Adela Carlin is the Director of the Community Engagement Unit (CEU) at LAF, an innovative program dedicated to outreach, education, and working with community organizations. Having grown up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Adela understands well the communities she serves and the challenges they face. She saw the impact of poverty on her own neighborhood from a young age and knew even back then that she wanted to dedicate her life to making a difference. The first of her family to graduate from college, Adela enrolled in law school at the University of Illinois in 1997 and served as a PILI Intern in 1999 before graduating and beginning her career at LAF in 2000.
Adela’s PILI Internship was at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “I had the opportunity to work closely with a diverse group of attorneys, and to witness their unique skills and styles in and out of the courtroom,” she recounts. The team of attorneys she worked with litigated cases that exposed predatory lending schemes, race discrimination and gender hate crimes. In addition to research, writing, and community outreach, Adela also had the opportunity to sit in on a deposition, and on litigation strategy meetings. Later, as she began her career at LAF, Adela would draw on her experience as a PILI to help her manage the demands of being a legal aid attorney. “My Internship gave me a rock solid foundation to become a successful litigator and negotiator.”
While interning at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, Adela also got involved with PILI’s summer seminar series for Interns & Fellows, where she got to meet other law students, as well as practicing attorneys working in public interest law. “I did not know how to create my own career path based on my skills, my passion and my goals,” she explains. “The PILI Internship experience gave me an opportunity to see and hear about passionate advocates for social justice about their experiences.” Adela also enjoyed spending time with other PILI Interns, who shared her passion for helping individuals and communities in need. “That experience gave me the strength and courage to continue pursuing a career in public interest,” she says.
Community engagement and relationship-building has been a hallmark of Adela’s career from the beginning. Before becoming the Director of the CEU, her work at LAF focused primarily on survivors of domestic violence, whom she represented in complex family law cases. “Every month, I visited community organizations and offered free presentations about domestic violence and the legal options available to survivors,” Adela says. She also trained social service providers and lawyers about legal options available to survivors, and through a collaboration between LAF and a domestic violence agency, she helped open a legal clinic in Pilsen in 2007. “In all my work, my goal is to empower individuals and strengthen communities,” she says. Her model of engagement became the foundation of the CEU when it launched in 2011 after LAF centralized its offices. Adela now supervises a team of attorneys and outreach coordinators who are charged with mobilizing LAF staff and resources to reach people living in poverty throughout LAF’s service area. “We travel all over Cook County — equipped with laptops, portable printers, smart phones, and Zipcar memberships– meeting with local community-based organizations, doing know-your-rights presentations, and providing education and advice,” she explains. “We have reached thousands of people and trained hundreds of service providers.”
Adela’s leadership has not gone unnoticed. In 2008, she received the Jerold S. Solovy Equal Justice Award, which recognizes an exceptional LAF attorney. Then in 2011, she was named one of the Distinguished Women Leaders of the year by La Raza newspaper. Most recently in 2012, Adela was awarded a distinguished CBF Sun Times Fellowship. “I have dedicated my entire legal career to helping individuals and communities,” Adela says. “I feel great joy and pride in my work, and I look forward to many more years of service to individuals and communities in need.”
Originally published Mar 2013. Read more PILI Alumni Spotlights »