Conference Speakers

Collette A. Brown

Associate, Neal Gerber & Eisenberg LLP

Collette A. Brown

Collette A. Brown is a member of Neal Gerber Eisenberg’s General & Commercial Litigation practice group. Collette represents clients in complex civil litigation matters including breach of contract, commercial lease disputes, tort defense, business torts and products liability. She has drafted and argued dispositive motions, and taken multiple depositions.
 
Collette has co-first chaired a four-day jury trial before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, also co-first chaired a two-day state court dependency hearing and argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Collette maintains an active pro bono practice with experience ranging from criminal and employment law to representing petitioners seeking orders of protection.
 
Before attending law school, Collette was a legal intern for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was also a summer associate for Neal Gerber Eisenberg in 2012, and currently serves on the firm’s Women’s Network Leadership Team.
 
Before beginning her legal career, she worked as an English teacher for nearly three years.

Gilda L. Spencer

Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel in Dispute Resolution Services for Allstate Insurance Company

Gilda L. Spencer

Gilda Spencer is Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel in Dispute Resolution Services for Allstate.  In that role, Gilda leads a team of 60 associates in managing the litigation portfolio for Allstate including Specialty Operations, Corporate and Claim Litigation, Employment and Benefits, Patents, Litigation Support and Information Management.  Before joining Allstate, Gilda was Vice President, Chief Litigation Counsel for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company where she managed 45 associates and the entire litigation portfolio for the Nationwide family of companies.  Prior to joining Nationwide in 2001, she served as Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.  Gilda began her career as an associate with Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps (now McKenna Long) in San Diego, California.

Gilda is on the Advisory Council of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) as well as a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) where she serves as a Minority Summer Internship Program Mentor.  Gilda also serves on the Board of Directors for LINK Unlimited, a Chicago-based organization whose mission is to provide educational college preparatory opportunities for economically disadvantaged African-American high school youth.  In addition, Gilda also serves on the board for the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago which is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  Gilda was selected as a 2015 Chicago United Business Leaders of Color, which recognized her for driving global competitiveness through demonstrated, effective leadership and who should be considered for corporate board directorships.

Gilda is a graduate of The Ohio State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.  She earned her law degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, where she served as President of the Black Law Students Association.

​Zoe Salzman

Partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP

​Zoe Salzman

Zoe Salzman is a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.  She joined the Firm in 2010. She is a commercial and civil rights litigator with significant jury trial experience in both state and federal courts. She helped obtain a $6 million settlement in the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, filed a groundbreaking class action lawsuit challenging the Tampon Tax, and sued to stop the charging of tuition at The Cooper Union. Prior to joining the Firm, Ms. Salzman clerked for the Hon. Sterling Johnson, Jr. in the Eastern District of New York and worked for the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law.  During law school, she interned at the Brennan Center for Justice, the New York Legal Assistance Group, and the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ms. Salzman graduated magna cum laude from NYU School of Law in 2007, where she was awarded the Order of the Coif, served as a Senior Notes Editor on the Journal of International Law and Politics, and represented war on terror detainees in the International Human Rights Clinic. She received her B.A. with great distinction from the Liberal Arts College of Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada.

Dana M. Hrelic

Partner at Horton, Shields & Knox, P.C.

Dana M. Hrelic

Dana M. Hrelic is a partner at Horton, Shields & Knox, P.C. in Hartford, Connecticut.  She is admitted to practice in Connecticut and New York state courts, as well as in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Third Circuit, the Eleventh Circuit, and the Federal Circuit, and the Supreme Court of the United States.  Attorney Hrelic joined Horton, Shields & Knox in August of 2009 after serving as a law clerk for the Honorable Christine S. Vertefeuille of the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Attorney Hrelic represents clients in civil, family, juvenile and criminal appeals before the Connecticut appellate courts as well as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of the United States.  She has experience working on appellate matters in the Third Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit.  Attorney Hrelic regularly consults with clients and attorneys on civil, family and complex litigation matters and provides assistance at all stages of litigation – including both pre- and post-judgment.  She was selected as a Connecticut and a New England Super Lawyers Rising Star in Appellate Practice in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.    

