Frank Avellone Retires from LCBH

Frank Avellone

Frank Avellone recently retired from LCBH. We sat down with Frank to learn about his time at the agency and his advice for new attorneys starting civil legal aid careers. Frank served LCBH in many capacities, including as Senior Attorney and Policy Director.

HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK AT LCBH?
LCBH is the place where I worked the longest. I started my legal career in 1981 at Toledo Legal Aid Society and I was there for three years, before I was recruited to be the clinic director at Ohio Law School. I was there for seven years, until my kids grew up and left the nest. We came to Chicago and I worked at LAF for seven years. Then, I was recruited by Mark Swartz to LCBH in 2013 and stayed until 2021.

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE?
One thing I enjoyed the most about LCBH is the amount of flexibility that Cheryl Lawrence and Mark Swartz were willing to give me as an older attorney as to the nature and extent of my work. Having worked in two smaller legal aid organizations, then two very large ones, I really enjoyed the work at the smaller organizations, including LCBH. I have a tolerance for ambiguity and I’m kind of a jack of all trades, master of none type of person, so I enjoyed having the flexibility to do lots of different kinds of things. LCBH was a home for me to be able to benefit individual clients, the organization as a whole, and the community more broadly. So, I really appreciate the organization for allowing me to do that.

WHAT EVICTION COURT CHANGES SINCE COVID SHOULD BE MADE PERMANENT?
I started going part-time in 2019. When I was reducing my hours and COVID was ramping up, I was doing more policy work. Starting in 2017, I was doing more affirmative litigation and KCRO work, so I don’t know as much about that program (Early Resolution Program). At a broader level, for me and other veterans, there is lingering frustration that the attitudes toward housing and tenants hasn’t changed. Despite great efforts, eviction court continues to be a place where we are putting a second band-aid on the wound. That effort is tremendously important for clients and their families, but it’s frustrating when after 40 years you’re still talking to colleagues about winning a case due to a faulty notice. We’re still not changing the fundamentals, housing is still profit-driven, it’s not a right; healthcare is still profit-driven, it’s not a right.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEW ATTORNEYS ENTERING THE CIVIL LEGAL AID FIELD?
It’s important for legal aid organizations to hire people who have a career commitment to doing social justice work. For new folks coming into legal aid, be mindful about when to give and get supervision. It’s important for people to take risks to develop as a professional and have a sense of well-being and that you are doing something purposeful. Be adventurous and be conscious of when you need supervision and go get it.

HOW CAN ATTORNEYS WORKING IN EVICTION COURT PRACTICE SELF-CARE?
I think legal aid programs can do a better job at political education about the sociology of how the system is constructed. When you have that context and walk into eviction court, your advocacy is better and interpersonally you are better prepared to deal with the outcomes because you understand the context. Without that context, eviction court can become quite bewildering to the point of creating a personal crisis about an advocate’s value systems. With mentoring about the context, its less traumatic for the advocate and makes them a better advocate. I can say that for myself, if I’d had that context, I would have benefited. It took me years instead of months to develop that sensibility toward my interpersonal relationships with clients and my own well-being.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
I’m helping my son care for his four-year-old daughter. I’ve been taking classical guitar classes since 2016. It’s not my mission to be a great guitarist, but it’s something I enjoy doing. I’ve probably watched more soccer matches and I’m looking forward to the Formula 1 season. You wouldn’t think a socialist-environmentalist would be into Formula 1. I realize the contradiction there. Now that weather is getting nice, I’ll resume taking hikes and bike rides.