Pro Bono Spotlight: Brett Walker
On a typical workday, Brett Walker is busy fact-finding and researching. As an associate at Winston & Strawn LLP, he spends a lot of time on complex commercial and antitrust actions that involve a long list of depositions that need to be prepared for and attended as well as legal research and briefs that need to be completed.
Brett enjoys the work. It’s challenging and, as he says, “I work with some awesome people.”
But for Brett, he also finds great enjoyment in working on pro bono cases. Those cases give Brett the opportunity to get hands-on experience in court and to interact closely with clients who often don’t have many options.
“That means so much to me,” says Brett. “I strongly believe that all attorneys have a duty and an obligation to give back through pro bono work.”
Brett didn’t always feel so strongly about public interest. Growing up in small town east of St. Louis, he played many different sports and thought he’d become a sports agent someday. His undergraduate internship at the Illinois Innocence Project – an organization that works to free those wrongfully convicted of crimes – changed all that.
“It was really eye-opening and [...] it really showed me the importance of work for the less fortunate,” recalls Brett.
After law school, he went on to intern at a public defender’s office and then completed a summer internship with Winston & Strawn, where he continued to take on pro bono assignments. He credits Winston & Strawn with incentivizing pro bono work by attorneys and supporting them throughout the process.
In fact, it was the firm’s pro bono director Greg McConnell who connected Brett with Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to help with a compelling new housing discrimination case. The case involved a 50-year old father named Victor Adams Jr. Looking to move from Englewood to a safer neighborhood, he applied to rent in a building that could accommodate his disability - only to have his application denied based on a decades-old criminal conviction.
“Meeting Mr. Adams really captivated me,” says Brett. “He’s doing everything he can to create a better life for his family.”
Brett got to work conducting interviews, digging into Mr. Adams’ records, lining up evidence for discovery, fact checking and editing Mr. Adams’ complaint, and conducting legal research and analysis. As the case progressed, Brett attended court hearings and sat for a mediation with all parties. He says one of the most challenging aspects of a mediation is weighing the interests of the individual client against the desire to enact a more impactful policy change.
“Chicago Lawyers’ Committee was always cognizant of the give-and-take and always acted in Mr. Adams’ best interest,” he says. “That’s a super hard balance, but Aneel and Barbara [of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee] balance it so well.”
As the Adams case moves forward, Brett will continue with his regular antitrust workload, trying not to get too busy for pro bono matters as they come up. He’s excited to see the outcome of the Adams case - and, as the weather warms up, for golf season to start.