My Love Letter to Legal Aid

January 14, 2022

by Tanya Pietrkowski

Tanya is leaving CARPLS Legal Aid to venture on her own as a fundraising consultant for small nonprofits and artists. She spent 11 proud years at the organization growing support more deeply among the legal and business community and increasing CARPLS’ recognition.

If not now, when is the premise and how is the question. This idea occurred to me while I was doing the dishes—a gateway to my creative ideas.

With 11 years + one week at CARPLS and five years and seven months at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law out of a 25+ year career in fundraising, I am a member of the legal services tribe.

We are a crew that is committed to removing barriers in the legal system and we often spend our lives committed to the cause. However, the essence of law that creates a system by which all things are judged, measured and considered makes systemic change a slow and arduous process when the system works. The Socratic method, by which lawyers are educated, is detached and logical. So, it’s understandable that people outside of the legal community miss sharing our sense of passion or grasp how we are agents of change. And, we often have a difficult time sharing our mission in a way that is compelling outside of the legal community.

When one thinks about the call for change, there is a sense of emotional urgency and an appeal for action that most of the legal community understands the need for. I would like to shine a light on my brave and hardworking legal services brethren who are improving communities and people’s lives under the radar—and yes, they are changemakers.

Our lawyers and paralegals are emotionally carrying the brunt of the troubles they hear. They remain calm, understanding and empathic in a time where the need for our services has been magnified by the pandemic. COVID-19 ripped the blanket off and showed just how deep the economic and racial disparities are in our country, particularly through the legal arena.

We have always served vulnerable people in their time of need to access an attorney for family, housing and financial issues. Now the level of legal care needed across our community has increased so greatly that I wonder how my peers are able to continue handling it without trauma. One can argue that they are carrying the trauma. Are we risking burning out our helpers, as we are witnessing in the medical community?

One of the silver linings of this crisis is to witness the way legal aid service providers are coming together to innovate and reach as many people across Illinois as possible. Services range to minimize the effects of evictions, unemployment, family instability, incarceration, and so much more. The fervor is there to serve, to improve, to change the world for the better through the law and action. My goal as a fundraiser at CARPLS was to try to help take care of my legal community by sharing their mission and broaden people’s understanding of why access to legal services is imperative to the vibrancy and health of our families and neighbors.

My wish for the legal aid community is that we give you a little space to process all that you are witnessing and experiencing. At the same time, I hope that we see more dialogue in the community with a broader spectrum of community stakeholders addressing the needs we see. That is a very vulnerable conversation and it will take time.

For the development and communication people that follow me, keep encouraging our lawyers to talk about the human side of what it means to serve others through the law. It’s the humanity of what we do that brings us all together and makes supporting change possible.

You can follow Tanya’s work at

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