Chicago Bar Foundation: Honoring young legal aid attorneys, including CCH’s Graham Bowman

Five outstanding legal aid attorneys became the final class of the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellows, including CCH youth health attorney Graham Bowman.

As he told the bar foundation, Graham enrolled at Loyola University Chicago School of Law determined to use his law license to fight poverty.

In his three years with the Law Project at CCH, first as a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellow and currently as a Youth Futures staff attorney, Graham has served scores of unaccompanied and homeless youth, many with disabilities and severe health needs.

In addition to representing individuals experiencing homelessness in approximately 175 healthcare and public benefits cases per year, Graham drafts and advocates for legislation that promotes access to quality healthcare for homeless youth. His most successful legislation, which passed in 2014, allows unaccompanied homeless youth over the age of 14 to consent to their primary health care.

The Sun-Times Fellowships made it more manageable for 50 legal aid lawyers to continue their careers in legal aid in the face of significant student debt loads.

First awarded in 2007, this is the tenth and final year the CBF awarded the Sun-Times Fellowships. Through a generous $2 million cy pres award from a case involving the Chicago Sun-Times, in 2006 the CBF was able to create this 10-year Fellowship Program to provide significant loan repayment assistance to 50 legal aid attorneys in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Over 92% of the CBF’s Sun-Times Fellows remain in public service today.

Lesley Arizmendi, Virginia Torres, Adrian Barr, CCH youth attorney Graham Bowman, and Samoane Williams
From left, Lesley Arizmendi, Virginia Torres, Adrian Barr, CCH youth attorney Graham Bowman, and Samoane Williams

The fellowship addresses a crisis facing lawyers in our community who are increasingly finding that a career in legal aid and public service is simply untenable from an economic standpoint. Lawyers graduating today typically have mortgage-sized law school debt while working for relatively modest salaries at pro bono and legal aid organizations.

The Fellowships are awarded to legal aid attorneys who demonstrate a commitment to public interest work, academic achievement in law school, and outstanding character and integrity. This year’s class of Sun-Times Fellows will each receive $20,000 in loan repayment assistance over five years to help them continue their careers in legal aid.

“This groundbreaking fellowship Program made it possible for 50 legal aid attorneys to more realistically manage their law school debt while working for what are relatively modest public service salaries,” said Bob Glaves, executive director of The Chicago Bar Foundation. “Of the 50 Fellows, more than 90% of them have remained in public service, which is both a testament to the success of this program and their strong commitment and dedication to serving others in our community.”

The other 2016 recipients are Lesley Arizmendi, Equip for Equality and Southwestern Law School, J.D.; Adrian Barr, Prairie State Legal Services and University of Illinois College of Law, J.D.; Virginia Torres, Life Span and Loyola, J.D.; and Samoane Williams, First Defense Legal Aid and Michigan State University College of Law, J.D.

Each of the five fellowship recipients provides vital services to low-income and disadvantaged members of our community. This year’s outstanding attorneys have helped victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, including people institutionalized in mental health facilities; low-income people and seniors; homeless youth; survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; and people in Chicago Police Department custody prior to the appointment of a public defender.

“We are excited to conclude the 10-year CBF Sun-Times Fellowship Program with such an impressive and inspiring group of legal aid attorneys. With their achievements, these attorneys could have chosen a more lucrative career path, but instead chose to make significant financial sacrifices to serve the people in our community who are in most critical need of the protections of the justice system,” said David Mann, Chair of the Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship Selection Committee. “The CBF Sun-Times Fellowship aims to help alleviate the financial challenges that come with their daunting student debt loads and make it more manageable for these dedicated attorneys to continue their careers in legal aid.”

Adela Carlin, who just celebrated her 16th anniversary at LAF and received a Sun-Times Fellowship in 2012, is just one example of the impact of this Fellowship. In Adela’s words, “I cried when I got the call because up until that moment, I did not know how I would ever finish paying my law school loans. This award has changed our family and allowed me to think about the future in ways I couldn’t imagine possible. I am able to do so because of the support of people who believe in access to justice. I am thankful for the moral and financial support which allows be to be a community lawyer.”