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At NIJC's annual Human Rights Awards, we honor attorneys who have shown exceptional dedication to providing immigrants with access to justice through their significant contribution to NIJC's pro bono work, assisting numerous NIJC clients, and representing individuals with intricate cases. 

We appreciate the commitment of over 2,000 legal professionals in NIJC's pro bono network who generously volunteer their time and expertise to advocate for immigrants, asylum seekers, and uphold their rights.

At NIJC’s 25th Annual Human Rights Awards, we will award 10 outstanding attorneys with the Rising Star Award. We congratulate them and thank them for their life-changing pro bono work!

Here are the recipients of the 2024 Rising Star Award:

Mary Kennedy
Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Mary Kennedy Firm Headshot

“It has been an incredible honor working with NIJC to represent our clients in finding a safe and stable home. Many of our clients have had to face extreme adversity in hopes of building a better future and I am grateful to have been able to advocate for them. I am thankful for the tireless work NIJC continues to do in helping these families.”

Jackie McDonnell
Faegre Drinker

Jackie McDonnell

“Working with NIJC, Faegre Drinker secured the grant of asylum for a father and daughter from Mexico, after a five-year wait. This case is one that I will talk about the rest of my life—there is no better reminder of the good that lawyers can do than this. And no better feeling of victory for our clients! Their tears of happiness and complete relief are what it’s all about.”

Elizabeth Olivera
Cozen O’Connor

Elizabeth Olivera

“Over the past six years, it has been a pleasure working with NIJC on a variety of pro bono cases. The ability to represent clients in need of immigration representation has been incredibly fulfilling and inspiring for my legal career. From asylum cases to DACA clinics, NIJC has given me the opportunity to witness the positive impact that legal representation can have on a person’s life. NIJC is doing incredible work in Chicago, and I am grateful to assist such a wonderful organization.”

Leigh Brissenden
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

L. Brissenden Headshot

“I am privileged to work alongside the brilliant professionals at NIJC; through their passion and expertise, I am continually growing as an advocate for immigrant justice. Each of my clients have been remarkably courageous and resilient, and I am honored to be their representative in navigating an often opaque immigration system.”

Matthew Hartzler
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP


“To me, immigration law is a series of maddening contradictions, bizarre hoops to jump through, and frustratingly high stakes. For those of us representing asylum seekers, we brawl against this administrative lunacy in order to honor our clients’ struggle in seeking better lives here. Only through NIJC’s unwavering guidance has this work been possible for me, and I am grateful for my small role in advancing the organization’s greater mission.”

Rachel Cheng
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP


“It has been a privilege to meet and befriend the most resilient clients through my work with the NIJC. The support, expertise, resources, and encouragement of the NIJC staff has been instrumental in helping me gain a deeper understanding of the immigration system and advocating for clients navigating through it. Having the opportunity to partner with the NIJC makes it possible for attorneys in private practice like myself to do this meaningful and important work.”

Marques Winick
Goldberg Kohn

Marques Winick

“The NIJC has provided me with invaluable opportunities to offer legal services to the members of our community who need it the most. Helping clients resolve legal issues that threaten their most basic of rights – including where they can live and work – have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far. There's nothing quite like hearing the relief in a pro bono client's voice when they realize that their concerns are finally going away, and all of those positive outcomes have been made possible for me thanks to the NIJC's support and collaboration. I look forward to continuing to work with the NIJC to help as many Chicagoans as possible receive the legal aid they need.”

Laila Khan
Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Laila Khan Headshot

“It has been a humbling privilege working with NIJC in its defense of human dignity and integrity. Refugees and asylees have time and time again shown their resilience, bravery and courage in the face of tremendous adversity. Leaving home and saying goodbye to your country, family, and friends with nothing but a hope and prayer that what waits on the other side may be better, safer. That is where our work begins and I am grateful to be part of their journey.”

Tommy Hoyt
Sidley Austin LLP

Tommy Hoyt_160399E

“Working with NIJC has been the highlight of my legal career. In a time of staggering need, NIJC rises to the challenge and saves lives. The clients I’ve served through NIJC astound me with their bravery, endurance, and ambition. It is a privilege to help them share in the promise of our great country.”

Joseph Glynn
Munger Tolles & Olson LLP


“Working with NIJC has been among my most rewarding professional experiences. Fighting for a single client has had a powerful impact on me. The headlines often obscure what a terrible toll our immigration system exacts on individuals. NIJC does incredible and essential work advocating for its clients. Witnessing and contributing to NIJC’s work has strengthened my commitment to basic human rights and due process.”

Solomon Collins is the digital communications and graphic design specialist at NIJC.