Clinic Spotlight: Jane Addams

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

CVLS’ Jane Addams Legal Clinic’s namesake founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889. Over the years, it grew into a community organization that exemplified Addams’ ideals for women’s rights, neighborhood development and social justice.

In 1968, 79 years after Jane Addams opened Hull House, CVLS started a legal clinic at the Lakeview Jane Addams Hull House. Although CVLS moved the location of the clinic from the gentrified site to CVLS’ Loop office in the late ‘90’s, the clinic has always strived to uphold its founding ideals by providing free legal help to those who need it most.

Today, the clinic is a mainstay for volunteer attorneys who work in or near the Loop and can stop by after work. The average client is 44 years old and makes about $16,000 per year. While the clinic sees a variety of legal issues, clients most often come in with Mental Health, Adoption and Landlord/Tenant cases.

CVLS’ Jane Addams clinic is currently looking for new volunteers! The clinic meets every third Wednesday of the month at our offices, 33 N. Dearborn, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. If you’re interested, contact Clinic Coordinator Dan Santrella at

In 2014, CVLS completed 75 adoption cases. This means that on an average of six times each month, one of our staff or volunteer attorneys finished a months-long process of navigating an often-difficult, sometimes complicated family or legal situation while advocating tirelessly for a low-income family. 

One such case involved 29-year-old Brenda, a self-sufficient single woman who had always wanted to be a mother. Through a family connection, Brenda found Alice, a pregnant teenager who could not support a baby in addition to her four-year-old daughter. Alice agreed to give her baby up, and from the day Noah was born, Brenda was his mother. She obtained guardianship, and when Noah was one year old, began the process of adopting him. Brenda visited our Jane Addams Legal Clinic, where longtime volunteer and Board member andy Morris, a partner at Chico & Nunes, P.C., agreed to represent her.

Despite Alice’s initial compliance, Noah’s birth mother proved difficult to track down, and even more difficult when it came time to sign her consent. Over a period of several months and many changes of heart, Sandy talked with Alice and convinced her why Brenda adopting Noah was in everyone’s best interest.

The difficulties, however, didn’t end there. At a home visit, a court investigator met Brenda’s friend Robert who, despite acting as a positive presence in Noah’s life, had been arrested multiple times on drug-related charges. Not to be deterred, Sandy convinced the county social worker that Robert’s past should not influence Brenda’s adoption of Noah, given that none of his charges affected his ability to treat a child well, and that he had been fully rehabilitated. The social worker was convinced, and recommended that the judgment for adoption be entered.

Adoption cases usually take four months; Brenda’s lasted a year. So what keeps Sandy passionate and engaged with her pro bono work in the face of so many challenges? Because now, Brenda is thrilled to be the legal parent of her son – and Sandy made it happen.

“It makes me feel good,” she says. “People who have less money are less able to advocate for themselves, and that manifests in a lot of different ways. One of the things we can do, because of our situation, is to level the playing field.”