Public Interest Law Initiative

PILI Alumni Spotlight: Maria Kutnick, 2004 PILI Intern

Posted on: May 20, 2019

Maria Kutnick is a PILI Alum, having served as a PILI Intern at National Immigrant Justice Center in 2004. She now serves as Winston & Strawn’s Pro Bono Counsel, supporting the firm’s overall pro bono program.

“Being a PILI Intern was the catalyst for my career path. I went to law school knowing I wanted to work in nonprofit, but I wasn’t tied to a specific area of the law. My PILI Internship sparked my interest in immigration work,” Maria said.

As an Intern, Maria worked with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)’s Detention Project, providing legal assistance to detained immigrants, conducting intake interviews, drafting briefs and motions, and giving “Know Your Rights” presentations. This was her first opportunity to practice “lawyering.”

“Because of my PILI Internship, I was able to gain valuable experience in the nonprofit space and find my path to immigration law,” she said. “My own parents are immigrants, so this area of the law had a personal connection for me and I wouldn’t have found my interest in it without my PILI Internship.”

After her Internship, she continued on as a part-time paralegal while also attending Loyola University Chicago School of Law. After she graduated, she received a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship to continue working at NIJC. She eventually transitioned to LAF, where she spent four years working in their immigration project before continuing onto her current position as Pro Bono Counsel at Winston & Strawn in 2012.

“I knew as a lawyer that I wanted to work in public interest and was lucky to find opportunities with  two of the biggest nonprofits in the city,” Maria said. “My experiences led me to finding my ideal job at Winston & Strawn. It has been a tremendous opportunity to use the skills that I acquired from my nonprofit experience to assist those in need of pro bono legal services on a much larger scale.”

Having moved to a large law firm from a public interest law nonprofit, Maria understands the pressure many legal aid nonprofits are under. She remembers how hard it can be to stretch nonprofit hours and budgets to meet all the needs of clients and enjoys now being able to step in and offer assistance through her work at Winston. Winston sets a goal to have every lawyer and paralegal devote at least 35 hours to pro bono work annually. In 2018, more than 97 percent of their attorneys firm-wide contributed at least 20 pro bono hours. Through Winston’s active pro bono program, Maria and her colleagues are able to provide a broad range of pro bono services. You can read more about their successful pro bono program in their annual newsletter.

“Whenever I am asked how I ended up where I am in my career, my story always starts with my PILI Internship,” Maria said. “I’m so thankful that I was selected as a PILI Intern. It was the impetus for my legal career.”

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