February 17, 2015

Emily K. McWilliams Environmental ShotE.K. McWilliams is an associate in the Litigation Department in the firm's Chicago office.  Their 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).
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. 
E.K.: 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?
E.K.: 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? 
E.K.: 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?
E.K.: 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?
E.K.: 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.

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