Erica Zunkel Receives 2024 Excellence in Pro Bono Service Award

Clinical Professor Erica Zunkel, who teaches in the Law School’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic (CJJC), recently received the Excellence in Pro Bono Service Award from the United States Northern District of Illinois District Court and the Federal Bar Association. The award came in recognition of Zunkel’s federal post-conviction sentence reduction work that has seen great litigation success since 2021.

Two women standing side by side, one is holding an award
Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer presents the award to Clinical Professor Erica Zunkel.

Zunkel’s legal team, which consists of law students, social work students, and CJJC Social Worker Lindsay Weinberg Perlmutter, achieved the early release of ten clients in the last three years, saving them a collective total of approximately 100 years in prison.

Policy change has also come about as a result of Zunkel and her team’s sentence reduction work—something that Zunkel helped support by testifying before the United States Sentencing Commission in February 2023 during a public hearing on proposed amendments to compassionate release. One of Zunkel’s clients, Dwayne White, also testified. After the hearing, the Commission voted to expand the definition of “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for sentence reductions.

“This award should not be surprising to anyone who has worked with Erica,” said Weinberg Perlmutter. “She is a fierce advocate for her clients and always goes above and beyond in her representation.”

Prior to joining the CJJC, Zunkel taught in the Law School’s Federal Criminal Justice Clinic for over a decade. Her passion for seeking freedom for individuals serving excessive sentences in the federal and state systems continues to be evident in her work with the CJJC.

“This award is incredibly meaningful to me,” shared Zunkel. “It has been such a joy to see our clients released from prison early and thriving in their lives, and I hope the same for many more of our clients to come. None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary contributions of generations of clinic students and Clinic Social Worker Lindsay Perlmutter. Overall, I believe this work showcases the best of what clinical legal education can be.”

Faculty awards