My Chicago Law Moment 2016: Law School Alumni Tell Their Stories

It isn’t hard to get our alumni to recount the ways in which the Law School shaped their careers, their lives, and the way they approach the world.

It can be hard, however, to get them to choose just one. Still, in 2016, we highlighted eighteen graduates who were willing to do just that. As part of our monthly “My Chicago Law Moment” series, these alumni each identified a single experience, idea, or intellectual spark that has continued to influence them since leaving the Law School.

A member of the Class of 1995 told us how a seminar he took with Barack Obama, who taught at the Law School between 1992 and 2004, prepared him to navigate a high-profile crisis a dozen years later. A federal judge talked about his first exposure to concepts that are central to his work on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Three women from the Class of 1965 reminisced about the Bigelow Writing Program, a 1996 graduate told us what she learned from her moot court win, and a 2016 graduate talked about learning to blend knowledge and compassion.

Their stories offer a window into many corners of Law School life—and into the ways in which the Law School experience continues long after graduation. Today, we invite you to take a look back at the 2016 Chicago Law Moments.

An ‘Improbable Leap’ for a Kid from Harvey: Opportunities opened up for Jim Franczek, ’71, when he came to the Law School. His own parents had never gone to college, but his dad pushed him to apply. Once here, Franczek—now a founder of Chicago-based labor and employment law firm Franczek Radelet and the chief labor counsel for the Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority—won clerkships that enabled him to meet people like Richard M. Daley, Harold Washington, and Michael Madigan. As his career unfolded, many of the heavy hitters he met as a student would become key figures in his life. “At the time, I didn’t quite appreciate it,” Franczek said. “It was an exciting experience, it was a wonderful experience. But little did I know that I would be looking back now having represented the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, [having] done a lot of relatively big things in labor.”

A Search for Truth, and a Willingness to Concede: When David Chizewer, ’91, was a 1L, he watched Cass Sunstein embrace criticism while presenting a piece of scholarship to other faculty. The professor’s willingness—and the willingness of his colleagues—to concede points and incorporate other points of view was striking. It made all of them more convincing. “They weren’t trying to spin anything,” said Chizewer, now a litigator. “They were trying to get to the truth.”

How Moot Court ‘Just Lit Me Up Inside’: The first time Laura Edidin, ’96, felt deeply connected to a cause—and the first time she realized what it meant to speak on behalf of others—she was preparing for her oral argument in the moot court finals. It is a feeling Edidin, who is now the chief of the Human Trafficking Unit in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in New York, has carried with her ever since. “I just remember feeling as if the weight of the plaintiff’s expectations, and the weight of their right to be in the world, depended on that moment,” Edidin said. “I loved that feeling, and I realized that whatever community I was serving when I left the Law School, it was that feeling I wanted to hold on to as a lawyer.” 

Learning to Think and Write with the Bigelows: When Janice C. Griffith, Judith A. Lonnquist, and Gail P. Fels, all ’65, graduated from the Law School, they had learned to think like lawyers. But perhaps even more notably, they had learned to write like lawyers—clearly and critically. They credit the Law School’s legal writing and research program, which has been taught by Harry A. Bigelows Fellows since the program began in 1947. “When I started to practice law, I was totally amazed that I could out-think these people who had been practicing for many years,” Griffith said.

Beyond the Headnotes: At the Law School, Stanley Pierre-Louis, ’95, was taught never to take an argument at face value. Instead he learned to dig past the headnotes to understand the underlying dynamics—an approach that has resonated with him ever since. “Many times … we were asked questions that weren’t stated, and they weren’t apparent,” he said. “They required another level of understanding, some deep thought. You weren’t required just to read a case, you were required to understand why the litigants brought the case and what the judge was trying to get to in the opinion.”

Connecting Different Areas of Law, Digging into Scholarship, Mixing Knowledge with Compassion, Answering Questions with Confidence, and Communicating Effectively with Clients: Five members of the Class of 2016 shared their Chicago Law Moments just before graduation this June. Sam Jahangir, ’16, said he’d learned to connect different areas of the law—even when the links weren’t immediately apparent. Caroline Wong, '16, told us she’d developed a deep appreciation for legal scholarship while working on The University of Chicago Law Review, first as a staffer and then as the Executive Editor. Ken Thomas, ’16, was pushed to think about both justice and the importance of blending legal knowledge and compassion during his time on the Law School’s Prosecution and Defense ClinicDarell Hayes, ’16, learned to argue a point and answer questions clearly, concisely, and confidently while participating in moot court. And Stephanie Spiro, ’16, learned critical advocacy skills while working with the Law School’s Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

A Federal Judge Remembers Early Lessons About Judicial Holdings:  It has been more than fifty years since David S. Tatel, ’66, graduated from law school, but the things he learned are still critical to the work he does as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. “I vividly remember the early discussions in that class about holdings,” he said. “What is a holding? How do you distinguish a holding from other aspects of an opinion? I had no idea then that what seemed like an abstract, but nonetheless intellectually interesting, process would become so critical to the job I now have on the DC Circuit.”

How Obama’s Class Helped One Alum Protect an Immigrant Teen: When Jesse Ruiz, ’95, was the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, he was forced temporarily to cut the funding of a school district that had refused to enroll an Ecuadorian teen who had only a tourist visa. It was a high-profile crisis stemming from a hot-button political issue—and Ruiz helped navigate it by drawing on knowledge he’d gained a dozen years earlier when he took Barack Obama’s Racism in the Law class. “I knew [the Law School] was a special place that was going to teach [me] to think like a lawyer. It’s a bit cliché to say, but they did challenge me in how I approach problems and try to find solutions to problems, and it gave me great analytical skills. But it also gave me a real world view—you’ve got these tools, so now what do you do with them?”

Feeling the Power of Alumni Support: When Katie Funkhouser, ’13, and Jessica Michaels, ’13, decided to launch an interview practice program as students, Law School alumni happily stepped forward to help. It was then that they realized two things: their peers were eager for a chance to rehearse before On-Campus Interviewing—and the Law School community is a powerful, and willing, resource.  “It really made me excited to be a part of the alumni community,” Funkhouser said. “Everyone thought this idea … sounded great, and they were willing to volunteer their time and trek down to Hyde Park and give it a try. Everyone was very helpful, very enthusiastic.”

Buckling Down and Meeting the Challenge: Jeff Rappin, ’66, had always had an easy time of it in school—until he arrived at the Law School. He couldn’t skate, so he dug deep and learned to think. It’s how he learned to innovate—a skill that proved essential to his success. “In many cases [we were] creating new ground and learning to say, ‘Hey what if we try to do this?’ … ‘How about this idea?’ … ‘How can we can adjust somehow and make [this] work?’” he said. “I learned that in law school, and I applied it to my career afterward, both as an attorney and then in the real estate business myself.”

Learning to Argue Unpopular Positions: Ryan Dunigan, JD/MPP’12 learned that one can respectably, and even successfully, argue an unpopular position by thinking and reasoning it through well. “Sometimes you have ‘losers’—losers of a point, you have losers of a case,” said Dunigan, now a litigator. “I think what the Law School taught me was even if you have a position that many people think is crazy, or different, if it’s well-reasoned and you can make your point well enough, you can potentially get people on your side—or at least get people to understand your position.”

 

My Chicago Law Moment is a series highlighting the Law School ideas, experiences, and approaches that have impacted our students and alumni. Video produced by Will Anderson.