Currently, I am the Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly, but my primary area of concentration as an attorney has been public benefits with a concentration in SNAP and food security issues.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
I have had a fairly non-traditional legal career, though the common thread that runs through my professional life is my commitment to working in the public interest. The work of public interest lawyers is vital, as our most vulnerable citizens from all walks of life are struggling more than ever to make ends meet, and to not be deprived of their basic civil rights.
Thus far, every job I have had has prepared me for the next opportunity that presents itself. I am now at a point where I am seeking to consolidate my wonderful, varied professional experiences and channel them into a specific mission or cause which I intend to champion.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Always seek mentorship and at every stage of your career. Just because we become more secure as we progress in our profession does not mean that we should forego mentorship at a certain age or stage. Although I have progressed far in my career, I am proud to admit that I still appreciate and periodically seek out mentorship. I also implore young lawyers to always give back, which can include being a mentor to younger people who aspire to become lawyers (or another type of professional).
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
None. Although I am far from a “technophobe,” I have no problem periodically turning off all of my devices and actually engaging directly with people. As a Gen Xer, I can honestly say that while technology has made communication so much easier, it can truly stifle our intellectual and interpersonal skills if we are not careful!
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
As a public interest lawyer, I have always been pleasantly surprised by the number of attorneys in law firms of all sizes willing and eager to do pro bono work. Over the years, I have referred several of my clients with specific legal issues outside of my area of concentration to dynamic private attorneys who have willingly undertaken the responsibility of working on these sometimes complex cases for no pay.
What do you do for fun?
I am a classically trained pianist and perform around the city of Chicago. I also picked up tennis four years ago and have managed to work my way up to playing on a local tennis team!
Audra Wilson worked as a welfare advocacy staff attorney with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law for four years before she was asked to join the U.S. Senate campaign of then-state senator Barack Obama, where she worked as the Deputy Press and Policy Director. After the campaign, she decided to remain in Chicago and returned to the private sector as the Director of Diversity Education and Outreach and an adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law for seven years.
At Northwestern, Audra co-founded of the Chicago Consortium of Law School Diversity Professionals, a six-school association dedicated to supporting and promoting diverse law students. She was also the chief architect and administrator for JumpStart, an intensive academic preparation program for incoming diverse law students. During this time, Audra continued to remain active in politics, serving as Policy Chair on several federal and statewide campaigns, including Congresswoman Kelly, who lured her to leave Northwestern to oversee her Illinois offices as her Deputy Chief.
For five years, Audra has also hosted an hour-long show, Practically Speaking, on Vocalo 91.1FM, sister station to WBEZ, where she explores issue of race, culture and class.