A guiding light

Ability to communicate with clients helps Neha Tannan shine at the Indo-American Center

Photo by Rena Naltsas
Photo by Rena Naltsas
September 2019
By Adrianna Pitrelli
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

During her work day, Neha Tannan focuses her effort on her insurance practice.

But on the weekends, the Ford & Britton associate attorney can be found volunteering her time in immigration law at the Indo-American Center in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Chicago Lawyer: What type of pro bono work do you do?

Tannan: I volunteer alongside other attorneys and law students at the Indo-American Clinic in a neighborhood that is predominately South Asian. Our clinic is held one Saturday morning per month. We are a member clinic of Chicago Volunteer Services. We see a large variety of matters. Clients come in and tell us what kind of case they want to discuss. Most of them bring different documents and we try to do what we can. We handle everything from immigration to family law matters. We see simple questions like ‘what’s the window where I can renew my permanent resident or green card?’ to more complex matters.

CL: How did you first get involved in doing pro bono work?

Tannan: I heard about this pro bono clinic in law school through the South Asian Bar Association. I started volunteering early on in law school and helped conduct intake interviews until I was an attorney.

CL: What is the most beneficial part of volunteering your time?

Tannan: I think it’s just being able to provide guidance to people who don’t have access to justice or understand the process. I can communicate with Hindi and most Urdu-speaking clients because I grew up speaking it with my parents and grandparents. Some of these clients just need a simple explanation and translation for their legal matters. Some of them need a voice or want someone to discuss future steps.

The ability to just communicate with people who don’t usually have the ability to communicate about matters outside their comfort zone is so beneficial.

CL: For a younger lawyer who thinks they might want to do pro bono work but are on the fence about it, what advice would you give them?

Tannan: Go to some of these pro bono clinics and test the water. I think once you’re there, you see how valuable it is. It’s not a scary experience. You can dip your feet in and you quickly find that you can help out a larger demographic than what you see in your daily law practice. You also start learning a lot about different areas of law than what you practice which is invaluable.