Attorney Hrelic earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2008 and a Bachelor of Arts with distinction from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005.  At the University of Connecticut School of Law, she was the Managing Editor of the Connecticut Law Review from 2007 to 2008.  Attorney Hrelic is an avid member of both the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) and the Connecticut Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (CBA YLS).  In fact, she currently serves as the Chair-Elect of the ABA YLD and the Chair of the CBA YLS.  She also serves as a presidentially-appointed member of the Governing Council of the ABA Center for Innovation.  Attorney Hrelic is a Trustee on the University of Connecticut School of Law Board of Trustees as well as a Fellow with the American Bar Foundation.

Demetra L. Liggins

Partner, Thompson & Knight LLP & Co-Founder, Corporate Homie, LLC

Demetra L. Liggins

Demetra L. Liggins is a Partner in Thompson & Knight’s Bankruptcy and Restructuring Practice Group in the Firm’s Houston office.  She has over 15 years of experience in business finance and restructurings for a variety of large and small public and private companies.  Demetra helps navigate her clients through complex corporate reorganization and distressed acquisitions.  She works on both in-court and out-of-court restructurings.  Demetra is highly regarded for her ability to quickly and efficiently help clients assess the effects of a bankruptcy on their corporate and financial transactions.  She is a trusted business partner who works with her clients to identify and achieve their goals in the bankruptcy process.

Demetra received a J.D., cum laude, from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in 2000 and a B.S. in Business Administration, cum laude, from Christian Brothers University in 1997.  Following law school, she clerked for the Honorable U.W. Clemon, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.  Demetra is licensed to practice in both Texas and New York. 

With her experience as partner in “big law”, Demetra, along with her identical twin sister, Bemetra Simmons , founded Corporate Homie, an organization that seeks to help women and minorities  advance in corporate America.   In addition to one-on-one consultations and speeches, the sisters also engage their  audience with a weekly advice-based  podcast.  The sisters encourage listeners with stories of their “corporate struggles” while provides tips and tools to overcome hurdles in the workplace that are unique to women and people of color.  The Corporate Homie Podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Corpoate Homie also connects with its listeners through its website and on social media: Facebook, Instagram (@corporatehomie) and Twitter (@corporatehomie).    

Demetra is actively involved in numerous organizations, including serving as Houston Chapter Chair of the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC); a member and former Chair of the Bankruptcy Section of the Houston Bar Association; a member of the Women’s Energy Network; a member of the Women’s Business Alliance, Greater Houston Partnership; a former Fellow of Leadership Council on Legal Diversity; and a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation.  Her accolades include being named to Texas Rising Stars® by Thomson Reuters, as a Law Firm Rainmaker by Diversity & the Bar, and to Houston’s “Top Lawyers” by H Texas magazine.  She has also been featured  in Law360’s Minority Powerbroker Q&A series.

Captain Vivian M. R. Leavens

Captain, United States Army JAG

Captain Vivian M. R. Leavens

Captain Vivian Leavens is currently a Trial Defense Counsel. CPT Leavens recently served as the Brigade Judge Advocate at the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery from 6 January 2015 to July 2016. She has transitioned to the Trial Defense Service. She is a native of Brooklyn, NY. She calls Brooklyn and the entire state of North Carolina her home. Mrs. Leavens enlisted in the United States Army after graduating from high school in 1997 from East Duplin High School in Beulaville, Duplin County, North Carolina. After five years of service, serving in Arizona, Korea, and Germany, she received a Green to Gold scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, she entered into the Army JAG Corps’ education delay program to go to law school. She has had a very dynamic and diverse career and experiences. During the course of her academic career, Vivian worked while going to school. While a full time enlisted soldier, Vivian earned her Associates degree. While in undergrad, Vivian worked as a cashier with Holmes’s Oil Company convenience stores. While in law school, Vivian worked as a server at Chili’s. During her summers, she worked with Blue Cross Blue Shield as a data entry operator. She also served as a US Army JAG Corps intern during the summer of 2007 and worked for the North Carolina Employment Security Commission as a Claims officer after law school. During her adolescent years after moving to North Carolina, Vivian experienced a tumultuous upbringing. Because of her experiences, throughout the entirety of her adult years, she always found the time to volunteer with different organizations whose mission involved helping children. She was greatly influenced by two of her aunts who are both educators and had a desire to teach. She has participated in Street Law while in Law school and was a guardian ad litem for Durham County, North Carolina. Because of her belief that education is the cornerstone of success, her and her husband created a non-profit organization called Students Achieving Greatness in Education Foundation or S.A.G.E. Foundation. The purpose of the organization is to provide incentive programs that encourage children that education is the foundation of success through conducting an annual Summer Book Challenge, hosting Back to School/School Supplies giveaway in Bladen and Duplin counties, and creating other events that teach children that hard work pays off. 

