As the Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH), a legal aid agency specializing in housing law, Cheryl Lawrence has a great interest advancing and defending tenants’ rights in Chicago. Cheryl has been working at LCBH since graduating from law school, first as a staff attorney and then as the Director of Development before becoming the Executive Director two years ago. But before all of this, she served as a PILI Intern at LAF Chicago in their Family Law Project. She gained a breadth of experience interviewing clients, going to client acceptance meetings, writing motions, litigating, and even managing full cases when one of her supervising attorneys was on vacation. “This was an incredible learning and growth experience,” says Cheryl of her PILI Internship. “I loved the way that PILI supported its Intern and Fellows. I also worked with a great team of attorneys, and I loved the camaraderie of fellow PILIs at LAF.”
After completing her PILI Internship, Cheryl stayed on at LAF for another semester before graduating from the John Marshall Law School and going to work for LCBH. “I was much more prepared to actually be an attorney than I would have been if not for my PILI Internship,” Cheryl says. “The experience was instrumental in my ability to land a job so quickly out of school during a very challenging job market.” Her work and career growth at LCBH since she began there has kept her busy, to say the least, but has also given her a deep sense of purpose. “Though there are numerous challenges, most days I feel it is truly an honor to work with great people and know that many of our most vulnerable neighbors here in Chicago, who would otherwise be at great risk of homelessness, are now on a better path because of the services we provide,” she says.
And because LCBH is one of the legal service agencies that participates in PILI’s Internship and Fellowship Programs, she can make giving back to the next generation of public interest leaders a priority too. “I know how important an internship can be,” she says. “It’s a potentially life-changing experience, and in that vein we strive to provide a great learning environment for our interns and provide meaningful pro bono opportunities for attorneys.” In addition to working with PILI Interns at LCBH, Cheryl has also served as an adviser for current classes of PILI Interns and Fellows, helping them build roots and gain experience in the Chicago public interest community. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing an intern walking out of our doors whom I know will be part of the next generation of housing advocates, or a volunteer attorney who can’t wait to take another case because of the impact they have had on someone’s life,” she says.
Cheryl credits her PILI Internship with helping shape and support her own public interest career. “Even though at LCBH we focus on housing law, my PILI roots in family law are still very useful to understanding how the issues in one area can cause or affect issues in another,” she explains. Because Cheryl had a 7-11 license during her Internship, she was able to go to court on behalf of clients many times and gain a substantial amount of client interaction experience. “The direct client contact really helped engrain the notion that the legal issues that came before me were above all problems that had a profound effect on a real person— and that it is so much more than a legal issue,” she says.
This combination of experience and perspective is what helps make Cheryl so effective as a public interest attorney and leader today. “PILI provided a deeper awareness and understanding of legal aid and the importance of pro bono service,” she says. “This created a solid foundation and direction for my passion for service, which are not only manifests in the work I do each day, but even more profoundly in the way I work to pay it forward through each intern and fellow who comes to LCBH.”