Bringing Her Perspective to the Courtroom
When Lorianna Anderson (LAW ’22) sat down in a courtroom for the first time, she noticed something strange.
As a shy middle schooler, she had gone to a Cook County criminal court proceeding to support a close family member who was being arraigned.
“I just remember sitting there, looking around in the courtroom. The judge didn’t look like me, the public defender didn’t. The state’s attorney didn’t look like me. The only person that looked like me in the courtroom was the person sitting in the defendant’s chair,” says Anderson, who is Black and grew up in a public housing project on Chicago’s South Side.
“I processed that as a kid and got interested in law school right there. Literally from that day, I said, ‘I’m going to law school.’ I started doing pre-law programs, seminars, anything I could.”
More than a decade later, Anderson not only went to law school, she excelled at it. In her time at Chicago-Kent College of Law, she’s made a mark on the school’s trial advocacy teams and student groups, earned competitive fellowships, and eventually found her calling.
That calling isn’t what she thought it would be.
At first, Anderson wanted to pursue defense work. She served as vice president of Chicago-Kent’s Criminal Law Society and completed the school’s criminal defense clinic. As an undergraduate, she’d been a social work intern with the Champaign County,Illinois, Public Defender’s Office.
“I was tunnel-visioned, especially culturally. I’m a Black woman from the South Side of Chicago, born and raised in a low-income family. You don’t think you can be a prosecutor,” Anderson says.
But after completing a Justice Stevens Public Interest Fellowship with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office—the same agency that had prosecuted her relative, decades ago—she saw a need on the other side of the aisle.
Right before starting the fellowship, Anderson says, “I had an experience where I lost somebody to gun violence in Chicago. The person responsible for my friend’s death was brought to justice…and for the first time I was able to personally feel, in some sense, whole again. I felt there was a different door open to me on the prosecution side.”
Then, during the fellowship for the State’s Attorney’s Office, “I got to see the other side of it: actually helping victims who had been wronged. Witnesses, saying they needed help. I saw it was impactful from a different standpoint,” adds Anderson. “Being there, working for the people, seeing how that side of the criminal justice system actually benefits the community, I ended up following up with it.”
And just like the little girl in the courtroom, decades ago, Anderson now sees a need for people that look like her and grew up like her to work in a place where they’re underrepresented—to bring her valuable perspective to places like a prosecutor’s office.
“You have a different outlook and perspective. I’ve had family members in the criminal justice system, so I can relate to people on a different level,” Anderson says. “Even things people don’t think about, like language. Because I grew up in the same neighborhood, I know what [victims and witnesses] are saying.
“It’s important to come from the community that you actually are serving.”
Anderson was the first in her family to graduate college. She grew up in the Prairie Avenue Courts public housing projects in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, attended Chicago Public Schools, and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018.
While at Illinois, she attended Chicago-Kent’s Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars program, an intense summer session for underrepresented college students interested in the legal profession.
“I had this fear of whether or not I could actually do law school, because all I had heard were horror stories about how hard it was,” Anderson says. “I think for me, that was an important part of what the PLUS program did for me: it taught me that I actually can do it, I actually belong here.”
Before starting at Chicago-Kent in 2019, Anderson worked for Chicago Public Schools as a college access coach through AmeriCorps, and as a Washington, D.C., staffer for the Illinois first congressional district.
At Chicago-Kent, Anderson showed promise on the trial advocacy team, reaching the semifinals in the 2021 National Ethics Trial Competition.
“Trial advocacy class really was what did it for me. I knew then that I wanted to do trial work, specifically,” Anderson says.
She completed the school’s criminal litigation certificate program, and now hopes to get a job with the State’s Attorney’s Office—where she continues to clerk—upon graduation.
Photo: Lorianna Anderson (LAW ’22)