Our Professionalism Spotlight series highlights Illinois legal professionals who are demonstrating the ideals of professionalism in their daily lives.
The Professionalism Spotlight replaces our popular Lawyer Spotlight series, to recognize the inspiring work of lawyers, as well as paralegals, court clerks, legal assistants, trial court administrators, law school personnel, and other legal and court professionals across the state.
These individuals are all essential in the delivery of equitable, efficient, and effective justice in Illinois.
In our first Professionalism Spotlight, we profile Thomas McClure, a professor in Illinois State University’s Department of Politics and Government where he teaches paralegal education courses and constitutional law. Tom also serves as a pro bono attorney with Prairie State Legal Services (PSLS) in Bloomington.
Before becoming an academic, Tom was a general practitioner in Kankakee County where he focused on litigation. Earlier in his career, he represented plaintiffs in employment discrimination and civil rights cases. He then shifted his focus to plaintiff’s personal injury, criminal defense, and family law.
How has your practice evolved during the last few years?
In 2020, I collaborated with the Bloomington office of PSLS to create an expungement clinic. The clinic provides hands-on legal experience to legal studies students who assist low-income individuals seeking to expunge and seal old criminal records.
The clinic gives these clients access to employment, rental, and lending opportunities necessary for moving forward with their lives. I now assign cases to more than 80 students per year whom I supervise as a PSLS pro bono attorney.
What’s one piece of technology you could not function without?
Email is essential to managing the expungement clinic. Because we started this venture during the worst of the pandemic, we had to create a model in which the students and clients had no face-to-face contact.
We have continued with this model after in-person contact resumed because it is easier to manage with the volume of cases we process.
How do you manage your well-being?
I began running in my fifties. I try to run during weekdays and do a long run on weekends.
Although I don’t think I feel any different, my wife says that I am more pleasant to be around when I run. So, I’m confident that this hobby improves my mental and physical well-being. Injuries and a busy schedule sometimes keep me from running as much as I would like.
How do you remain civil in tense situations?
As an educator, I rarely find myself in tense situations. When I do, I simply keep my immediate goal in mind and focus my attention on achieving it, rather than dwelling on the unpleasantness of the situation. I try to treat others as I would want to be treated myself.
How can attorneys advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession?
Attorneys need to be mindful of implicit bias. We also should treat everyone with respect and act with civility toward others. We should lead by example.
What is an attorney’s role in furthering public confidence in the rule of law?
When we give programs for lay people, we should emphasize the professional ethics that we are sworn to uphold. We should actively promote being truthful and the rule of law in conversations with the public.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Make connections with other members of the bar, community organizations, and courthouse staff. These relationships will make your practice more fulfilling.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many experienced attorneys are willing to mentor new lawyers.
What do you think is the biggest challenge impacting lawyers today?
Law school debt. A recent ABA Young Lawyers Division/AccessLex study revealed that the average debt of a law school graduate is around $145,000.
Another study, conducted by the same partnership, showed that student loan debt affected significant life choices for most of the respondents, such as postponing purchasing a home or taking a vacation. Nearly half of the respondents postponed having children or buying a car.
What do you do for fun?
My wife and I like to travel. We’ve been to 50 states, seven continents, and over 30 countries.
Our Professionalism Spotlight recognizes legal professionals throughout Illinois who are admired for their professionalism and civility. Check out more interviews here.