Congratulations to our 2020 annual awards recipients! They were selected for their outstanding contributions to public interest law and pro bono in Illinois. The awardees were recognized during our Annual Awards Virtual Luncheon on December 2, 2020.
Distinguished Intern Award – Hilda Bahena
Hilda Bahena is a 2001 graduate from the University of Illinois College Of Law. As a law student, she served as a PILI Intern at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Since then, Hilda has dedicated her entire career to public interest in the service of others. Hilda now works as the Catholic Charities Legal Assistance Department Director, where she oversees the Legal Services Program and the Volunteer and Pro Bono Program. Before then, she worked as a legal aid attorney in both California and Illinois for more than twelve years. Catholic Charities Legal Assistance is an organization that aims to provide access to compassionate and competent legal assistance, and Hilda’s leadership and professional work exemplifies this mission. Hilda is credited with developing an original model for providing empowerment based legal assistance, which was published in the Clearinghouse Review and implemented at Catholic Charities Legal Assistance. Hilda is known for her commitment to community building and collaboration, working with legal aid agencies, law firms, and corporate legal teams to create innovative trainings, forge partnerships, and continuously expand programming and services. Hilda is a recognized leader in the legal aid community.
Distinguished Fellow Award – Jonathan Adair
Jonathan Adair is a 2015 graduate from the Washington St. Louis School of Law. Soon after completing law school, he served as a PILI Fellow at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, where he left a lasting impression on both the organization and its clients. During his Fellowship, Jonathan took on two notably complicated cases which were not completed before the end of his time with the organization. When given the option to pass on the cases to another volunteer, Jonathan requested that he continue to represent the clients. Jonathan successfully carried both cases to the end, working diligently and with great care. After his tenure as a PILI Fellow, Jonathan joined the firm Kirkland & Ellis as an associate, where he champions pro bono work within the firm and continues his connection with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. Since joining the firm in 2015, Jonathan has completed over 850 pro bono hours, especially working on a number of housing voucher termination cases where he successfully helped clients keep their housing. Because of Jonathan’s commitment to pro bono work, he was named one of Kirkland & Ellis’ first Chicago Associate Pro Bono All-Stars in 2018. He continues his support of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services to this day, serving on the organization’s Junior Board. Since Jonathan’s time as a PILI Fellow, he has made lasting positive impressions on those he has worked with and the clients he has helped, and has demonstrated a commitment to pro bono.
Pro Bono Initiative Award – Ropes & Gray
Ropes & Gray LLP is a global law firm that continuously demonstrates unwavering support for pro bono and community service work within Illinois. Ropes & Gray proudly states that pro bono practice is a hallmark of the firm, providing thousands of hours of volunteer legal services to offer the disadvantaged access to justice. Ropes & Gray routinely partners with local community and legal aid organization in Illinois to help provide legal services to those in need. The firm has helped to provide record-sealing and expungement services, assisted with post-conviction relief efforts, and provides local non-profits with corporate governance and employment advice. Ropes & Gray provides extensive pro bono services to immigrants and asylum seekers, providing more than 13,000 pro bono hours to more than 30 families and 70 individuals facing separation at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Most recently, the firm jumped into action to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ropes & Gray played a key role is assisting the State of Illinois and the University of Chicago in the use of technology to track COVID-19 cases in Illinois, providing guidance on novel legal issues regarding rights, privacy, and public interest in combating a global pandemic. Also in the fight against COVID-19, Ropes & Gray provided pro bono assistance to Fix the Mask and Project N95. Ropes & Gray has also been a regular participant in PILI’s Legal Prep Community Law Clinic. Through their continued partnership with community and legal aid organizations, as well as their swift response to COVID-19, Ropes & Gray has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to pro bono and public service.
Distinguished Public Service Award – Mary Meg McCarthy
Mary Meg McCarthy is the Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), an organization dedicated to immigrant advocacy and safeguarding human rights. Prior to joining NIJC, Mary Meg practiced civil litigation after her completion of law school at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She began her partnership with NIJC by serving as a NIJC Pro Bono Attorney, using her expertise in immigration law to help advance justice for immigrants. She had previously demonstrated a passion for this work earlier in her career, working in Chile to help protect individual rights under a dictatorship. More recently, Mary Meg served as chair of the American Bar Associations’ Commission on Immigration and is also an active member of The Chicago Network, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Chicago Bar Association. Mary Meg is recognized by her colleagues as a tireless advocate and a true expert in her field. Today, with a career-long commitment to protecting immigrant and human rights, Mary Meg has lead NIJC to become a leading organization in immigrant advocacy.