Public Interest Law Initiative

PILI Alumni Spotlight: Catie Cottle, 2013 Fellow Representative

Posted on: January 29, 2014

Cottle CatieCatie Cottle is the newest Fellow Representative on PILI’s Board of Directors. She served as a PILI Fellow last summer at Chicago Kent’s Environmental Law Clinic, sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis. “I chose the location of my PILI Fellowship so that I would have an array of legal experiences totally different than what I would experience at Kirkland,” Catie explained. During her Fellowship, she worked on a variety of tasks, including submitting FOIA requests, drafting public comments for an Illinois Pollution Control Board decision about monitoring groundwater at waste sites, and more.

One particular client story especially stood out to Catie. On her first day as a PILI Fellow, she sat in an initial client interview with a woman who had spent the last 10 years worrying about the damage a chemical facility across the street from her was doing to her family and neighbors. “It took her 10 years to have the courage to seek legal assistance – she was stonewalled in all of her efforts to find out information about this chemical facility,” Catie explains. “Over time, she started thinking that because she didn’t have money and power that she had to just accept this. Luckily, she found the courage one day to reach out to us.” Throughout the summer, Catie drafted numerous FOIA requests to help this woman get information about the chemical facility, and finally they were able to uncover the needed information. “You could see the relief flowing through her,” Catie recounts. “It was great to see what an impact such a seemingly small success – obtaining information – could have on her life.”

Now a new associate in Kirkland’s litigation group, Catie stays involved in pro bono work. Currently, she is representing a tenants’ union in a retaliatory eviction case against a landlord who had doubled the tenants’ rent and tried to evict them after they reported his illegal construction at their apartment building. Catie is also passionate about promoting access to higher education for high-needs students. She is a member of the Young Professionals Board of a nonprofit called Moneythink, which works to promote financial literacy among urban high school students by sending college volunteers into high schools nationwide in order to teach them about financial tools that can help them succeed in college and their future careers. On top of her board service with Moneythink, she is also helping the organization develop its legal infrastructure. Additionally, Catie volunteers as a mentor for LINK Unlimited, an organization that provides high-needs students with scholarships to private schools in Chicago, as well as leadership training and tutoring to help these students get into college.

Catie said she wanted to serve as the 2013 Fellow Representative to PILI’s Board of Directors because she wants to help other law students have the same transformative experience she had as a Fellow. Her time at the Environmental Law Clinic taught her how to effectively communicate complex legal situations to individuals with no legal background. More than this, Catie explains that her Fellowship showed her “the power a lawyer has to help a person feel like they have the power to fight for their rights and not let others push them around.” Catie always knew she wanted to work in a large law firm right out of law school and had not taken advantage of opportunities to do public interest work before this. “My short time as a PILI Fellow made me realize that public interest work is essential to my future career satisfaction,” she says.

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