Brian Caster (JD ’11) is currently an associate at the Chicago law firm Masuda Fundai, where he focuses on sales and distribution and technology transaction cases. He also performs pro bono work for the CFJC on juvenile criminal cases.
Q: How many pro bono cases have you done for the CFJC?
A: In terms of criminal cases, I think I’m on my fifth one. You know, usually they end up going six months to a year. They tend to take time because we’re not just going up to the state’s attorney and saying, “What can you offer us?” Usually, we get the case because the offer that was given is bad and there’s more to the case that doesn’t pop up in the police report and requires additional help. I’ve also done six or seven Project Off the Record cases.
Q: Are you currently working on a pro bono case?
A: Yes, it’s an armed robbery case. Fortunately there was no gun involved, so it’s still in juvenile court, it’s not been transferred to adult court which would be insane. Although I did one of those as well. I think this one came through the probation officer, although he said don’t tell anyone this came through me, which is very disappointing because if a probation officer sees a case that isn’t getting the attention that it needs, you need to speak up. The kids and parents don’t know the system. They don’t know whether or not they’re getting decent representation sometimes.
Q: How do you find time to do pro bono cases while working a full-time job?
A: Honestly, I have no idea. My boss at my year in review said “Based on you billable hours and my non-billable hours, honestly I’m not sure if you ever sleep.” But no, the way a lot of firms work is there’s up time and there’s downtime. Because we’re a professional services company, when the work comes in it’s based on the client’s needs. If we’re in between deals and we’re waiting for the new deal to come in, there’s a lot of time. My friends at big law use their downtime to goof around and read the Internet. I use that time to do pro bono work, which I enjoy and it makes the time go by a lot quicker too.
For the past six months, Kendrick (JD ’10) has worked as an associate lawyer at Nicolaides Fink Thorpe Michaelides Sullivan LLP in Chicago. Prior to this position, he worked at the Public Defender’s Office in Boston, and as a clinical fellow of the Children and Family Justice Center and Legal Aid Society.
Q: What do you at the firm?
A: I’m a coverage attorney. We’re a national insurance law firm, representing insurance companies. We look at the claims, the underlying lawsuits, and help the insurance companies determine if they owe coverage to the insured. AIG, for instance, is our biggest client.
Q: You were doing public interest work prior to joining the firm. Why did you decide to make the switch?
A: My reasons were multifaceted. I wanted to come back to Chicago because it provided me an opportunity to spend more time with my son. As I was looking for jobs in Chicago this opportunity came up and I realized quickly that even though it wasn’t public interest, it would still allow me to broaden my skill set and get me into federal court and do larger, more complex litigation. So later on down the road, when I think I will ultimately probably return to public interest work, I’ll have a broader skill set to offer.
Q: You said that working at a firm will help you get to work in federal court. Why is that?
A: I really think that if you start knocking on some of those professors’ [at the Bluhm Legal Clinic] doors and ask them where they started out, quite a few of them started out at law firms early on in their career. I think when you’re doing complex federal level litigation, there’s a complexity that you don’t find in a lot of places. When you’re suing the state for money, it’s great if you have a criminal background, but it’s just not the same. [In the] big firm world that’s what they do, they fight over money [and] they fight over property. Really, the law boils down to: can you write, can you research, can you figure out the complex problems. There’s a [false] assumption that only big firm lawyers can do that.
Catherine, or “Katie” as she prefers, (JD ’13) is a former student of CFJC immigration attorney and associate professor Uzoamaka Nzelibe. Today, she is completing the first year of a two year fellowship with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, PA. The first year of the fellowship focuses on a broad survey of child welfare and juvenile justice, while the second year will focus on research and writing related to immigration for children.
Q: What interested you about immigration law in law school?
A: I actually knew I wanted to do immigration work before I came to Northwestern. My background had some connection to immigration since I was little. My mother is from Ecuador and my father has always been involved in international relations work. We had this revolving door at my house of hosting friends and family and other people who came to the U.S. on the same humanitarian visas that I ended up helping people apply for in the clinic. We would travel and see how people lived in other countries, and I was curious as to why there was such a difference in the standard of living from one place to another, and why it was hard for people to come here to the U.S. and stay for a certain period of time.
Q: Did you become a lawyer to do immigration advocacy?
A: I ended up working in Ecuador with immigrants and refugees from Colombia and I thought that maybe I would do international development work or social work. As I worked with immigrants and refugees, I realized that there was a real need for people who understood the law and how the law could be used to protect them. There’s no replacement for finding basic needs and services for people when they’re in a new country. But the way that I thought I could serve people best was to get them their [legal immigration] status and then they’d have more power to advocate for themselves.
Andrew (JD ‘94) is the founder of the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center and a former Associate Professor and Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. For the past four months, he has served as the director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Q: What has the transition from public interest work to leading a government agency been like for you?
A: There has been a lot to learn. The department is very large–with over 1,800 employees and a 200 million dollar budget–and oversees all of the state’s juvenile probation offices as well as juvenile correctional facilities. So there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of geography to cover, but I love it. There are a lot of very dedicated people here who want to do the right thing for the demographic we serve, and it’s a real honor to be in a position to try to help them do that work.
Q: Did you ever think that you would end up at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)?
A: Well, one of the great things about the clinic, or at least my clinic experience, is that I did a lot of thinking about both the forest and the trees there. You learn how to help your individual clients, but you have the larger systemic and policy issues at play as well. Since law school I always paid attention to those issues. And while I never would have predicted that I would be the guy who is running the juvenile prisons, on the one hand, on the other hand, I’m not completely surprised I ended up in this position. I think advocates, funders, and people in the field are rethinking what one can do inside the system, and there have been a lot of models of advocates in the system with really positive results.