Casey Potter, ’12, Named a 2013 Skadden Fellow

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
December 10, 2012

Casey Potter, ’12, almost couldn’t believe her ears when she got the phone call on Friday morning: She’s a Skadden Fellow.

“It’s been the best day ever,” she said, a few hours later, her smile almost audible over the phone.

The Skadden Fellowships, considered one of the most prestigious legal fellowships in the country, are highly sought after by the nation’s top law students who want to work in public interest law. The program was established in 1988 by The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, the philanthropic arm of law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. The two-year fellowships support new lawyers as they begin their careers helping the poor, the elderly, victims of civil rights abuses, and other underserved populations. Potter, a Dallas native, will move back to Chicago in August to work for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, where she will advocate for the employment and familial rights of non-custodial fathers with criminal records. She is one of 29 recipients this year and nearly 680 since the program was started.

“The goal of my project is to help men with criminal records with family law issues as well as help them secure employment to live productive lives,” Potter said. The idea is “not only to help those fathers have a connection to their communities but also to help their children have more stability.”

Men who are connected with their communities and their families will be less likely to offend again, Potter added.

Dean Michael Schill said that Potter is a wonderful representation of the Law School’s public interest program. She is currently clerking in the Supreme Court of Texas, where she started under Justice Dale Wainwright, ‘88, who resigned on Oct. 1 to work in private practice. She’s now a clerk for Justice Jeff Boyd.

“Casey is a great example of what public interest law is all about,” Schill said. “She has extraordinary talent and drive and could choose any career path she’d like. She chooses to put her legal skills to work for the benefit of the underserved. We’re honored, but not surprised, that yet another of our own has made this choice and received this honor.”  

Potter made sure to thank the career services staff, particularly Susan Curry, Director of Public Interest Law and Policy. Potter said their help was invaluable in her application.

“I am enormously proud of Casey’s many achievements,” Curry said. “Well before coming to law school and, certainly, throughout her time here, Casey’s work has emphasized her commitment to public service…she will be a tremendous asset to the hard-working attorneys of Cabrini Green Legal Aid.”

While a student, Potter worked in the Exoneration Project, focusing on the case of a 33-year-old man they believe was wrongfully convicted of arson. He is now serving a life sentence without parole. Potter spent more than 500 hours poring over the man’s case, studying the chemistry of fire, and consulting with arson experts to gain a working knowledge of the science. She obtained an affadavit from the original chemist who testified in the case. The motions and petitions she helped write for state and federal court are docketed in Illinois, and as a result of her work, the man has a chance at exoneration in Illinois post-conviction and in federal habeas proceedings.

Working in the Exoneration Project showed Potter the many challenges that await exonerees and ex-offenders when they must re-enter society.

“That’s what introduced me to the idea of collateral consequences,” she said. “I think some people think, as soon as you leave prison, whether you’re exonerated or not, you can suddenly return to an unencumbered life. That’s not the case.”

Potter has much to look forward to in what’s been called “the legal Peace Corps,” according to Chicago Law’s past winners. She is the fourteenth Chicago recipient since the awards started in 1989, when Lisa Heinzerling, ‘87, now a Georgetown Law professor, was in the first class of winners.

Marc Jolin, ’00, worked his Skadden years at Oregon Law Center in Portland, Ore., focused on litigation to protect the civil rights and rights to public benefits of the homeless.

“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “I essentially got to have my dream job right out of law school. Working in the legal services arena, you’re immediately given a lot of responsibility, a lot of autonomy, to go out and work with clients.”

After his Skadden term ended, Jolin became a staff attorney at the Oregon Law Center. He then went to a private law firm for two years to work in the real estate and land use group. Jolin has spent the past six years as executive director of JOIN, a nonprofit serving the homeless in Portland.

Another Chicago Skadden, Adam Gross, ’95, started at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) and is still there today, as director of the affordable housing program. In his current role, he spends much of his time on the foreclosure and vacant property crises, devising systemic solutions to these challenges.

He’s excited for Potter, he said.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity right at the beginning of your legal career to work for organizations that are doing great work, where you’ll get great mentorship and have a fantastic opportunity to develop and take risks,” Gross said.

Marni Willenson, ‘96, worked her Skadden years at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She now owns her own class action, civil rights, and employment law firm in Chicago.

“It was certainly my Skadden that launched me into where I am. There’s no question…there was no entry-level job at the CLC. The only way to be there was on a fellowship.”

Potter is thrilled and excited to start her Skadden, she said – though she has to wait until the fall. She’s very happy she gets to fulfill the job she designed in her application. In her preparation, she became a “mini-expert” in family law as it relates to noncustodial parents and the collateral effects of criminal records.

“I feel very fortunate to receive this honor, because I would’ve been very sad not to get to use that information to help people,” she said. “There’s a big need for it.”

Michael H. Schill
Susan J. Curry