Volunteer Spotlight: Peter Rossiter

April 29, 2024

by Sean Valentin, CARPLS Communications Intern

If you are a supporter of CARPLS, you may have already heard the name Peter Rossiter. Peter is a longtime CARPLS volunteer, first as a board member and treasurer from our early days to currently being a volunteer on the general hotline. 

Peter started his career at Schiff Hardin LLP, where he spent more than fifteen years before leaving in 1992 to be the General Counsel at Northern Trust Corporation. He returned to the firm, now ArentFox Schiff, in 2004.

“A few years after I went to Northern Trust, Mike Pope was starting to drum up additional support for the board of this brand new organization, CARPLS. He was, in particular, looking for people from the corporate community. He thought of me, knew I was general counsel at Northern, and recruited me to serve on the board, which I did, until 2001.” 

The CARPLS model, which ensures that clients speak directly with experienced attorneys, resonated deeply with Peter. He recalls moments where clients expressed disbelief at the immediacy and directness of accessing legal assistance—a luxury they had never before experienced. 

“I’ve had a number of client conversations where they’ve asked me three or four times, ‘so you’re a lawyer, right?’ Because they just haven’t had that experience of being able to access a lawyer so quickly and directly.” 

From guiding individuals through family law disputes to navigating landlord-tenant issues, Peter found himself at the forefront of delivering justice where it mattered most. 

For Peter, volunteering at CARPLS isn’t just about offering legal advice, it’s about lending a compassionate ear to those in distress. He recounts instances where clients, faced with overwhelming challenges, found solace in just knowing that someone was listening, someone was willing to help. 

“You encounter all different kinds of clients. Some come on the phone locked and loaded. They’ve thought through their issues and they can give you the logical evolution of the problem, tell you exactly where they are in the process; they’re just looking for the next step. Other clients come to you because it’s a mess. The eviction order has been entered, for example, and they’re desperate. Getting all the relevant facts can really be a challenge sometimes, but it’s an interesting challenge because you get to know people a little. Hopefully, if you do nothing else, you give people the sense that they have talked to a lawyer who has actually listened to them, heard and understood their problem.” 

Peter said there is one story in particular that sticks out to him. Peter had called the CARPLS client back with advice and a referral to a legal service organization that might be able to help him. “I start launching into that, and he says, ‘wait a minute. Let me get my wife in here. She’ll have paper and pencil. I can’t write this stuff down. I’m in the bathtub.’ I just broke out laughing. And I said to this guy, I’ve been practicing law for 40 years. This is the first time I have ever knowingly advised a client who is in the bathtub. And he started laughing too. It was really something. But I think in the end, I helped him with some practical advice.”

What’s kept Peter connected to CARPLS for so long first started while he was on the Board of Directors. He became convinced of the value of the organization and the quality of the people he got to work with. That is the same thing that brought him back years later as a volunteer. 

“I thought, why don’t I try to do it on the front line and see what that’s like? The notion of actually getting on the phone with live human beings who were in tough situations and helping them navigate through a family law issue, a consumer issue, or a landlord-tenant issue was a little frightening. But I decided that I knew the organization so well that I knew I would have terrific support. And once I got into it, I just loved it.”

Beyond his work with CARPLS, Peter’s commitment to community service extends to his involvement with various organizations, including the Episcopal church and Inroads, Inc. He spent five years as the Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and has served in many other roles in the Diocese and in his local church. Peter also served on the Chicago and National Boards of Inroads, an organization that identifies and places minority college students with major corporations for internships and supports them as they learn about the corporate world.

To prospective volunteers considering joining CARPLS, Peter offers words of encouragement rooted in his own experience. “I would say you will get terrific support. You will get good training, and you will have access to the attorney on call or a supervising attorney, who will really help you deal with the issues that confront you and give you the comfort of knowing that you’ve thought your way through the problem appropriately and are going to give the client the right advice. You will find it enormously rewarding to talk to people one-on-one and help them deal with their individual problems. You will come away feeling rewarded for doing that, but also a little bit humble because of how grateful people are for whatever you can do for them.”

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