Sandra S. Yamate

Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Sandra S. Yamate

Sandra S. Yamate is the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (“IILP”). IILP is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to creating a more diverse and inclusive legal profession through its research and programs.

A lawyer by training, Sandra spent ten years as the Director of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. She was the first Executive Director of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms. Prior to that, Sandra was a litigator in Chicago for ten years.

Sandra serves on the Enhance Diversity in the Profession Committee of the New York City Bar Association where she co-chairs the Global Diversity Sub-committee. She helped found the Asian American Institute, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Metropolitan Chicago, the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area (of which she is a past president), the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and Asian Americans for Inclusive Education. Sandra is a former co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Chicago Bar Association and a past president of both the Japanese American Service Committee and the Harvard Law Society of Illinois, and a former board member of numerous civic and community organizations in the Chicago area.

Sandra has been honored and recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business “40 under 40”, Chicago Sun Times “Neighborhood Hero”, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Trailblazer Award, Today’s Chicago Woman “One of 100 Women Making A Difference”, Chicago Department of Human Relations, Chicago Bar Association “Vanguard Award”, the University of Illinois Asian American Alumni Award, and the Asian American Bar Association “Hall of Fame Award”.

In addition to her work within the legal profession, Sandra is known for her work writing and publishing Asian American children’s literature.

A Sansei (third generation American of Japanese ancestry), Sandra  earned her JD from Harvard Law School as well as an AB in Political Science (cum laude) and History (magna cum laude) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Sandra has written and spoken extensively on community engagement, diversity and inclusion, and multicultural issues.

Sandra and her husband, Brian Witkowski, reside in Chicago with their two dogs, Cashew and Filbert.

Patrick Croke

Associate, Sidley Austin LLP

Patrick Croke

Patrick Croke is an associate in the litigation group of the firm’s Chicago office. Patrick has experience representing business entities and individuals in a range of matters in state and federal court, at the trial court and appellate levels, as well as in administrative court. Patrick has both civil and criminal trial experience and has litigated a wide variety of civil disputes, including cases involving the federal RICO statute, the Sherman Act, federal securities laws, ERISA, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the Anti Kickback Statute, as well as class actions, False Claims Act, contract, fraud, collection, tortious interference, trade secrets, trade mark, real estate, tax and fiduciary duty matters. Patrick has represented a variety of Fortune 500 companies, including in the insurance, pharmaceutical, medical device, agriculture, banking, energy, telecommunications and technology sectors, as well as venture capital funds, start-ups, family offices, high net worth individuals, board members and manufacturing companies. 

Patrick is honored to have been named as a Super Lawyers Illinois Rising Star every year since 2012, a national 2016 Irish Legal 100 Rising Star and named to the inaugural 40 Under 40 List, a 2016 Truman National Security Project Political Partner and a 2017 Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leader. 

Patrick's recent trial experience includes representing Citigroup in a five-week bench trial in a class action lawsuit alleging antitrust violations under the Sherman Act, and trying as second chair a case brought by the U.S. government under the Anti Kickback Statute. Patrick also has experience conducting corporate internal investigations domestically and for U.S.-based companies doing business abroad, responding to SEC subpoenas and representing individuals and companies that are the targets of federal investigations in a variety of white-collar criminal matters. 

