Newswise — During her legal career that spanned more than five decades, Ralla Klepak dedicated herself to representing the Chicago community’s most vulnerable citizens, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.
Fighting for a “legal system that worked for everyone” was at the center of her practice.
Thanks to Klepak, who passed away in April 2019 at the age of 82, those in need of representation in family law matters will continue to have her advocacy via a new endowment fund formed at the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School.
Through a bequest of $250,000, the 1964 UIC John Marshall Law School alumna established the John J. Klepak Memorial Project Fund to expand the work of the school’s Community Legal Clinics. The gift honors the memory of her father, who was a 1931 UIC John Marshall Law School alumnus.
The fund will help support a new project covering a broad range of work related to families in the school’s Pro Bono Litigation Clinic, which is home to other special projects focused on mortgage foreclosure, expungement and sealing, and transgender name and gender marker change services.
“The project will work to provide advocacy to families to strengthen their opportunities to remove barriers to strong, stable relationships. We will take a holistic view of family life,” said Sarah Sallen, staff attorney in the clinic and leader of the project. “The cases we will take will focus on improving the parent or caretaker’s ability to provide for the family.”
Examples of such cases include housing disputes in which the home is an unsuitable placement or living environment; order of parentage or guardianship to remove the possibility of placement of a child in foster care; criminal record relief, such as expungement or sealing, to eliminate barriers to obtaining stable employment; and employment disputes to allow a parent to earn income.
The Pro Bono Litigation Clinic will accept referrals of individual cases related to the project’s focus, as well as take on policy work to address larger systemic issues, such as youth empowerment.
UIC John Marshall Law School’s Community Legal Clinics function as a large in-house law office with seven specific areas of legal assistance for those who are usually unable to otherwise find or afford access to counsel. In the clinics, J.D. candidates have the opportunity to develop legal experience while working on real-life cases and projects under the close supervision of a faculty member or other clinic supervisor, who are licensed attorneys.
“This project will take an expansive view of family and provide opportunities for our students to strengthen families and see how attorneys can use law in a positive way to support children and their caretakers,” said Alicia Alvarez, professor of law and associate dean for experiential education.
Born in Chicago in 1936, Klepak was raised by her parents, John and Dolores, who graduated from UIC John Marshall Law School in 1933. She earned undergraduate and graduate school degrees from Northwestern University and taught reading and English as a Second Language before attending John Marshall as an evening student. After graduating in 1964, Klepak launched her own law practice. In 2017, Klepak was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame as a “Friend of the Community” for her years of advocacy work.