I currently supervise the Public Guardian’s legal staff in six child protection courtrooms. We are the attorneys and guardians ad litem for almost all of the youths in foster care in Cook County. While I have been with the Public Guardian’s Office for more than 20 years, I have had many different duties in the office. As a result, I have represented children in almost every legal setting. I started my career as an Assistant Lake County Public Defender.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
Representing children has moved from a cause to a profession. We must be very strong attorneys, but we also have to understand children and families. Illinois courts, bar associations and organizations such as the National Association of Counsel for Children all support the ongoing development of excellence in this area. Some law schools, such as Loyola University Chicago School of Law, also do a great job preparing law students for this specialized field. Child law is interdisciplinary, and our field is constantly informed by research in the social sciences, psychology and medicine.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Often, our clients come to us needing help with a problem. It is critical to learn the law and know the facts of a case, but as importantly, we think through our client’s issues and develop solutions. If you find that the strategy you developed is not working, take a step back and consider whether what you are doing makes sense.
What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?
I am not particularly technologically sophisticated, but I rely on my smartphone. The attorneys that I work with are often in court, out in the field seeing clients or in meetings. Texting is a great way to keep connected. I rely on my smart calendar and alarms to keep me on schedule. I use it to get information about the law and resources for clients.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Civility plays two roles in my practice of law. It is a tool of effective advocacy. It is easier to resolve a problem if you are able to have a productive discussion about it. Moreover, child protection cases can take a lot out of an attorney. The subject matter can be gut-wrenching, the stakes are high and the cases are often highly contested. I take great satisfaction in representing children for as long as I have. I would not have been able to do so without maintaining decent, respectful relationships with those around me.
I can give an example of a time that I did not exercise professionalism through my inexperience. Early in my career, I was an Assistant Public Defender newly assigned to a felony courtroom. I negotiated an agreed disposition to a case with an Assistant State’s Attorney that I had known for several years. When I presented the negotiation to my client, he accepted it but wanted to delay beginning his prison sentence. I did not tell the State ahead of time that my client wanted the delay. We entered the plea before the court. Right before we stepped away from the bench, I requested the delay. It was granted. At the time, I did not understand why the Assistant State’s Attorney was so angry at me. He pulled me out into the hall and explained, colorfully, that I had changed the terms of the negotiation without consulting him. It would have taken me less than a minute to let him know what was happening before approaching the bench. Instead, I caught him unaware. I never made that mistake again and continue to be grateful to the now-former Assistant State’s Attorney for teaching me an important lesson.
What do you do for fun?
I am married with children, so most of my free time is spent enjoying my family. I like to read. Right now, I am reading police procedurals and books about geology. I did not take science seriously enough as a student and am now trying to understand it a little better. Audio books make the commute a bit more interesting. I also volunteer with the North Lawndale Kinship Initiative.
Every few years, I try to learn a new skill or hobby. Right now, I am trying to learn how to crochet. I am not very good at it. My children have a collection of truly atrocious hats that they refuse to wear.
Carol Casey has represented children in almost every legal forum as an attorney supervisor at the Office of the Public Guardian. She has represented children in civil rights causes of actions, class actions, abuse and neglect cases, contested divorces, delinquency cases, criminal cases and contested guardianship cases.