Meet Supervising Attorney Kathleen Callahan

November 29, 2021

On October 18, 2021, CARPLS launched the first-ever Virtual Help Desk with the Municipal Court Advice Desk (MCAD), where we provide real time legal services to clients using Zoom.

Meet Kathleen Callahan, Supervisor of MCAD, and learn more about the work we’re doing to help clients in the courts during the pandemic.

Kathleen is dedicated and committed to our clients and CARPLS. She brings excellent skills as an attorney, which impacts so many people trying to find their way through the courts. She brings great knowledge, calmness and relatability. We are pleased to have her as a Supervising Attorney at the MCAD desk.

Kathleen Callahan, Supervising Attorney of the Municipal Court Advice Desk (MCAD)

Kathleen has spent the majority of her 20+ legal career committed to working in legal aid. During law school, Kathleen found her calling when she worked as a PILI intern for the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation (now Legal Aid Chicago).

She first joined CARPLS as a part-time attorney on the hotline and at the Domestic Relations Help Desk in 2007. Kathleen left CARPLS twice, once to work for another legal service provider and again in 2019 to join the staff of the Access to Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. She ultimately rejoined CARPLS because she missed our direct service work with clients.

In May 2021, Kathleen was promoted to Supervising Attorney, where she oversaw two desks on an interim basis, including New Leaf (cannabis expungement) and MCAD. She has now fully taken the reins of managing the Municipal Court Advice Desk.

“Kathleen’s excellent legal skills, broad subject knowledge, clear writing, practical judgment and dedication to CARPLS and our clients greatly add to our supervisory capabilities,” Pat Wrona, CARPLS Legal Director, says.

Why are you passionate about legal aid?

I decided to work in legal aid as a result of my experiences in law school. I loved working directly with people who needed a voice, and I felt like my advocacy made a difference. I went into law in order to help people, and because I do enjoy a good argument. Although I have worked as a litigator in the private sector, I have always returned to legal aid because that is where my passion lies. I feel like I am helping people who need a legal advocate the most. From a selfish standpoint, I find this work to be tremendously fulfilling.

What is the MCAD desk and what do you do in your supervising role?

The Municipal Court Advice Desk (MCAD) provides legal services to self-represented litigants (SRLs) with cases that are in the Municipal Division or should be filed in the Municipal Division. We provide a full range of brief legal services, including legal advice, document review, and, in appropriate cases, document drafting or referral for possible direct representation for those in great need or with a meritorious defense to the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic Municipal Program. MCAD is funded by The Chicago Bar Foundation.

My primary role is to supervise the day-to-day operations of MCAD. I ensure the program is up and running daily, supervise all staff attorneys and paralegals, provide both legal and technical support for all MCAD staff, and provide legal services to MCAD clients. I update our legal content and legal documents we prepare for clients to ensure they are current with any recent statutory changes. I also promote the program to legal aid partners and the wider community.

What is the significance of the virtual MCAD and its future impact on CARPLS?

CARPLS did a great job transitioning to provide legal services remotely once COVID-19 turned our world upside down. The launch of the Virtual MCAD is significant in that we are replicating the service we provided in person (at MCAD), but virtually and in real time over Zoom. Self-represented litigants have gotten accustomed to appearing for court via Zoom, so we chose a technology that they are comfortable with. We can assist clients who appeared in court via Zoom very quickly. Not only are we assisting self-represented litigants in real time, but we can also save them the time and expense of coming to see us in person. We are meeting clients where they are.

Why do you choose to work with MCAD?

I am passionate about working with MCAD virtually because we can help people in a personal face-to-face interaction more effectively. The legal system has gone through tremendous changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But some of these changes have made it very difficult for self-represented litigants to navigate the court system. CARPLS MCAD has kept abreast of the myriad legal and administrative issues, and we can help clients more effectively navigate the court system. A lawsuit is stressful for anyone, much less someone who is representing themselves. With intervention from MCAD, we can empower people to be better advocates for themselves.

The reality is that there are not enough legal aid or pro bono lawyers to represent all those in need. We fill the gap in services by arming our clients with legal advice, and through knowledge and information, so they are better suited to represent themselves. Knowledge is power.

What do you hope to do collaboration wise with our new community engagement initiative?

MCAD needs to be sure that we are reaching and helping people in those areas of Cook County that have historically been underserved. I hope to collaborate with the community engagement initiative to work on making sure that our services are available to everyone, especially those most in need.

What is something about CARPLS that you wish more people would know?

I wish more people knew about the wonderful services CARPLS provides. I hate to see people spend hard earned, and often scarce, money on legal services that CARPLS can provide for free.

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