William Gibbs, Linda Coberly and Richard Levin believe in giving back
Published in 2012 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine
on January 2, 2012
Updated on January 4, 2012
William Gibbs / Personal injury law, Corboy & Demetrio
“Service, in whatever capacity it’s available, to me, is just kind of what you’re supposed to do,” says Chicago personal injury attorney William Gibbs. “It’s part of the responsibility of being in a position that you can give back a little bit. In other words, it’s not really a choice; it’s just kind of what I think has to happen.”
For Gibbs, before there was law, there was teaching. The Corboy & Demetrio associate spent five years teaching computer science and coaching football, basketball and baseball at a high school in the Chicago suburbs. Deep down, he always knew he’d follow in his father’s footsteps with a teacher-turned-lawyer route. “In a school setting you can help people … one kid at a time,” he says. “While I really enjoyed doing that, I knew that I could really serve [others] as a lawyer, where I could help people, day to day, deal with issues they were facing.”
Gibbs splits most of his pro bono time between the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls and the St. Clements Our Lady of Mercy Legal Clinic. For those facing a legal issue without the means to hire a lawyer, he steps in to help.
“You can just see—sometimes, not always—the weight of the world that they had when they walked in that morning in some way has been lifted, because they just understand a little bit more what the situation is that they’re involved in and what rights and responsibilities they have,” Gibbs says. “You walk out thinking you did something good that day, you know?”
Linda Coberly / Appellate law, Winston & Strawn
Time has always been set aside in Linda Coberly’s schedule for a variety of pro bono cases, but most recently the appellate attorney has been tackling the complexities of immigration law.
“There’s a really concrete relationship that you can develop with your [pro bono] clients,” Coberly says, “and these are often people who are fleeing really difficult conditions in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States, trying to build a life here. To be able to work with them and help them is really, really rewarding.”
The Winston & Strawn attorney partners with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), part of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, where she serves on the board of directors. Coberly recently began helping the NIJC represent the organization in Supreme Court cases in which it wants to file amicus briefs and advance its objectives.
One concern has been which crimes should require deportation. Immigrants convicted of aggravated felony crimes are subject to deportation, but some states included minor drug possession. That inconsistency has been resolved, she says.
“There’s been a real effort within the immigration law community to address this problem, and it’s been very rewarding to be part of it.”
Richard Levin / Personal injury law, Levin Riback Law Group
While in law school, Richard Levin once approached a professor for help with his legal writing. “I was walking down the hallway to his office and he was walking out of his office, and he saw me, turned around, and closed the door,” Levin recalls. “And I’ll never forget how shitty that felt. … That’s something that I’ve never forgotten.”
Today, Levin, a partner at Levin Riback Law Group, does his part to make sure law school is a positive experience for students. He spends hundreds of hours a year without pay as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School—a school he says he wouldn’t have been accepted to had he applied as a student. But it was that negative experience at law school that inspires Levin to give back to his students as the type of professor he wishes he’d had.
“I really try to do everything I can to help my students,” he says, adding that the most important ingredient is the mentoring. He lets them know “that they have [somebody] as a sounding board.”
In addition to teaching classes, Levin coaches the school’s prize-winning national trial-advocacy team, which was the national champion in 2011. The most important lesson, he says, is to teach the students “how to be really ethical lawyers and honest lawyers. And if you can’t win this way, then you just don’t win. You just have to do it the right way, the honest way.”
Levin’s biggest reward is the phone calls and emails he gets from students he coached more than a decade ago, who still reach out and ask for advice. “This feeling is indescribable and immeasurable: to know that you can have that type of positive influence on somebody’s life,” Levin says, “and that they really thought that much of your guidance and teaching. … It’s just an unbelievably gratifying experience for me.”
His biggest mentoring opportunity was not for a law student but a future police officer who lost his father at age 12. The dad—a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time—was killed after a high-speed police chase resulted in a fatal car accident. Levin represented the man’s family in court. When the case was settled shortly before the son, Michael Mack, was about to head off to college, Mack had to pick someone to handle the settlement money. He chose Levin, who has taken on the responsibility at no charge. While Mack was in college, he spent much time at Levin’s house and developed a deep bond with the attorney.
“He’s really become part of our family; my kids call him their big brother,” says Levin. Mack is now 29 years old and a police officer in Springfield.