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Local law firms support student legal services at DePaul

Endowment campaign raises more than $100,000

Father Croak and Sarah Baum
The Rev. Thomas M. Croak, C.M., founding director of Croak Student Legal Services, and current director Sarah Baum at the program's Lincoln Park office. A recent endowment campaign has raised more than $100,000 to support the program. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
CHICAGO — DePaul University students who fight bad landlords or contest frivolous lawsuits now have more support, thanks to donations from several local law firms. For 10 years, DePaul has offered free legal advice to its students though the Croak Student Legal Services program. A recent endowment campaign in honor of the founding director, the Rev. Thomas M. Croak, C.M., has raised more than $100,000.

Donors include Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C., where DePaul College of Law alumnus Norman Berger is a partner; Drinker Biddle; Jones Day; DLA Piper; Perkins Coie; and Chapman & Cutler.

“Fr. Tom Croak is a friend, and I admire very much what he’s done with his life and career. He’s a lawyer who has put his Vincentian principles into practice in his work as a lawyer,” said Mary Dempsey, an alumna of DePaul’s College of Law. She also serves as president of the Philip H. Corboy Foundation, which made a generous donation to the program.

DePaul founded its legal services program in 2006, in response to a request from the Student Government Association. The program now serves more than 200 students a year with a wide variety of issues, and the most common issues are landlord-tenant disputes, from leases to leaks.

“The majority of our students don’t come from wealthy families, where their parents can have an attorney review a lease or help them out of a jam,” said Jose Padilla, vice president and general counsel at DePaul.

Croak said he is “flattered and a little overwhelmed” by the generous gifts that have been made to the program in his honor. He served as director of the program for six years.

“I learned a lot about how to deal with clients and issues, and negotiating on behalf of the students,” he said.

When DePaul students were sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for illegally downloading music, Croak successfully negotiated a settlement that students could afford.

The current legal services program director, DePaul College of Law alumna Sarah Baum, said she encounters many international students who aren’t familiar with the laws of the U.S., especially traffic laws. One student had her car mistakenly reported as “junked,” and tickets started piling up because she couldn’t register the car. Baum guided the student to represent herself in court, and she won.

“Because we do advice only, I feel like we’re part of the education system,” said Baum. “A lot of times I’m helping people resolve conflict and assess risks and benefits of certain actions.”

Padilla agrees with this approach. “Students can make mistakes with legal implications. Sarah works with those students to make sure those mistakes become valuable learning opportunities and not irreversible setbacks,” he said.

Interns from the College of Law have also been integral to the program’s success, according to Croak. He worked with more than 50 interns during tenure as director, and the intern program remains strong under Baum’s leadership. Though he has retired, Croak continues to volunteer at DePaul’s Asylum & Immigration Law Clinic, doing legal research to help with cases.

“What I enjoy most is working with the students,” he said. “They keep me young.”

To learn more about the program, visit


Media contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews