PILI is pleased to spotlight Elizabeth Lewis, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery and the current Chair of PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council. A 2006 graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Elizabeth served as a PILI Fellow at Loyola’s Childlaw Clinic, representing children in abuse and neglect proceedings in juvenile court, serving as a child representative in high conflict custody proceedings, and representing minors in delinquency proceedings. “I had been actively involved with the Clinic for several years, first as a work-study student and then as a 711 student,” she explains. “It was a perfect fit.” Under the supervision of Professors Bruce Boyer and Stacey Platt, Elizabeth felt lucky to work closely and directly with her clients. “Working with children and young adults and helping them navigate difficult life issues is extremely rewarding,” she says. “Witnessing the impact of the stability and even the happiness that we were able to achieve for certain clients was well worth all of the efforts.”
Since her Fellowship, which was sponsored by McDermott Will & Emery, Elizabeth has worked in their U.S. and International Tax Group and is now a partner with the firm. She is also co-chair of McDermott’s pro bono committee in Chicago and the coordinator of McDermott’s Kids First Program. In addition to this and to chairing PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council, she is a member of the Young Professionals Board of the Chicago Bar Foundation. “Pro bono is a part of my everyday life,” Elizabeth says. “A day rarely passes without spending some amount of time representing a pro bono client, working on pro bono committee matters, or working with PILI or the Chicago Bar Foundation.”
Her own pro bono practice has been very active. She directly represented many children and families in a wide variety of education, school discipline, custody and visitation cases and DCFS administrative appeals. She also regularly works with nonprofit organizations on tax exemption issues. Elizabeth says it was her PILI Fellowship that cemented her interest in pro bono work. “My Fellowship made it quite clear to me that pro bono is an essential component of my day to day life and that it is possible to balance pro bono in an otherwise busy schedule,” she explains. She goes on to say that serving as a PILI Fellow also demonstrated her commitment to pro bono to those around her, which benefited her pro bono practice as well as and her career overall. “Other attorneys at my firm knew as soon as I walked in the door that I was committed to pro bono. As a result, I was staffed on a pro bono case almost immediately and was quickly asked to serve as the coordinator for the Kids First Program in Chicago,” she recounts. “Getting involved early on helped me to gain visibility in the firm, to develop legal skills applicable to my every day practice and to help those in need from the outset.”
Elizabeth credits her PILI Fellowship and ongoing pro bono work with helping her develop important skills that set her apart as a tax lawyer. “Working with children and young adults taught me the importance of communicating complicated legal issues in a clear, concise and simple manner,” she explains. “This has helped me immensely in my tax practice as we often present complicated tax planning issues and strategies to non-tax personnel at the client.” Elizabeth’s PILI Fellowship also taught her the importance of time management, perspective, and balance, as well as how to take ownership over a case and effectively run it from start to finish. “This experience has allowed me to demonstrate my capabilities and competence both inside and outside of the pro bono practice,” she says.
Elizabeth’s impressive pro bono work has not gone unnoticed. In 2008 she received the McDermott Will & Emery Award for Outstanding Achievement and Commitment to Pro Bono and Service to the Community, and in 2009 PILI awarded her our Distinguished Alumni Award. More recently, Elizabeth was the 2012 recipient of the Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award by The Chicago Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Foundation. She was also part of a team of four McDermott attorneys who received the Northern District of Illinois’ Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service in 2013, and in 2014 she was named an Illinois Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine.
On top of this, as Chair of PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council, she is part of a group of attorneys who share her commitment to pro bono work, and she takes a lead role in helping PILI connect with our Alumni, encourage continued pubic interest and pro bono work, and raise funds to support future PILI Interns. “I really cannot say enough about how positively my PILI Fellowship has enhanced my career as an attorney,” she says. “I love being on PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council because it allows me to give back to PILI, to help to inspire current law students to make pro bono a part of their legal career, and to spend time with many talented, interesting and like-minded Alumni.”