Margaret Stapleton has had a notable 37-year legal career that her nominator encapsulates as “a nearly ideal mix of dedicated representation of individuals and highly effective systemic advocacy aimed at root causes and innovative solutions to poverty.” After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1971, Margaret spent the first period of her career in southern Illinois. She started in Cairo, Illinois as staff attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing clients along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in their day-to-day civil rights struggles. Later, Margaret spent ten years as the lead public benefits specialist at the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation (LOLLAF) in East St. Louis. During her time at LOLLAF she honed her unique ability to combine direct service work with top-notch policy and systemic advocacy.
In 1986, Margaret came to Chicago to continue her work at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (LAF). While at LAF, Margaret launched one of her signature projects after noticing that family law matters involving the children of unwed parents were conducted under deplorable conditions in the criminal courts, similar issues for children of married parents were addressed in the domestic relations division with more resources. She changed this by bringing a successful class action on behalf of the children of unwed parents alleging a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Since joining the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in 1996, Margaret has successfully used her legal and advocacy skills to help ensure comprehensive and affordable health care for everyone in Illinois, eliminate barriers to employment for people with conviction records, and improve the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. In August of 2010, she was awarded the National Child Support Enforcement Association's Private Sector Individual Award. The award recognizes an individual who has advanced the value of life for children in the communities, states, and/or nation as it relates to child support enforcement. Throughout her distinguished legal career, Margaret has steadfastly championed important and critical causes that have improved the quality of life for many low-income and disadvantaged people in our community.