Ellen E. Douglass has made a career out of service to others. Within a few years of her graduation from Northwestern University School of Law, Ellen became a volunteer with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services in 1979. She quickly distinguished herself by revitalizing one of CVLS’ original neighborhood clinics, the Liberty Baptist Church Clinic, which was struggling due to a lack of volunteers and leadership. Things quickly changed when Ellen agreed to become clinic chair; within a short time, fifteen new volunteers supervised by Ellen were providing free legal services twice a month to low-income clients from all over the city’s South Side.
As clinic chair, Ellen not only recruited and organized clinic volunteers, but she handled a significant number of the cases from the clinic. Then an attorney with the SEC, Ellen chaired this clinic for 10 years. When Ellen decided to leave government for the private sector, eventually opening her own law office, she continued to take cases from CVLS and also regularly accepted pro bono appointments from the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. In 2006, Ellen approached CVLS with an idea for a new legal aid clinic at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Ellen brokered a partnership between the church and CVLS and now she chairs the CVLS/TUCC Clinic.
Ellen epitomizes the ideals of the Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award. Through her years of pro bono work, many of them as a solo practitioner, she has helped hundreds of vulnerable clients with their everyday legal problems, while simultaneously encouraging, training and mentoring scores of other pro bono attorneys.