Louis Cohn, ’54, just happened to be in the middle of one of his regular volunteer stints at PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter for cats and dogs in Lincoln Park, when about 20 new Chicago Law students arrived. Cohn, who is 82, was pleasantly surprised to meet members of the Class of 2016, who will graduate 62 years after he did. He was even happier to hear that volunteer work is now part of Orientation every year. PAWS was one of 13 service sites visited by law students on September 25.
“It’s very heartwarming to me to see emphasis on something other than what kind of defined benefits package I might get when I go to the big law firm,” or other material concerns, he said. Cohn spent much of his career owning a boutique law firm and has shown a long commitment to various service activities. Volunteer work is done, he explained, “for the humanity of it. You get nothing but good feelings. There’s no dollar value. I would say it’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Law students heard it again and again during Orientation: The law is a service profession. It is a lawyer’s responsibility to help others, especially in the toughest of times. Sending home that message early is why 1Ls volunteer before they even started class on September 30, Dean of Students Amy Gardner said.
“Our students will serve in many ways during law school,” Gardner said. “They’ll volunteer with student organizations, they’ll work toward the Pro Bono Pledge, and they’ll find meaningful, private ways to serve too. This is just the kickstart, though many of them are already very service-oriented people.”
Siggi Hindrichs, ’16, got the message, she said while playing with a small, scruffy black and white dog at PAWS. The students there played with the animals, washed bowls and towels, constructed protective cones to be used after surgeries, and made trap covers for feral cats, who were going to be humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and then released safely.
“Doing service activities as part of Orientation establishes a culture of service,” Hindrichs said. “It goes beyond just saying it. We don’t really have an opportunity to contribute in pro bono avenues right now, so this is a good start.”
Tyler Cerami, ’16, was part a group that pulled weeds at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, an organization near the Law School that serves local children. His group was cleaning up the playground, which is important, a club staffer explained, because they teach the children about having pride in their neighborhood and treating property with respect.
Cerami was pulling weeds with enthusiasm, making conversation with his new classmates. “If you want to be a lawyer, your goal should be to help people,” he said.
Far north in Rogers Park, another group of students cleaned resident rooms and organized the library at the Nathalie Salmon House, part of H.O.M.E., or Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly. Brooke Smith, ’16, said afterward that she liked the idea of a service day because “starting law school can be a selfish time.” That’s because, she explained, new law students have moved to a new city and are busy figuring out what they need to be most successful and content. “This reminds us that it’s not always about us.”
Other service sites were: Army of the Kind, which helps impoverished children in countries in the Caribbean and Africa; the Chicago Public Library; the eta Creative Arts Foundation, an African-American performing arts institution; the Greater Chicago Food Depository; Interfaith House, for homeless people in medical recovery; METROsquash, a squash and physical education program for Chicago Public School students; Murray Language Academy, a K-8 foreign language magnet school; UCAN, which helps children who are in the state welfare system or have endured trauma; Young Women’s Leadership Charter School; and the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.