As Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for a young boy who had been abused and bullied at home and at school, CVLS 7-11 intern Debi Filipovich encountered one of her most difficult and most rewarding cases.
In order to advocate for the boy, labeled a “problem child” because of his history of fighting at school, she first had to get through to him. It was hard, but the boy eventually opened up. He told her that he liked the fact that she treated him with respect—something no one else had shown him. Through their conversations, Debi discovered he had been getting picked on because he was biracial.
“You could tell that no one had ever given him a shot,” Debi says. “There was a point where he realized, ‘I can actually talk to this person.’”
Working toward a career in litigation, Debi, a Northwestern University School of Law 3-L, came to CVLS because she wanted hands-on experience. She enjoyed CVLS’ collaborative work environment, the cases and all of the different day-to-day experiences. She also believes that the experiential “trial by fire” process is the best way to learn, especially for someone like her who loves to argue in court.
As a GAL for Minors Program intern, Debi worked with Program Director Rebekah Rashidfarokhi and Staff Attorney Susan DeCostanza. In addition to conducting interviews with clients and parties, and appearing in court daily, she also explored the emotional aspect of cases involving children. Her CVLS work showed her how impressionable young people are, and motivated her to do anything she can to help.
Debi recommended to the court that her client be returned to live with his mother. Her young client was thrilled when the court agreed with his GAL’s recommendation.
The experience of getting to know her client and finding what was best for him is part of why Debi feels pro bono matters. “Everyone deserves that shot,” she says, especially given the biases her low-income clients often face. These biases and the different, often unfair circumstances that land people in poverty are why she believes it is important for legal professionals to find the time volunteer for pro bono cases.
“I feel like I’ve actually made an impact on people’s lives,” she says.