Patrick also has experience advising companies in connection with regulatory audits at both the state and federal level, advising U.S. companies doing business in Latin America and advising on certain transactional matters. Patrick also served as counsel to the United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic for the vetting and Senate confirmation process. Patrick also teaches a law course at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and has maintained an active pro bono practice, including work on several civil rights matters for both individuals and civic organizations. 

Prior to joining Sidley, Patrick worked in the City of Chicago’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, D.C., U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate Judiciary Committee Office, and as a lawyer for a presidential campaign. 

Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, J.D., LL.M., Ph.D.

Chair, Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minorities Attorneys (ELRIWMA), Harvard Law School, Program on the

Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, J.D., LL.M., Ph.D.

Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, J.D., LL.M., Ph.D., is a behavioral economist and lawyer. She is the Chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minority Attorneys (ELRIWMA) at the Center for the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School and a Senior Research Fellow, jointly appointed at Harvard Law School (PON) and at the Harvard Kennedy School (Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP)). 

Paola is one of Harvard Law’s rising stars studying issues related to diversity and gender vis-à-vis organizational behavior with the goal of promoting broad-based inclusion of women and minorities in the legal profession and in large organizations. Since joining the faculty, Paola has continued to advance the dialogue on diversifying the next generation of leaders.

In the role of management consultant, she applies her expertise in practice by helping her clients to implement inclusive “nudges” that attract, recruit, promote, and sustain diverse talents across their organizations while enabling them to remain compliant and competitive.

Dr. Cecchi-Dimeglio is a world-leading expert working with clients including firms in the AML 50, AML 100 and Fortune 500. Her research is featured in Bloomberg, The American Lawyer, HBR and Thomson Reuters among others. 

Paola Cecchi Dimeglio can be reached at pcecchidimeglio@law.harvard.edu and you can follow her on twitter @HLSPaola. 

Melanie B. Harmon

Corporate Associate, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Melanie B. Harmon

Melanie B. Harmon is a corporate associate in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Melanie’s practice primarily focuses on advising private equity funds and their portfolio companies in connection with acquisition and divesture transactions and other complex corporate matters.

Mrs. Lynn Watkins-Asiyanbi

Associate General Counsel, JBT Corporation

Mrs. Lynn Watkins-Asiyanbi

Mrs. Lynn Watkins-Asiyanbi is a native of Chicago and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she graduated with degrees in Chemical Engineering and Economics.  Upon graduation, she worked for General Mills in their Operations Management Leadership Program.  She served as a 2nd shift supervisor in the oldest manufacturing facility within General Mills.  She moved to Mars, Inc. as an Operations Technician, working on process efficiencies for production lines.  She was promoted to Inbound Logistics Manager, where she managed approximately a $5 million dollar inventory.  She returned to graduate school to pursue a Juris Doctorate and M.B.A. at Northwestern University.  While at Northwestern, she served on the MLK Commemorative Committee as well as Co-Chair of the Black Management Association 16th Annual Conference.

Upon receiving her J.D./M.B.A., she worked at Cargill in their Strategy and Business Development Leadership Program.  She was placed at a Cargill joint venture and worked with the business team developing business plans for entering new markets in South America as well as working with the General Counsel on various contract issues and trainings.  She left Cargill and moved to DLA Piper LLP in their corporate finance group working on mostly transactions dealing with commercial finance and debt restructuring.  She moved to Baker & McKenzie LLP in their corporate and securities group, concentrating on multi-jurisdiction mergers and acquisitions, including cross-border joint ventures and the implementation of multi-country tax-driven, corporate restructuring projects.  Ms. Watkins-Asiyanbi transitioned to an in-house counsel role with U.S. Foods, Inc. where she primarily focused on transactional related matters from a procurement, transportation logistics, and national sales perspective as well as managed the company’s intellectual property portfolio.  She was formerly Associate General Counsel at W.W. Grainger, Inc. supporting the Global Supply Chain organization including global sourcing, product management, transportation logistics and international businesses that were North American and European based.  Currently, Ms. Watkins-Asiyanbi is Associate General Counsel and Division General Counsel for the Liquid Foods Division with John Bean Technologies Corporation, based in Chicago, IL.  She is responsible for all things legal in her division (which includes 7 locations, 4 non-U.S. based) and works with her business partners on a variety of strategic matters.

