‘Your voice is powerful’

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights turns 50

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights turns 50 - Photo by Rena Naltsas
February 2019
By Adrianna Pitrelli
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

Lisa Meyer feels that part of her responsibilities as an attorney is to help others and try to do justice in the world.

“Your voice is powerful, and your skills can make a huge difference in fighting discrimination,” the partner at Eimer Stahl said.

Aside from being the co-chair of the firm’s environmental, product liability and toxic torts practice group, she also represents clients in a variety of pro bono matters, including international human rights cases and hate crime.

Meyer is also the president of the Civil Rights Under Law Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Board of Directors.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Chicago Lawyer: What type of work does Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights do — especially as you serve as board president?

Meyer: I’ve been proud to serve since January 2018 as the board president for Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which has been putting lawyers to work fighting segregation and discrimination since 1969.

This year is our 50th anniversary. As a group that was created to be a northern front in the civil rights movement of the late 1960s, our history tells us that lawyers have tremendous power to help communities change the systems that oppress them.

One major issue we’ve taken up is racial equity in the school system. We have pro bono attorneys who represent students in school discipline cases, which can make a big difference in keeping kids out of the prison pipeline and in school.

We do high-impact litigation as well. Recently, in June, my firm co-counseled a case with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee and LAF that challenged CPS’ discriminatory plan to close National Teachers Academy — which is a top performing South Side elementary school that serves primarily black and low-income students.

This was the first school closure program in CPS’ history that would have shut down a Level 1 plus school in an efficiently utilized building and it was based on racially discriminatory metrics.

Just last month a judge ruled in our favor and granted a motion for a preliminary injunction to freeze the closure and CPS dropped their plan. This was a big victory for the families and the staff at NTA [National Teachers Academy] and I believe it is the first school closure to be stopped by a racial discrimination case. That was pretty exciting.

CL: How did you first get involved in this type of work?

Meyer: I started as a more junior lawyer working on pro bono cases with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, including a hate crime case. I also had done some international human rights work. I have always felt, ever since before I was in law school, that lawyers have a special opportunity and obligation to help others and to try to do justice in the world.

As a partner at litigation boutique Eimer Stahl LLP, I represent corporate clients in complex business disputes. This work is interesting and challenging, but I am very thankful for the opportunity also to work on important pro bono issues.

CL: What is the most beneficial part of doing pro bono work?

Meyer: At the end of the day, the work of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee is really about helping people. One of the reasons we are effective is because of the community lawyering model that we utilize, which asks the communities what they need and then works with them as a partner to achieve their goals.

CL: How can other lawyers get involved in the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights?

Meyer: Last year we had over 500 volunteer attorneys handling matters across our projects, ranging from educational equity and election protection to hate crimes and fair housing.

For lawyers considering volunteering, there are cases and transactional projects of many types and sizes. The most important thing is to just get started. Your voice is powerful and your skills can make a huge difference in fighting discrimination.