocate for herself and that it was the first time she had been treated with respect in the course of dealing with the legal system. The added responsibilities of taking on pro bono work are so worth the rewards – both interpersonal and professional.