Ms. Watkins-Asiyanbi is also very involved in the Chicago community.  She has served on the board of directors for the former Girl Scouts of Chicago council as well as a troop leader and volunteer.  She was an inaugural associate board member for the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms; a former board member for Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago; she has mentored several high school students through LINK Unlimited; and currently serves as an Auxiliary Board Member for the John G. Shedd Aquarium, a member of the President’s Advisory Board for the Wisconsin Alumni Association and a board member for Women Employed, Inc.  Ms. Watkins-Asiyanbi is also a 2016 Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and is an active member of Jack and Jill of America, Chicago Chapter and a life member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.

Despite her busy schedule, she still finds time to devote to her husband, Charles, and two sons, Nicholaus and Zachary.  Ultimately she lives by the motto, “Give a person a fish, they eat for today; teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime.”  She truly believes that a person is only limited when the doors of opportunity are closed to them; otherwise, they should aspire to conquer their dreams.

Tara Murray

Former Deputy Legal Director of Reprieve

Tara Murray

Tara Murray is the former Deputy Legal Director of London-based human rights non-profit, Reprieve, where she represented over 30 Guantanamo prisoners in federal district court proceedings and led the organization’s first investigations into civilian casualties in drone strikes in Pakistan -- an investigation that has expanded to include Yemen and the horn of Africa. During her tenure, Reprieve’s Abuses in Counterterrorism Team freed nearly two dozen clients from Guantanamo and secured the release of many others from prisons in Afghanistan, Morocco, Egypt, and Somalia. The groundbreaking drones project that Ms. Murray led spurred global debate about drone warfare. 

Prior to joining Reprieve, Ms. Murray was a teaching fellow in the Criminal Justice Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. At Georgetown, she taught a weekly seminar and represented indigent clients in the District charged with misdemeanors and felonies.

Ms. Murray has appeared in several broadcast and print publications, including the Guardian, al Jazeera, the Independent, BBC, and the Times.

Ms. Murray has earned a BA in Communications from Howard University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and an LLM (Master’s of Laws) from Georgetown University Law Center. She is married to Rev. Gareth Murray Jr., senior pastor of Hillendale Baptist Church in Dale City, VA and they have two children, Gareth III and Olivia.

Abin Kuriakose

Program Manager, ChicagoNEXT - World Business Chicago and Senior Advisor, Raja Krishnamoorthi for Congress

Abin Kuriakose

Abin Kuriakose serves as program manager for ChicagoNEXT at World Business Chicago, the city’s economic development group chaired by the Mayor. ChicagoNEXT leads a portfolio of initiatives and programs to drive growth of Chicago's tech economy with focus areas in venture capital, innovation in industry and government, tech talent development and promoting tech entrepreneurship to build community. In the 2016 election cycle, he served on the leadership team of Raja Krishnamoorthi for Congress who was elected the first South Asian Congressman from the Midwest, led press outreach and engagement for South Asians for Hillary Clinton and digital media strategist for multiple candidates and initiatives. Currently, Abin serves as Senior Advisor for Raja for Congress and Chair of the Technology and Innovation Policy Working Group for the Ameya Pawar for Governor campaign. Previously Abin led legislative strategy, public policy development and community engagement for the Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.  Abin serves on the executive board of New Leaders Council Chicago and the IndoAmerican Democratic Organization, an Illinois political action committee. Born and raised in Chicago, he always believed in and is still very very proud of his 2016 World Series Champions the Chicago Cubs.

