Alumnus uses free legal clinics to reach some of Chicago’s neediest students
By Madeleine Thomas
Once a month, Timothy Myers ‘14, Legal Director of the Chicago Law & Education Foundation (CLEF), rotates his office throughout eight public high schools across the city’s west and south sides. His free legal clinics, which are held for several hours after school, are meant to empower and educate some of Chicago’s most underserved students and their families.
Pro bono services are a luxury for most of Myers’ clientele. About 83 percent of students in the Chicago Public Schools district—one of the largest school districts in the country—are considered low-income, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Easy, direct access to CLEF’s free legal resources can boost school performance, improve graduation rates, and help relieve anxiety and instability at home.
In the months since President Donald Trump announced his support to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a lot of Myers’ efforts have been dedicated to offering legal advice pertaining to immigration law, including helping students and their families develop safety plans should a parent unexpectedly enter deportation proceedings. He also hosts “Know Your Rights” classes and workshops on juvenile criminal record expungements, which can be especially beneficial for students preparing to apply to college or seeking employment after graduation. In the summer, when school is out of session, Myers sets up shop in branches of the Chicago Public Library.
“I really love doing community lawyering because one thing that frustrates me about being a lawyer is that you can be taught to think within a box and within a system,” Myers said. “A lot of solutions are based on what the law says and how we can respond. I think a community lawyer has the flexibility to not only take cases, but to educate people through workshops and refer people to other organizations that can help with their problems. When a crisis comes up, like DACA ends or something like that, we can quickly adapt to the situation and really get out there and make an impact, whereas other legal services providers might not be able to do that beyond taking or handling cases.”
Although tight resources prevent Myers from accepting a heavy caseload (in addition to Myers, CLEF is staffed solely by an executive director and organization’s founder), he is able to represent a limited number of families in court each year. He recently helped reunite a single mother in Chicago with her young son in Mexico, after years of separation.
“I realized in my own analysis that he was technically a U.S. citizen and had acquired citizenship through his mother, who was actually a citizen,” he said. “We were able to apply in the Mexican consulate and show that he was a U.S. citizen and bring him back to the United States. Being able to reunite a family like that was really exciting for me.”
Myers’ interests in immigration and public service work began in high school, when he took a job doing maintenance work for a school district in his native Chicago that outsourced undocumented workers. He eventually decided on law school after a stint working at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for a company called Firstsource Solutions Limited, which required visiting uninsured patients to determine their Medicaid and Social Security eligibility. He liked working directly with clients, he realized, and wanted to use a JD to make a bigger impact on the world.
At Moritz, Myers served as managing editor of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, as president of the Immigration Law Society, and as a member of the Civil Law Clinic. In addition to clerking with the Morrow County Municipal Court, he also interned at Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a Columbus-based nonprofit that connects newly-arrived refugees with social services like housing and employment, and provides legal representation for immigration issues.
After graduation, Myers returned to the Windy City to work as a prosecutor for the City of Chicago Department of Law and later, as a staff attorney for Community Activism Law Alliance, an organization that collaborates with community activist groups to host activism-law clinics and provide legal aid to Chicagoans in need.
“My advice really is to try as many things as you can,” he said. “I went to law school not knowing fully what I wanted to do, and I tried out as many things as I could, like judicial clerkships, immigration work and criminal work. Seeing what works for you, getting that real hands-on experience, and being open to possibilities in areas of the law that you might not have thought initially that you were interested in, is tremendously valuable.”