Employer Outreach Visit: Center for Disability & Elder Law in Chicago

Last week, I met with Thomas Wendt, the Legal Director for the Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL), in Chicago. The Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL) was founded to provide pro bono legal services to low income residents of Cook County, Illinois who are either elderly or who have permanent disabilities. CDEL focuses its legal services on systemic issues which have a disparate impact on their clientele, specifically issues related to financial stability, housing, end of life planning, and financial exploitation and abuse.

One way in which CDEL provides legal services is through representation in a range of civil practice areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Adult Guardianship
  • Collections
  • Consumer Fraud
  • Divorce – Uncontested
  • Estate Planning – Powers of Attorney; Simple Wills; Living Will Declarations
  • Elder Financial Abuse
  • Eviction
  • Landlord-Tenant
  • Mortgage Fraud
  • Property Tax and Title Issues
CDEL’s mission is: (1) to provide quality pro bono legal services to low income seniors and people with disabilities and (2) to foster the pro bono culture throughout the Chicago area legal community.

CDEL offers interns the opportunity to get practice experience in areas in which it can be difficult to obtain practice experience outside of a law firm such as trusts and estates and probate law. CDEL takes summer interns, part-time externs through LPE and full-time externs through the Chicago program during the semester, and Bridge to Practice fellows through Notre Dame’s Bridge to Practice Fellowship program.

I had a unique experience meeting with CDEL because Tom invited me to accompany him and several CDEL volunteers on a visit to a local senior care center through CDEL’s Senior Legal Assistance Care Program where they met with several seniors to guide them through filling out powers of attorney for healthcare. Much of CDEL’s work involves regularly holding these clinics and they hold hundreds of them throughout the year, reaching thousands of seniors.

Specifically, CDEL operates these clinics in high-need communities throughout Chicago and suburban Cook County. At the Clinics, eligible seniors are able to meet with CDEL volunteers so that CDEL can evaluate the senior’s legal issue. Direct legal services, including Powers of Attorney for Healthcare and Property and execution of simple wills, are also available at the Clinic sites.

At the clinic that Tom brought me to, the volunteers helped several seniors fill out power of attorney for healthcare forms and completed them on-site at the Senior Center. By filling out these forms, the seniors made decisions about who would make healthcare decisions for them in the event that they were incapacitated.

Tom is a wonderful mentor and supervisor and this year graciously invited a group of GALILEE students in to educate them on power of attorney for healthcare forms. Tom then brought the group of GALILEE students to a senior center where they got to directly interact with clients and walk the seniors through the forms. It can be difficult for GALILEE students to find a substantive legal service project that only takes half a day and the students experience with CDEL is as good a legal service project as I have ever heard of.

1L Travis Wilson, who led his GALILEE group’s trip to CDEL commented:

“Our GALILEE group was thrilled to have the opportunity to make a direct impact the lives of those in need and to learn some useful professional skills as well. This exercise helped us to see the abstract legal concepts from our first semester in their concrete application and it made us appreciate the importance of helping others use the legal system effectively. With a growing demand for legal services to the elderly, organizations like CDEL are more important than ever.”

CDEL completes the majority of their summer internship hiring, typically hiring 5 interns, through the MPILCC conference held every February but Tom told me that if a student is particularly interested, they should email me and he will gladly speak with them. Successful candidates are interested in either the practice areas that CDEL practices in or are interested in public interest law generally. When applying to CDEL, through MPILCC or elsewhere, it is very important to properly address the cover letter to CDEL rather than sending a generic cover letter not tailored to a particular organization.

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