Our Lawyer Spotlight series highlights Illinois lawyers who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.
Laurie Mikva is a clinical professor and the Director of the Tenant Advocacy Clinic at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.
Previously, she worked in Champaign County as a family law attorney at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and as an assistant public defender.
How has your practice evolved during the last few years?
Currently, my “clients” are both the students in my clinic and the tenants who we are representing. Thus, I have to balance the interests of the students with those of the tenants, trying to give the students the best experiential opportunities while providing the clients with the best representation.
I am always looking for new and better ways to teach and supervise the students. Clinical conferences and fellow clinicians have been essential in this endeavor.
As far as representing the tenants, we look to our partner tenant advocate organizations for the latest information on court practices, community resources, remote practice tips, etc. There is always more to learn and ways to improve the services I deliver.
What’s one piece of technology you could not function without?
I am a tech immigrant (the nice way my kids have of saying that I was born long before all of the tech advances) who finds the technology very challenging. I only cope with lots of assistance from the school’s IT folks, my students, and my children.
That said, having spent most of my career working with clients living in poverty, I am very excited about the many ways technology is being used to help provide access to justice to people who cannot afford a lawyer. I am so pleased that legal aid organizations are on the cutting edge of much of the tech development.
How do you manage your well-being?
Exercise is very important to me; I make sure I get a healthy dose of aerobic exercise every day.
Taking time off to spend with family and friends is also key to managing stress. My stress is mostly fear of letting down my students, my clients, or the courts. And I worry a lot about the income gap and justice inequality. While I have some control over the first, I feel very helpless about the second.
How do you remain civil in tense situations?
I try to avoid tense situations by being prepared and being on good terms with my adversaries and judges. When tense situations arise, I remind myself that I am a professional and that I am modeling good behavior for my students.
How can attorneys advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession?
This is every important to me. Legal academia, like legal practice, has a long way to go.
We are employing practices and strategies to increase diversity among the clinic faculty. We engage in self-reflection about and seek outside education on DEI. We are making a little progress but must do better. Things will not get better without thought, planning and effort.
What is an attorney’s role in furthering public confidence in the rule of law?
For me, an important factor in furthering public confidence in the rule of law is to make justice more accessible to all. Thus, attorneys have an important role in narrowing the justice gap by donating time and money to legal aid organizations.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Find the time to engage in pro bono legal work. Pro bono cases are a way to gain great experience, feel good about oneself, and promote access to justice.
What do you think is the biggest challenge impacting lawyers today?
After closing the justice gap, the biggest challenge is achieving a healthy life/work balance.
What do you do for fun?
I run, hang out with friends and family, and read fiction.
Our Lawyer Spotlight recognizes attorneys throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews with attorneys here.