For the 20th consecutive year, Katten’s Chicago office has sponsored an intern and mentee through the Chicago Summer Business Institute (CSBI), an outgrowth of the city’s municipal finance industry designed to advance diversification by providing opportunities to top-performing local high school students who come from households meeting the program's income requirements. The six-week CSBI program prepares interns for the business world by helping them develop professional skills and long-lasting mentor relationships. Past Katten interns have gone on to continue their education at prestigious schools, including the University of Notre Dame and Oberlin College.
Each summer, CSBI selects an intern from an outstanding pool of candidates to place with Katten, following a rigorous application process that includes, for many students, their first professional interview. For selected students, the internship often leads to other professional firsts, including their very first time working in an office setting and their first mentor relationships.
Government and Public Finance partner Chad Doobay, who serves as the intern’s supervisor along with counsel Kelly Hutchinson, emphasized that the entire process helps minimize feelings of intimidation that would otherwise prevent talented students from seeing themselves in a professional environment right in their own city. “There is a lot of untapped talent throughout Chicago,” Chad said. “As attorneys, we are in positions of influence and have a responsibility to provide opportunities to these students so they have a chance to live their fullest lives. The experience is meant to simulate a professional environment where they’ll become future leaders, so we mentor them on everything from interpersonal relationships to business email communications to how to tackle written work assignments.”
Although the interns work primarily with the Government and Public Finance practice, their time with Katten is structured so that they also gain exposure to other practices within the firm. Along with observing conference calls and assisting with document review, the interns conduct one-on-one interviews with attorneys in other practices, as well as business professionals across the firm, including pro bono leaders, paralegals and marketing department colleagues. “The goal is not to turn them into lawyers, but rather to give them exposure to a law firm environment,” Chad said. “They’re learning at a young age how a law firm is structured and how various legal professionals support each other.”
This year’s intern, an incoming freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Kathya Grau, praised the program for giving her valuable takeaways for college and beyond, such as writing skills, time management and effective communication. “The most rewarding part of my internship was the hands-on exposure that I received to the field of municipal bonds and public finance, along with the opportunity to speak with different people in the practice of law. I learned that there isn’t one set path to becoming a lawyer, and it doesn’t always require a pre-law major,” Kathya said, adding that she would “100 percent” recommend the program to rising high school juniors and friends. “It’s very inspiring and eye-opening, you can get hands-on experience, and it’s a good resume builder.”
Though law was not a field she had considered before her internship, Kathya discovered that she’d be interested in pursuing pro bono work if she becomes an attorney. “I learned that asylum cases with attorney representation are twice as likely to be successful, which was really surprising. I can see the direct impact it has on people and that’s very important to me – to be able to give back,” she said.
These experiences ideally provide interns like Kathya with the incentive to continue their education, insight into career paths within law, whether law is the right field for them and new mentor relationships with advocates who are invested in them for the long term. After the program ends, past interns have continued to receive career and education advice from their Katten mentors as they begin to carve out their paths to success. Some students have even returned as repeat summer interns to gain additional work experience between college and law school.
The Chicago program has strong support from firm leadership. Chad noted that Chairman Roger Furey and CEO Noah Heller have both served as interview subjects for past interns, some of whom still keep in contact with them directly. “Year after year, it’s not hard to find people throughout the firm who are happy to spend significant time with our interns,” Chad said. “It is rewarding to help Chicago’s next generation of leaders reach their potential and see what they are capable of achieving.”