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Michael G. Bergmann, Executive Director
Serving as the Executive Director of the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) since 2010, Michael provides the strategic oversight and direction for PILI's work to engage, inspire and empower those advancing equal access to justice. Under his leadership over the last decade, PILI has significantly expanded its reach and impact by building on its nearly 45 year legacy and becoming a statewide organization. Michael has overseen the growth of PILI's Law Student Internship Program, both in terms of the number of Interns funded and in the amount of the stipend provided to Interns. He has led PILI’s efforts in the development of innovative pro bono committees at the judicial circuit level across Illinois and the expansion of PILI's work into providing direct services through a statewide network of pro bono volunteers. During his tenure, PILI has also seen a significant increase in the financial support PILI receives across all funding sources. Michael originally joined PILI in 2006, serving as Director of Programs before becoming the Executive Director.
Michael is a frequent speaker on issues relating to legal aid, pro bono and public interest law, including the Illinois Legal Advocates Conference, the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference, the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association Annual Conference, the Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair, the NALP Annual Education Conference and the National Pro Bono Conference of Canada.
Michael serves on the Dean's Council for the DePaul University College of Law, where he has also taught as an Adjunct Professor. He also serves on the Advisory Board for the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University. Michael also serves on the Advisory Board of the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society. Michael previously served as a Commissioner on the City of Evanston's Human Relations Commission. During his tenure at PILI, Michael has also handled pro bono matters through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing and the National Immigrant Justice Center.
An active member of the American Bar Association (ABA), Michael is currently serving in the ABA's House of Delegates, and on the ABA Nominating Committee and the Standing Committee on Membership. He previously served on the ABA Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic. He is a past chair of the following ABA entities: the Section Officers Conference (SOC), the Judicial Division, the Lawyers Conference of the Judicial Division and the Young Lawyers Division. Michael is also a member of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) where he serves on and is a past chair of the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and serves on the Bench & Bar Section Council as its vice chair, the Special Committee on the Rural Practice Initiative and the ISBA Assembly. He is also a member of the Chicago Bar Association, most recently having served as Chair of the Continuing Legal Education Committee.
Frequently recognized for his contributions to the bar and the public, Michael was named one of "40 Under 40 Illinois Attorneys to Watch" in 2013 by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Michael was the recipient of the 2011 Young Alumni Merit Award from The Catholic University of America. He was also the 2007 recipient of both the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from DePaul University College of Law and the Illinois State Bar Association Young Lawyer of the Year Award. Michael was also the 2005 recipient of the Kimball and Karen Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship from The Chicago Bar Foundation.
Michael attended The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Politics. He received his Juris Doctor from DePaul University College of Law. Prior to joining PILI, he served as the Guardian Ad Litem Program Director for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. Before and during law school, Michael was a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. He is admitted to the practice of law in the State of Illinois, and before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Abigail Causer, Managing Attorney
Abigail joined PILI in April 2021 and is based in Champaign. She is responsible for helping PILI to expand and enhance pro bono legal assistance in the southern portion of Illinois by overseeing the work of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees, Illinois Free Legal Answers, and PILI’s participation in the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN) in that region. Most recently, she was an Assistant Public Defender with the Champaign County Public Defender’s Office. In law school, she was a 711 Intern with the Department of Children and Family Services, and both a Research Assistant for Professor Andrew Leipold and a 711 Senior Law Student at the Family Advocacy Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Law. Abigail received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Illinois State University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois College of Law. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Ten Thousand Villages Champaign Store. Abigail is admitted to the practice of law in the State of Illinois.
Lauren Harper, Senior Manager for External Relations
Lauren joined PILI in 2015, and now serves as the Senior Manager for External Relations. In this role, Lauren is responsible for managing all aspects of PILI’s external relations, including fundraising and development, relationship management, and communications as well as related strategic planning. Lauren previously served as PILI's Communications & Events Manager. She attended Utah State University where she was an Undergraduate Research Fellow and co-authored an article titled "Understanding what it Means to Be Business-Like in the Nonprofit Sector: Toward a Communicative Explanation" published in November 2015. She served as an intern at Oxfam America, the Obama 2012 Campaign, and Autism Speaks.
