Blog: Pro Bono

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

Melissa Picciola comes to LCBH with eight years of legal experience. She started her career at a large law firm and most recently has been with Equip for Equality. She also has experience providing legal trainings in a wide variety of settings including national, state and local conferences and meetings.

Melissa Picciola earned both her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Finance and her J.D. from the University of Illinois. After law school, she worked as an associate at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Beginning in 2009, she worked as a staff attorney in the Public Policy and Abuse Investigation Unit at Equip for Equality. During her time at Equip for Equality, Melissa worked with a variety of issues affecting individuals with disabilities including access to community-based services such as employment; Medicaid payment structures and access to benefits; and increasing voter participation among individuals with disabilities.

Pro Bono Impact

Chris Tompkins and Jeremy Dunnaback, Jenner & Block

At LCBH, pro bono is an integral part of our work. Our volunteers and interns give us the manpower and resources we need to do our work more effectively and to reach out to as many renters as possible.

Neighborhood

This summer, Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) teamed up with the John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program and Heartland Alliance to help a family in crisis get a fresh start. The Ali family had recently fled Syria during the civil war and escaped to the US where they hoped to establish a new life. They moved into an apartment building that had a bedbug infestation, and soon their small children suffered from bed bug bites that required ongoing medical attention. To make matters worse, the landlord refused to treat the infestation and had threatened the family suggesting he could interfere with their application for asylum.

The family did not speak much English and they were at a loss about how to best to protect themselves. Without steady income and paying for mounting extermination and medical cost, soon the Ali family found themselves in eviction court. For any family, facing a legal system can be very intimidating and foreign, even to those who have lived their entire lives here in America.

Eviction Defense Training

LCBH is hosting an Eviction Defense Training for interested volunteers on Wednesday,July 22 at 12:00 PM. The training will be held at the LCBH office located at 33 N LaSalle Street, Suite 900. Attendees will also receive 1.0 MCLE credit hour. Please feel free to bring your lunch.

This hour-long training will cover the basics of landlord-tenant law and eviction practice in Illinois. Attendees will learn about the various state and local laws governing landlord-tenant relationships and the ins and outs of the eviction courtroom. We will also discuss different ways to get involved and support LCBH’s mission through pro bono work.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) believes that every individual and family is entitled to decent housing as a basic need and human right. For over thirty years, LCBH has defended the rights of tenants to have safe, accessible, and affordable housing on a non-discriminatory basis through education, outreach, supportive services, advocacy, and legal representation impacting over 7000 Chicago area renters each year. LCBH provides free legal assistance to low and moderate-income renters facing eviction and other serious housing issues. With the help of our volunteers, LCBH represents over 400 individuals and families in court each year, many times providing the last defense against homelessness.

Please contact snazem@lcbh.org with questions or to RSVP for the training.

Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award

Claire Battle, ArcelorMittal USA
LCBH Executive Director Cheryl Lawrence (left) with Board Member Claire Battle

The Chicago Bar Foundation presented LCBH board member, Claire Battle, with the Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award at their 17th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon July 14, 2015.

While a busy and successful in-house attorney at ArcelorMittal USA, spouse and parent, Claire Battle continues to make pro bono a priority in her career. Her commitment to Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) dates back to her undergraduate years at Northwestern University volunteering as an intern in the late 1990s. After law school, Claire was a volunteer attorney and has been an LCBH board member for 14 years. Lending a variety of talents, Claire has been involved with various LCBH committees and made contributions in whatever capacity she is needed. Her lasting contributions include co-founding and LCBH’s Hearts for Housing fundraiser, which has grown from an informal gathering to a flagship event attended by hundreds of attorneys and sponsored by the city’s biggest firms as well as co-founding LCBH’s Young Professionals Board. In addition to all of her contributions to LCBH her work proliferates as she encourages and helps her fellow in-house counsel find meaningful pro bono work in her position as Co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Young Professionals Board Spotlight

Q & A with Jessica Panza
Young Professionals Board President, Jessica Panza

LCBH’s Young Professionals Board (YPB) began in 2010. The YPB has played a very important role in Hearts for Housing – acquiring raffle prizes, selling raffle and event tickets, and volunteering during this popular LCBH annual event. On the heels of celebrating the tenth annual Hearts for Housing, we thought we would introduce you to YPB President, Jessica Panza. Thank you, Jessica, for all that you do for LCBH. Your enthusiasm is infectious!

How did you first get involved with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing?
Claire Battle, LCBH Board Secretary, introduced me to LCBH several years ago, when we were both starting our careers as attorneys. She had been involved for quite some time and her enthusiasm for the organization spurred my involvement. As I learned about LCBH's mission, the real need for LCHB's services in our community, and lack of other similar resources, I better understood Claire's passion for LCBH and jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the formation of the Young Professional's Board.

Kira Wilpone-Jordan

Kira Wilpone-Jordan learned about Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) as a first year law student (1L) while attending DePaul Law School. She attended a Brown Bag Lunch sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Law where she heard LCBH's pro bono coordinator, Samira Nazem, speak about the agency. Intrigued by what she heard, Kira applied to join LCBH as a summer intern. Two years later, Kira continues to volunteer and has worked with three different legal programs at LCBH advocating on behalf of tenants.

As a strong supporter of LCBH's mission, Kira firmly believes that housing is a basic human right. As she puts it, "people in positions of power know they have housing, so they don't think of the consequences of not having access to stable housing and living with housing insecurity. It's something that everyone uses, but often takes for granted."

We Love Pro Bono

In 2014, 55 attorneys donated more than 3700 hours to the Pro Bono Program at Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) helping families in crisis. In the process, these attorneys developed their litigation skills, learned a new area of law, created new professional relationships and most importantly MADE A DIFFERENCE in the lives of many Chicago renters! Here are some highlights from the LCBH Pro Bono Program from just the 1st quarter of 2015:

Why Pro Bono?

Our volunteers level the playing field by giving low-income renters a voice in court.

Volunteering as a pro bono attorney at LCBH allows you to make a huge impact in someone’s life without spending a penny. It doesn’t require a lot of time – even a little legal assistance can go a long way in improving the lives of our clients. Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Here at LCBH, we understand that and have worked to create new ways for you to support LCBH’s mission. When we all work together to level the playing field, we improve our community for everyone!

Here are just a few of the major victories our pro bono partners were able to accomplish this year:

  • Negotiated a cash settlement for a mother whose son suffered a concussion when the leaky roof in their apartment collapsed on him while he was sleeping;
  • Dismissed a case where a tenant was facing eviction because the property manager’s agent had accepted rent money and not turned it over to the company; and
  • Won a jury trial on behalf of a tenant who was being evicted in retaliation for making complaints about a property manager.

Pro bono also allows you to give back but in a way that works with your busy schedule. LCBH takes full advantage of the new rules on unbundled legal services to provide flexible volunteer opportunities to meet every schedule. The following outcomes were reached in 5 hours or less of volunteer time:

2014 Law Firm Of The Year Award

From left: Todd Maynes, LCBH Board President, Samira Nazem, LCBH Pro Bono Coordinator, Morgan Hirst, Jones Day and Cheryl Lawrence, LCBH Executive Director

Jones Day
The Law Firm of the Year Award is presented when a firm's pro bono contributions to LCBH or its mission makes a significant impact well into the future.