Blake Sercye

Associate, Jenner & Block

Blake Sercye

Blake P. Sercye is a litigator at Jenner & Block, LLP focusing his practice on white-collar defense and investigations, corporate anti-corruption compliance, and complex commercial litigation. He has counseled clients regarding anti-corruption training programs, corporate compliance protocol drafting, responding to government subpoenas and inquiries, and fact discovery in internal investigations and litigation. Blake also maintains an active pro bono practice that includes fair housing litigation, prisoners' rights litigation, and criminal defense. Prior to joining Jenner & Block, LLP, Blake handled family law and criminal records sealing and expungement matters as a Public Interest Law Initiative fellow at the Chicago Legal Clinic in the city's Austin neighborhood.

Blake is active in several civic and community organizations.  He serves as chair of Chicago's Zoning Board of Appeals, a body charged with reviewing land use issues that pertain to the Chicago Zoning Ordinance, including proposed variations from the zoning code, special uses that require review to determine compatibility with adjacent properties, and appeals of decisions made by the Zoning Administrator.  Additionally, Blake serves as president of the Illinois Medical District Commission, a land-use board governing the second-largest medical district in the country located on Chicago’s Near West Side.  He is also a member of the Chicago West Side Branch of the NAACP and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Blake earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a member of The University of Chicago Legal Forum and the Black Law Students Association. He received his A.B. in politics with honors from Princeton University. He is admitted to practice in Illinois and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Rene de Vera

Associate, Latham & Watkins

Rene de Vera

Rene de Vera is an associate in the Tax Department of the Chicago office of Latham & Watkins. Mr. de Vera’s practice focuses on transactional tax matters, including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, restructurings, and financings. Mr. de Vera’s experience includes advising: private and public companies in mergers, acquisitions and carve-out transactions; issuers and underwriters in private and public securities offerings; multinational companies in domestic and cross-border tax planning; financial institutions and borrowers in bankruptcies and out-of-court restructurings; and developers and financial institutions in tax equity financing of renewable energy projects.

Mr. de Vera is a member of the firm’s Diversity Leadership Committee and a former member of the firm’s Associates Committee. Mr. de Vera obtained his BA from Stanford University, and his JD from the University of Chicago Law School. Prior to attending law school, Mr. de Vera cooked professionally in Chicago.

Jeffrey Urdangen

Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Director, Center for Criminal Defense, Bluhm Legal Clinic

Jeffrey Urdangen

Jeffrey Urdangen led his own criminal defense firm for over two decades before joining the law school's clinic faculty in 2003. He has been lead counsel in dozens of jury trials in both State and Federal court, and he has extensive experience in the representation of persons charged with capital crimes. He has lectured widely to lawyer groups on the subjects of trial tactics, wrongful convictions, and indigent defense. His pro bono work over the years on behalf of numerous notable and unjustly accused defendants has been a recognized contribution to the Chicago area legal community. Urdangen's teaching at the law school focuses on representation, both at trial and post-conviction stages, of persons accused of a wide range of criminal conduct. 

Jennifer Ballard Croft

Chief of Staff & Chief Diversity Officer, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

Jennifer Ballard Croft

Jennifer Ballard Croft currently serves as Chief of Staff and Chief Diversity Officer for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.  As State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx’s senior advisor, she oversees a $99 million annual budget and manages an office of more than 850 attorneys and 400 support staff.  She is directly responsible for the development and implementation of internal policies, procedures and programs that align with State’s Attorney Foxx’s key initiatives.   She supervises, directs and evaluates the performance of all bureaus and administrative departments.  She is also the lead liaison between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Ms. Ballard Croft is the first person to hold the position of Chief Diversity Officer for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office.  In this capacity, she is responsible for developing and embedding diversity and inclusion best practices throughout the office.  Her efforts include developing strategies for hiring and developing diverse talent, fostering an inclusive work environment and ensuring management accountability.