Mariel E. Lopez-Cruz, Administrative Coordinator
Mariel joined PILI as its Administrative Coordinator in June 2021. She is responsible for providing administrative support to PILI staff and its programs. Mariel graduated in June 2021 from Lawrence University with a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies and Minor in Music. During college, Mariel served as an intern with the Office of the President of Lawrence University, providing administrative support. Mariel also served as the head of her music fraternity's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, through which she helped address issues of injustice in Greek Life. Having a background and personal interest in social justice, Mariel was drawn to PILI because of its mission and commitment to advancing equal access to justice.
Hannah Miller, Development & Communications Associate
Hannah joined PILI as its Development & Communications Associate in August 2021. In this role, she is a member of PILI’s External Relations Team, responsible for assisting with fundraising, event planning and communications. Hannah graduated in May 2019 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Political Science. Since graduating, Hannah has worked in public affairs as well as commercial public relations, and recently completed an AmeriCorps term of service with Chicago HOPES for Kids. During college, Hannah was the director of the Artisan Collective, a student organization that sold ethical, handcrafted jewelry. Additionally, she was a student reporter for the Badger Herald and the Daily Cardinal.
Brent Page, Senior Managing Attorney
Brent joined PILI in March 2017. He is responsible for the overall planning, organizing, implementation and evaluation for PILI’s programs statewide. He specifically manages the Law Student Internship Program, Graduate Fellowship Program and Alumni Network. He previously worked as the Supervising Attorney for Community Engagement at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic and as a staff attorney at Katz Law Office. While in law school, he completed several public interest law internships and fellowships including an internship at Equip from Equality, a Coles Fellowship at the Illinois Human Rights Commission, and a judicial externship for the Honorable Mary K. Rochford. He also worked with Family Rescue servicing victims of domestic violence in the court house. An Alumni of PILI’s Internship Program himself, Brent served as a PILI Law Student Intern at AIDS Legal Council, now known as Legal Council for Health Justice, in 2010. He received Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Michigan and his Juris Doctor from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Outside of work, Brent is an active volunteer with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS). He is a member of the Chicago Bar Association and also serves on the board of directors for the Bleeding Disorder Alliance Illinois. Brent is admitted to the practice of law in the State of Illinois.
Brian N. Russo, Paralegal & Intake Specialist
Brian is responsible for supporting the work of PILI’s Pro Bono Program, conducting client intake interviews, maintaining client service data, and helping to support PILI’s statewide pro bono volunteers. Brian anticipates graduating from the University of Iowa in December 2021 in the pre-law track with Bachelor of Arts majors in English and Creative Writing and a minor in Philosophy. Brian recently completed an internship with the Chicago Bar Foundation where he worked on projects related to civil rights and legal aid. Additionally, Brian was an Executive Board Member for Spectrum UIowa where he fundraised and facilitated workshops aimed at expanding and promoting LGBTQ services and education.
Jessica Schneider, Managing Attorney
Jessica joined PILI in June 2020. She is responsible for helping PILI to expand and enhance pro bono legal assistance in the northern portion of Illinois by overseeing the work of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees, Illinois Free Legal Answers, and PILI’s participation in the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN) in that region. Prior to joining PILI, Jessica worked as a Staff Attorney in the Special Education Clinic at Equip for Equality. Before that, Jessica worked as a Staff Attorney at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for seven years, practicing in both their Fair Housing and Education Equity Projects. In law school, Jessica was a PILI Law Student Intern at MALDEF. She also interned at Chicago Legal Clinic and Centro de Derechos de la Mujer de Chiapas. She has been an active member of PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council, including having served as chair. Jessica has also volunteered with CARPLS and the Latino Union of Chicago, where she addressed wage theft issues for day laborers and other community members. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish from Washington University in St Louis and her Juris Doctor from DePaul University College of Law. Jessica a member of the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association, serving on its Special Committee on Racial Inequality. She is also a member and former board member of the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, a member of the DePaul Alumni Engagement Board, Associate Board member of Legal Prep Charter Academy, and a member of the inaugural cohort of the Racial Justice Institute by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, a groundbreaking program to further race-equity as an essential part of anti-poverty advocacy. In 2014, Jessica received the Chicago Bar Foundation Sun Times Public Interest Law Fellowship. In 2017, she completed the Chicago Bar Association Leadership Institute. Jessica is admitted to the practice of law in the State of Illinois.