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Legal Fellowship – ACLU of Illinois – for Fall 2023

Website ACLU of Illinois

Legal Department Fellowship Opportunity to Combat Inadequate Indigent Defense in Illinois (Starting Fall 2023)

The Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU of Illinois (ACLU of Illinois) is currently accepting applications from qualified rising third-year law students and recent law graduates with a commitment to civil rights and civil liberties and strong legal research and writing skills, who seek a host organization for an externally-funded fellowship (e.g., Skadden, Equal Justice Works, Justice Catalyst, law school sponsored fellowships, etc.). The focus of this fellowship will be investigating and litigating violations of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which affords a right to adequate legal representation to people who have been charged with a crime and face the possibility of jail time, regardless of their ability to pay for an attorney.

The Legal Department of the ACLU of Illinois works with colleagues across the organization to advance civil rights and civil liberties. Our work fights racism in the criminal and civil legal systems and in policing; protects democracy by advancing First Amendment rights, government transparency, and voting rights; promotes access to reproductive health care, the rights of LGBTQ+ communities, and gender equity; and addresses and prevents the harm experienced by children in the foster system, young people in juvenile detention, and people in prisons and jails.

We are currently accepting fellowship applications to support the development of litigation to combat constitutionally inadequate indigent defense in Illinois.  More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), that the Constitution requires every state to provide counsel for criminal defendants who are unable to afford an attorney, citing this right as a necessity—not a luxury—for those facing prosecution by the government.   Additionally, an omnibus 2021 criminal reform statute that eliminated cash bail in Illinois now requires that the State appoint counsel for indigent defendants in pretrial detention hearings. 725 ILCS 5/110-6.1(f). In Illinois, the responsibility for providing and overseeing attorneys to represent indigent defendants has been delegated to counties and trial court judges. A groundbreaking 2021 report by the Sixth Amendment Center, however, details the shortcomings and disparities in Illinois’ county-funded public defender systems.

The ACLU of Illinois plans to investigate and potentially bring litigation to combat violations of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in adult criminal cases in Illinois.

The successful fellowship applicant may also have the opportunity to support other Legal Department projects that are ongoing or in development, including: (1) litigation to combat excessive fines and fees that disproportionately punish the poor and people of color, including young people; (2) litigation to reduce traffic stops and searches, including racial profiling; and (3) the ACLU of Illinois’ representation of community-based organizations that are part of a Coalition enforcing a federal Consent Decree requiring systemic reform of the Chicago Police Department to address patterns of excessive force against people of color and people with disabilities.

The fellow will be supervised by managers in the ACLU of Illinois Legal Department to support new and ongoing impact litigation and non-litigation advocacy done in collaboration with other Departments. Previous fellows have had the opportunity to develop facts and research for new litigation; work with current and potential ACLU-IL clients; participate in discovery matters in pending litigation; conduct legal and policy research on a variety of issues; participate in settlement negotiations; draft sections of legal briefs and complaints; and collaborate with grassroots and community-based organizations.

How to Apply

Applicants should send the following materials to

  • A current resume
  • A cover letter –
    • clearly stating the academic year or other timeframe for which you seek a fellowship;
    • specifying the name(s) and deadline(s) of the fellowship(s) for which you are applying; and
    • describing your commitment to civil rights and civil liberties, as well as efforts to transform the criminal legal system, to protect the rights of marginalized groups impacted by the criminal legal system, and to combat systemic racism.

Priority consideration will be given to those who contact us before August 1. Later applications will also be considered.

We review submissions on a rolling basis. Any decision to support a candidate will be made considering the ACLU-IL Legal Department’s programmatic needs and supervision resources, and the applicant’s skills and qualifications.

Supervisors in the ACLU of Illinois Legal Department will work closely with the selected applicant to develop proposals. Our team is committed to supervising and mentoring up-and-coming public interest lawyers who are excited to work collaboratively in a multi-issue organization that advances civil rights and civil liberties.

The ACLU of Illinois is an equal opportunity employer. We value a diverse workforce and encourage applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, criminal record, or veteran status.

The ACLU makes every effort to assure that its recruitment and employment provide all qualified persons, including persons with disabilities, with full opportunities for employment in all positions. If you have a disability and need a reasonable accommodation regarding any part of the application process, please include your accommodation request(s) in your application email.

ACLU of Illinois staff are based in Chicago, IL.  Currently, we are working on a hybrid basis with a minimum of two days per week in the office, and the number of required days in the office may increase.  Fellows will be expected to work out of our Chicago office, likely on a hybrid schedule, to be determined in 2023.

To apply for this job email your details to

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