Vimbai Chikomo Dec. 9, 2015, 3:23pm


CHICAGO -- Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) honored Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman and others in recognition of their public interest and pro bono contributions in Illinois at a luncheon on Wednesday.

PILI’s executive director Michael Bergmann talked about the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the outstanding work of people and corporations in the legal profession that dedicate their time and efforts towards public service.

“Through our programs, as law students, as lawyers and as legal professionals, there’s just this amazing opportunity to touch the lives of so many people in desperate need for help, advice, support and a voice. And these people we’re celebrating today make that happen,” Bergmann said.

The annual awards luncheon began as an informal event for PILI supporters and alumni to get together during the holiday season to celebrate achievements. The event evolved into a formal event over a decade ago.

This year, the recipients of the awards were as follows:

The Distinguished Public Service award was presented to Garman, only the second woman to have held the post as Illinois Supreme Chief Justice, and one who has been dedicated to public service throughout her career. She is the longest serving female judge in Illinois.

“She is the first female judge to achieve many of the offices she has held throughout her tenure up until she became a member of the Court, and has been a trailblazer within the legal profession,Bergmann said, "She has a servant’s heart in all the work she does."

The Distinguished PILI Intern Alumni award went to Cynthia Cornelius of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA). Cornelius was a PILI intern at CGLA and went on to be an Equal Justice Works fellow there. 

“She’s just a genuinely wonderful person who is just focused and dedicated to helping others and improving the lives of others, which is evident in her interactions with the people around her,” Bergmann said.

The Distinguished PILI Fellow Alumni award was presented to Jordan Heinz, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The award recognized Heinz’s extensive involvement in pro bono work since joining the firm. He also has continued to volunteer at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, and was president of the board for Legal Counsel for Health Justice, formerly known as AIDS Legal Council.

“He has logged numerous hours of pro bono work and has been very instrumental in a lot of the marriage equality cases in Illinois and Indiana at both the trial and appellate levels,” Bergmann said.

This year’s Pro Bono Initiative award went to United Airlines. This particular award is given to an entity, usually a law firm or corporation, to recognize outstanding pro bono programs. 

“They [United Airlines] are focused on the individual interests of their volunteers in finding things their volunteers are passionate about, and connecting them with those opportunities in the legal aid and public interest communities,” he said.

Bergmann emphasized the importance of acknowledging just how much many members of the legal profession are giving of themselves.

“The legal profession isn’t always thought of as a place where good is happening, and where there are such wonderfully generous, warm and giving people who are making huge differences in the lives of the people they interact with,” he said. 

PILI's mission is to cultivate a lifelong commitment to public interest law and pro bono service within the Illinois legal community to expand the availability of legal services for people, families and communities in need.

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