Prior to entering public service, Ms. Ballard Croft was a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP where she practiced in the areas of labor and employment law for nearly ten years.  She has been named as a Super Lawyers Illinois Rising Star for five consecutive years since 2012 and recognized as an “Emerging Leader,” by Leading Lawyers Magazine, a distinction earned by less than 2% of all attorneys licensed to practice in Illinois.  In 2016, she was named to the “40 under 40 Game Changers,” list by WVON 1690AM and Ariel Investments.  She was also recognized as one of the Top 100 under 50 Diverse Executive & Emerging Leaders by DiversityMBA Magazine in 2009.

Ms. Ballard Croft earned her B.A. magna cum laude in Economics at Spelman College.  She received her law degree with a certificate in Health Law from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Jessica A. Youngblood

Of Counsel, Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group

Jessica A. Youngblood

Jessica A. Youngblood, Esq. is an of counsel attorney with Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group in Los Angeles. She is licensed to practice law in both Illinois and California and specializes in assisting clients across both jurisdictions with comprehensive estate and trust planning. Ms. Youngblood works side by side with individuals, families and businesses to achieve their financial, familial, and charitable goals by guiding them through the estate planning process. She executes this through the drafting of tailored estate planning documents including: personalized wills, trusts, special needs trusts, financial and healthcare powers of attorney. Ms. Youngblood also guides clients through the selection of trustees and executors and helps them to navigate asset transfers.

Ms. Youngblood assists clients using a variety of strategies with the of goal helping them attain peace of mind that their personal, business and charitable wishes will be effectively carried out. She strives to build long­term trusting relationships with every client through communication and a commitment to excellent service. Additionally, understanding that individuals, families, and businesses grow and change over time, Ms. Youngblood provides clients with options to craft an estate plan that best suits their needs at the different stages of life. This includes planning for developing concerns, such as protecting digital assets.

Prior to joining KMR, Ms. Youngblood worked as an attorney in a private law firm representing and advising businesses and individuals in financial, business and real estate matters. Ms. Youngblood has experience in the areas of civil litigation, mediation, contract drafting and negotiation.

Ms. Youngblood volunteers frequently with legal aid organizations throughout Los Angeles. She is currently an attorney volunteer at a legal services clinic housed in the probate court where she assists children, families and caregivers seeking emergency and permanent guardianships.

Deanne M. Mazzochi

Partner, Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP

Deanne M. Mazzochi

Deanne Mazzochi is a founding partner of Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP.  Deanne’s client representation primarily focuses on the intellectual property arena, with an emphasis on pharmaceutical Hatch-Waxman patent litigation (small molecules and biologics).  Her trial and appellate experience includes multiple appearances before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; various federal district courts nationwide; Illinois state courts; and administrative agencies.  She is further registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, serving as lead counsel in various Inter Partes Review proceedings.  Past successful district court and appellate cases were named the “Defense Win of the Month” by the National Law Journal; and one of the 10 most important cases before the Federal Circuit in 2009. 

The majority of cases Deanne handles involve patent challenges involving drug products that average annual U.S. sales in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.  Deanne also devotes a considerable amount of her practice to counseling clients on long-term patent strategies, including developing and protecting intellectual property rights; analyzing the scope and coverage of patents; identifying patent design-around opportunities; regulatory exclusivity options; and implementing effective licensing strategies both in the U.S. and internationally.   

In April 2015, Deanne ran for the College of DuPage Board of Trustees as a member of the “Clean Slate,” seeking to implement reform after the College became embroiled in controversy.  Elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees in April 2016, under Deanne’s leadership, the Board hired a new President; General Counsel; Vice President of Administration; cut taxes and tuition; sparked new accreditation and other reform initiatives; and supported student scholarships notwithstanding the lack of state funding due to Springfield budget impasses. 

Deanne has also served on a variety of public and private boards over the course of her career.  She has been an invited speaker in many forums. 

Deanne is a graduate of Boston University (B.A. in chemistry with a biology minor; and in political science), where she served in a variety of leadership roles, including as the first female Chairman of the Student Union Senate.  She received her law degree from The George Washington University Law School (J.D., with honors), where she served as the Executive Managing Editor of the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Quarterly Journal. 

Deanne lives with her husband and two children in Elmhurst, Illinois.  

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