In our 2nd Undercover Volunteer spotlight, we’re going even deeper into the brain trust of our tech-support network to introduce you to Alessandra Swanson, Associate at Winston & Strawn LLP. Since August 2015, Alessandra has counseled ILAO on privacy- and data security-related issues and offered general support and guidance as we navigate the exciting world that the new, more user-focused and interactive IllinoisLegalAid.org has opened for us. We sat down with Alessandra before Thanksgiving to learn a little bit more about her professional legal work and her experiences offering pro bono support to Illinois Legal Aid Online.
ILAO: Tell us a little bit about your experience in Chicago’s legal world.
AS: After graduating from DePaul University Law School in 2009, I started my career with the federal government at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights. For nearly six years, I worked in part to help stakeholders better understand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and, on the civil rights side, afford individuals clients meaningful access to health care. It was a really fantastic experience. We interfaced a little bit with the civil rights-focused legal aid community during my time there. As a government agency, you need to have your fingers on the pulse of what’s going on, but you also have to remain neutral
ILAO: Sounds like the role ILAO plays. And then?
AS: Exactly. Then, I joined Winston & Strawn LLP’s Privacy & Data Security Practice in August 2015.
ILAO: How did you learn about ILAO?
AS: I learned about ILAO soon after I started at Winston from Liisa [Thomas] and Rob [Newman], who are former and current members of ILAO’s Board of Directors, respectively. Firmwide, Winston recognizes the value of pro bono work. Within our Privacy and Data Security Practice, there’s a great emphasis on supporting ILAO’s work. It’s a special organization for our group.
ILAO: What projects have you worked on for ILAO?
AS: We’ve been providing general privacy and data security counseling services. Most recently, we provided privacy assistance to ILAO as it launched its new website. ILAO does such important work, and it has been a pleasure to help them as they transition into utilizing more user-driven and interactive mediums to reach the people who can benefit from ILAO’s services.
ILAO: Why do you choose to devote your time to pro bono projects?
AS: It feels like a natural extension of what I’ve always done in my legal career. A big part of what we did in the Office of Civil Rights was helping organizations figure out how to comply to health care access and privacy laws. Now, I can continue to offer help in a pro bono capacity. In fact, it’s one of the things that attracted me to Winston. Everyone in our Practice is motivated to contribute and give back. We really develop relationships with organizations and continue to help them on an ongoing basis. It’s great.
ILAO: Why do you think ILAO’s work to use technology to increase access to the legal system is important?
AS: It’s how people communicate these days. We rely so much on our phones, on text messaging, and on various interactive platforms to get our information. It seems like the natural next step for ILAO to start reaching its constituent base through more interactive technologies.
ILAO: Our Program Director, Teri Ross, shared that you’ve been ‘wonderful to work with’ and that “even though [you are] doing this work pro bono, [you have] been responsive, patient and generous with her time in answering my questions, which were many since I know nothing about intellectual property. “ Thoughts?
AS: I’ve really enjoyed working with ILAO. I think the work you do is awesome and it’s an honor to be able to help.