It’s Mutual: How the Students of Kanoon Elementary Give Sidley Lawyers New Purpose and Perspective
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SINCE 2016

3,087
school supply kits distributed

1,350
turkeys provided to families and staff as part of the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Drive

A CONVERSATION WITH KARA MCCALL

A mainstay of Sidley’s community engagement in Chicago for 35 years, the close ties between the firm and Kanoon Elementary remain a source of quantifiable material improvement for the school (computer access for every classroom, renovations to the gym) and boundless potential for lawyers, kids, Sidley staff, and teachers alike. As Kara McCall, a partner in the Chicago office who currently stewards the long-running program, explains, sometimes it’s the moments out of office when the human impact of the legal profession becomes gratifyingly crystal clear.


How did you first get involved with Kanoon, and what were your initial impressions? I first signed up as a volunteer through the Book Chat program, where a Sidley lawyer gets paired with a fifth-grade student to read a particular book in parallel. As we read, we chat online about the book and, at the end of the program, go to the school and meet the students in person. It was my first interaction with Kanoon, and I loved it, because you see how interested the students are in what we’re doing and how encouraged they are just by that little bit of conversation. They want to learn everything about you—everything about your career, about your life. It’s always fun and uplifting for both the students and the lawyers.

What other programs give students and Sidley lawyers and staff a chance to interact?

We have a few. A really interesting one is the Mock Trial program, which Sidley lawyers run. They train students on the process and ultimately judge the trial. Sidley lawyers also visit Kanoon throughout the year to offer mini civics lessons to sixth- through eighth-grade students, talking over the basics of how the legal system works and giving them some insight into what it’s like to be a lawyer. That program is via the Chicago Bar Association.

And what kind of impact are Sidley lawyers having at Kanoon, or even Little Village more broadly?

When you spend time at Kanoon, you start to appreciate that apart from their teachers, the students may not see many professionals in their day-to-day life. What’s great about Sidley’s partnership with Kanoon is that it helps students realize that there are lots of options and opportunities out there and encourages them to dream big—and plan big—about their futures.

You’ve mentioned that volunteering at Kanoon can also help Sidley lawyers, especially young associates, pivot to seeing a new aspect of the legal profession, which in turn can promote wellness and opportunity—not just for the kids but for the lawyers. Can you expand on this concept?

Well, we talk a lot about wellness here at the firm—it’s obviously very important for both our lawyers and our staff. And I truly believe that a big part of improving our resiliency and our wellness as lawyers is to actually get out of our offices and into the community and to realize, in addition to the important work we do for our clients every day, what an impact we can have in the community at large. I think that volunteer work and making face-to-face connections with people beyond one’s typical legal sphere are a big part of the mental health and wellness that we’re working so hard to facilitate.

Now that you’re coordinating Sidley’s relationship with Kanoon, what opportunities do you foresee to expand the program?

The Kanoon-Sidley partnership began 35 years ago, so obviously, we’ve come a long way. We’ve expanded the assistance we provide and thought about new opportunities. But to be honest, the only way for us to continue to grow is to increase Sidley’s volunteer participation. The firm stresses the importance of lawyers and staff using their time and skills for the better of the community. In the case of Kanoon, there’s really no limit to the ways we can help the school.
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