In a decade of practicing law, I have had a handful of incredible mentors. One of them is Jane Raley.
I met Jane in August 2008 when I joined the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University School of Law. Jane started her career in the same place I had just come from – the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD) – but had been with the CWC since 2000. (We never overlapped at OSAD.) When I arrived, I was placed in an office right next to hers. We’ve literally been office next door neighbors for 6-1/2 years.
Despite our close proximity, I can’t say I really knew her at all for the first four years. She was a bit of a whirling dervish – you never really knew when she would be around. She’d come flying into the office for a couple of hours, but most of that time was spent meeting with students or writing motions and briefs for clients. Otherwise, she was constantly on the move, although I never really seemed to know what she was doing. (I never asked.) And then all of a sudden, she would win exoneration for (another) one of her clients, or win an appeal, or achieve some other fantastic result for her client. She became sort of a mythical creature in my mind – I mean, I guess that doesn’t really make sense. I knew she was real, but how she accomplished what she did was totally unclear to me.
A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to find out. I asked her if I could co-counsel on a case with her. She said yes. Then, a year later, in what can only be described as a surreal moment, she came whirling into my office and, in about a millisecond, told me that she had advanced colorectal cancer. (The truth is, she told me the type of cancer she had but it all happened so quickly and my head was spinning that I didn’t even hear her or absorb it at that time. I didn’t really learn the type of cancer until much later.) After that millisecond, she then proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes describing one of her cases to me while asking me to take it over. At every and all points during that “meeting,” whenever I attempted to bring the conversation back to her health, she cut me off and started talking about the case again. It was all she wanted to discuss.
And while I guess you could say I “took over” those cases, Jane continued to stay involved despite her illness. And while her energy waned here and there, she was the same whirling dervish. But I finally started to figure out where she was and what she was doing all the time. What she was doing was running around tracking down every conceivable witness in her cases. What she was doing was talking and meeting with family members of her incarcerated clients and helping them through the ongoing grieving process of losing their loved ones to wrongful conviction. And what she was doing – probably more often than either of those things – was travelling to prisons throughout the state to meet and counsel her clients. Jane loved her clients in a way I’ve never witnessed from a lawyer before or since. And the converse is true as well – her clients love and trust her in ways I’ve never otherwise witnessed.
Jane was my mentor because in the last two years she brought me clarity at a time in my career when I probably needed it most. Just before I really started working with her, I was having my first real success at the Center. My cases and wins were in the media a lot. I was getting praise and pats on the back. All of a sudden, people were calling me an expert and wanted me to speak at their conferences. And while I don’t think of myself as having the type of personality where I would get a big head, it is hard not to enjoy those things.
But Jane didn’t care about any of that. All she did was serve her clients and fight for them – nothing else mattered. She made lawyering look easy and uncomplicated because of this singular, unwavering focus. To me, she will always epitomize client-centered lawyering. Whether she won her clients’ cases or not, her incredibly warm smile, unrelenting empathy, and constant optimism made their lives better. Watching her work grounded me and helped ensure that my focus was always in the right place.
Jane died peacefully on Christmas day surrounded by the family she adored. I’m tremendously sad. All of us who were lucky enough to work with her and know her are.
Jane’s family has requested that donations be made to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in her honor. Below are instructions on how to do so:
Jane Raley Memorial Fund
To make a donation in memory of Jane Raley, please send a check (payable to “Northwestern University School of Law” with “Jane Raley Memorial Fund” in the subject line) to:
Office of Alumni Relations and Development
Northwestern University School of Law
375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
To make a memorial gift online, please visit http://giving.northwestern.edu/nu/cwc and type ‘Jane Raley Memorial Fund’ in the “other designations” box. You may also note this fund in the Honorary/Memorial Gift options section of the giving site.
If you have any questions, please contact Emily Mullin at 312.503.1558 or firstname.lastname@example.org