Looking Back: Volunteers Stepped Up During the Great Recession

February 10, 2019


During the Great Recession of 2008, CARPLS saw a spike in the demand for legal services and an increased need to recruit lawyer volunteers. At the same time, the legal market was facing its own fallout as a wide range of lawyers struggled to find legal work. CARPLS responded by establishing the CARPLS Works Program to provide daytime opportunities to accommodate our generous volunteers while expanding our services. As part of our historic reflection, we asked a couple of the volunteers to share their insights.

Kellie Reynolds, a former CARPLS Works Volunteer, noted that she was attracted to volunteering for CARPLS because “I had heard many wonderful stories about the organization and I was eager to gain practical experience.”

Kellie had planned to practice personal injury law or medical malpractice, but the competition was too steep with more experienced attorneys vying for the same entry-level positions. Instead, she ended up working in bankruptcy and mortgage foreclosure defense. Kellie reflected, “I ultimately found those fields to be some of the most fulfilling and rewarding because I was able to use my legal knowledge and skills to help many families during some of the arguably most difficult and stressful times in their lives. I wouldn’t change any part of my career path.”

Another CARPLS Work Volunteer was Dana Hill (pictured), an attorney who had been practicing for nearly 10 years when she was laid off her position as pro bono director at a Chicago law firm in 2009. Today, she is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a ten-year member of CARPLS Associate Board.

Dana said, “Being laid off during the Recession completely changed my career path. While I had already transitioned from practicing lawyer to being a law firm administrator, following my layoff, I found another ‘alternative legal’ position as a teaching professor. If not for the Recession and my layoff, I would have continued working at my firm. I had worked at the same law firm my entire career, so when I was laid off I felt unmoored. Many of my social relationships, and my sense of self, were connected to my job. I was lucky to find a job that I enjoy, but it was challenging to change to a new career and start at the bottom again. CARPLS was a stabilizing, structured program at a time when my life felt out of control. It was satisfying to know that I actually helped people during my four-hour (hotline) shift.”

“Kellie and Dana were like many of the CARPLS Works volunteers who came to volunteer with us during the Recession,” says Pat Wrona, CARPLS’ Legal Director.  “Tremendously talented attorneys whose careers took a turn due to the bad economy, but who gained great practical legal skills and perspective while working with CARPLS clients.”

Kellie believes that “volunteering for CARPLS was a rewarding and memorable experience which definitely inspired me to continue looking for opportunities to work in public service. I previously served as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois and currently serve as Director of Ethics for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (“ARRT”), a nonprofit organization located in Minnesota. ARRT is the world’s largest medical imaging credentialing organization, certifying individuals in 15 medical imaging disciplines. My experience at CARPLS helped me to see firsthand the value and need of giving back to the community in a meaningful way,” reflects Kellie.

Dana has continued to serve others as a valued member of the CARPLS Associate Board since 2009. “When I started practicing, I didn’t understand how people had time to volunteer or serve on Associate Boards. However, if you just do it, you can find the time.  I have made several friends on the Associate Board, and it is a great way to make connections with other lawyers. I also served as Associate Board Liaison for the Board of Directors. I learned a lot from the experience and was continually impressed by the Board members’ commitment to CARPLS and its high standards,” she said.

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