Increasing Access to Justice

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By Jamie Loo

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When Jack Etchingham (J.D. 19) started his Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Fellowship with Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) in early 2020, he was excited about the opportunity to support the organization’s efforts to increase access to justice throughout Illinois. When the effects of the global pandemic hit Illinois shortly thereafter, his fellowship took on increased meaning—and urgency.

As part of ILAO’s content team, Etchingham wrote and maintained blogs that helped connect users with resources to address pandemic-related legal issues. From unemployment benefits to renter’s rights and access to public benefits, the list of legal issues that are arising is endless.

“Suddenly, millions of people had problems they didn’t have the week before that would in some way, shape, or form involve the legal system,” Etchingham says. “Normally, this is exactly the type of information ILAO provides. But in the environment of a pandemic, where demand for this type of information spiked, ILAO became an even more important resource for people. After two and a half years of school, it was rewarding to be on the ‘front lines,’ so to speak, of the legal system's response to a global pandemic.”

Through his experiences as a law school student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Etchingham, who is this year’s valedictorian, has come to embrace the belief that lawyers have a duty to help increase access to justice throughout society. Along with his PILI fellowship, he also volunteered with the Self-Help Web Center at the Daley Center, which helps self-represented litigants navigate the Cook County Court System.

Etchingham clerked for the United States Attorney’s Office and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and had a judicial externship with Judge Charles P. Kocoras in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The externship gave him an opportunity to observe Judge Kocoras’s courtroom two days a week for a full semester, and he says the judge’s clerks “taught him a lot about analyzing legal issues and writing from an objective point of view.”

Developing sharp writing skills was key to Etchingham’s success as a member of the Moot Court Honor Society. MCHS members write briefs and present oral arguments at national appellate advocacy competitions. He won the 2018 Ilana Diamond Rovner Appellate Advocacy Competition, and his team received the award for Second Best Brief in the Brooklyn Region at the 2019 American Bar Association National Appellate Advocacy Competition. Etchingham says he enjoys every step of the litigation process because it is challenging, interesting, and gives him the opportunity to constantly learn new things and help clients solve difficult problems. Next month, he will join Sidley Austin LLP as a litigation associate.

Etchingham also contributed to a variety of student organizations, including Chicago-Kent Law Review, Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Society, and Kent Justice Foundation.

“Law school provides so many opportunities to invest in yourself, whether it’s through classroom studying, extracurricular activities, or part-time jobs,” he says. “My experience has taught me that the more you put into each one of those experiences, the more they offer you personally in return.”

Etchingham graduated with high honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in finance, and he worked as a technology consultant for three years before attending Chicago-Kent. Growing up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, his parents, a judge and a school teacher, instilled a genuine respect for service in Etchingham and his three older brothers. This perspective and life lessons from his family led him to pursue a legal career.

Etchingham says he is looking forward to working with clients and to learning from his colleagues at Sidley. He hopes to continue doing his part to increase access to justice by volunteering and working pro bono throughout his career.

“The extensive experiential opportunities Chicago-Kent offered, from judicial externships to clerkships at a private law firm to government work, provided me with the opportunity to apply the lessons I learned in the classroom in the real world,” he says. “Chicago-Kent has done everything a law school could do to prepare me for the practice law.”

Photo: Chicago-Kent student Jack Etchingham (provided)