Q&A with Dorothy Capers, IEJF Board Member
You’ve dedicated both your personal and professional life to community service. What drew you to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) Board and what have you learned visiting legal aid organizations?
Over the course of my career, especially as an Assistant Public Defender and then Assistant State’s Attorney, I saw numerous people who simply didn’t understand the court and legal system and were vulnerable to anything that might impact them in that regard. While doing our jobs, I often felt that lower-income, impoverished people didn’t have a voice and thus did not receive the proper counsel or guidance to address their legal needs. As a result, when I first learned of the amazing work being done by not only the IEJF, but also the grantees in particular, I found a way to ensure that this dynamic switched course and got on the right track.
If you have just two minutes to make the pitch for state funding of legal aid, what would you say?
Especially in light of our current health crisis, we see it, more now than ever, that our community needs the provision of legal aid to provide legal representation and a voice to access the system and citizen’s rights. They simply don’t have a voice nor the funding or resources to manage on their own. You see it in healthcare when people don’t even know how to advocate for their own health options. If they don’t have it, the State will see more detrimental challenges in housing, education, domestic violence, elder care, criminal justice, and other aspects of the normal life for our citizens. It really isn’t a choice – it should be a mandate.
Your current position (Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel) has you working at National Express, a company based in the UK, and managing legal teams around the world. How have you navigated the cultural and time differences and what advice would you give to younger professionals?
Initially this was a challenge. I’m a night owl so as soon as I prepared to go to sleep, my phone would begin to ding with emails, etc. I began responding to emails, inquiries, etc. and then found it was 7 am the next day! I quickly realized that I had to put up boundaries, establish some norms and open communication with others about expectations on response time/type. I’ve grown into the role and now have established a good cadence but still many of my days start at 3 or 4 am to support the Middle East and often go well into the evening supporting the West Coast of the U.S. Self care has been critical. I’ve always been a YES person – yes, I will help; yes I will volunteer; yes I can do that. But now there are instances in which I simply must say NO much more now than ever because I physically cannot do it all! My advice to younger professionals is to engage in a multi-national company/project in some way as early as possible, because the learning, cultural differences, breadth, and scope are critical pieces to develop professional development. We are a global society and cross-cultural best practices are beneficial to us all.
As a long-time Chicagoan, what are your go-to spots in the city?
Café Bionda in the South Loop is a long-time favorite and I still like Café Ba Ba Reeba – I think one of the first Lettuce Entertain You restaurants! I also love walking by the lake – 31st Street has been new and improved with a beach and a marina. We live right off the lake and my daily ritual is to either walk (or at least drive by in the winter!) so that I can enjoy the view and the water. It’s spiritual for me.