VP of Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation

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Job location
United States
Organization information
Organization name: 
Equip for Equality
Job type: 
Legal - Civil
Position Description: 

Scion Executive Search (SES) has been retained to conduct a search for the Vice President of Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation on behalf of our nationally-recognized client, Equip for Equality, a statewide nonprofit that advances the human and civil rights of people with disabilities in Illinois. The incoming Vice President will be an experienced attorney with strong litigation, advocacy, and management skills who has demonstrated strategic and passionate leadership in advancing the civil rights of marginalized people. The Vice President supervises 22 attorneys, plays a key leadership role within the organization, and reports to the President and CEO.

This is an amazing opportunity for the right person to come into a highly successful, nationally-regarded civil rights legal program that provides access to justice to thousands of people with diverse disabilities each year through individual legal cases and systemic reform litigation.

Established 38 years ago, Equip for Equality is a legally-based, cross-disability justice organization that advances the human and civil rights of children and adults with disabilities across Illinois.

Equip for Equality’s programs are designed to advance its mission in a comprehensive, sophisticated, and strategic manner. It tackles common problems that affect large numbers of people with disabilities, pursuing a combination of strategies that include the provision of self-advocacy assistance, individual legal representation, and class action and other systems-change litigation; public policy and legislative reform; and independent monitoring of troubled public and private institutions and community-based facilities and programs that may result in a call for fundamental change or closure. Two programs conduct the legal work: the Civil Rights Team and the Special Education Rights Clinic. The Independent Monitoring Unit has an interdisciplinary team of staff with both clinical and legal expertise.

Equip for Equality is a unique nonprofit in Illinois due to its designation as the federally-mandated Protection & Advocacy System (P&A) for the state. As the P&A, Equip for Equality has broad federal and state statutory powers that enable it carry out its dual role as a legal advocate and an independent watchdog over public and private institutional and community settings.

Equip for Equality is Illinois’ fourth largest nonprofit legal service organization, with 39 attorneys included in its total staff of 70 statewide. The annual budget is $8.8 million, and the organization is in a strong financial position. You can learn more about Equip for Equality’s mission, programs, and work highlights as well as the history of the P&A System and its statutory powers at https://www.equipforequality.org/.

Pro Bono Initiative
Equip for Equality has a Pro Bono Initiative with over 30 of Chicago’s leading law firms and corporate law departments. Together, they donate the equivalent of four to five fulltime attorneys annually. In addition, the law firms frequently donate back their attorney’s fees to the organization when they co-counsel a case with the organization.

Hybrid/Remote Work Policy
Based on input from staff, Equip for Equality has adopted a Remote Work Policy and the vast majority of staff work from home. Our Chicago office has a limited number of dedicated offices and ten hoteling offices and small conference rooms equipped with video.

The Civil Rights Team is a bright, creative, driven group of attorneys who care deeply about securing justice for their clients. They remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in community life and pursuing their goals by:
Challenging discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws, including in employment, transportation, voting, state and local government programs, access to private businesses, and housing.
Promoting community integration.
Protecting the fundamental right to self-determination, including guardianship defense and restoration of rights.
Protecting people with disabilities from abuse and neglect and ensuring adherence to their rights related to the quality of care and treatment in institutions and community-based facilities and programs.
Reducing the disproportionate impact of the criminal system on people with disabilities and addressing rights violations while incarcerated.

The team accomplishes these goals through:
Technical assistance in self-advocacy/parent advocacy that helps people with disabilities and their families resolve problems themselves.
Legal representation to people in negotiations, administrative hearings, and in federal and state courts.
Class action lawsuits and other systems-change litigation brought to protect the rights of large numbers of people with disabilities as a group. These cases are co-counseled on a pro bono basis with a leading law firm, and at times in conjunction with another social justice group.
The Civil Rights Team handles a high volume of individual legal representation and systems-change litigation. Last year, it received 3600 requests for service. It provided Information and Referral to 1500 individuals and opened 1100 self-advocacy and legal representation cases. When coupled with the open cases from prior years, it handled almost 1500 self-advocacy assistance and legal representation cases. In addition, it handled 84 systemic cases during the same time period, including seven class actions, 14 amicus briefs, and multiple structured negotiations. The attorneys spent about 70% of their combined time on individual legal cases and 30% on systemic cases.

Examples of How the Civil Rights Team Transforms Lives
Successfully represented thousands of individuals—restoring their legal rights, bringing an end to abuse and neglect, keeping them enrolled at universities, retaining their employment, enabling them to live where they choose, and ensuring they have access to critical government services. For example, the Civil Rights Team successfully represented in the trial court and appellate court a woman with traumatic brain injury to prevent involuntary sterilization by her guardian. The Public Policy Director then drafted a bill in conjunction with Civil Rights, codifying the appellate court’s decision requiring due process protections into statute.
Approximately 20,000 people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental illness and physical disabilities living in nursing homes and other state-funded private institutions have moved to supportive and integrated housing and received community services as the result of the settlement of three ADA class action lawsuits filed by Equip for Equality and its co-counsel.
In conjunction with co-counsel, negotiated a class action settlement to bring the Chicago Transit Authority into compliance with the ADA, allowing all riders with disabilities, including seniors, to safely navigate the city and pursue their education, employment, health care and recreational activities.

Unique Advantages of State P&A System Status
The Civil Rights Team is primarily funded by eight very stable, non-competitive, federal P&A formula grants—thus providing a high degree of program and organizational stability. In addition, the state P&As maintain their status unless the federal government concludes there is “good cause” for a state P&A to lose its designation, further enhancing the permanence of its role.

The Congressional P&A mandates are unusual because they provide the state P&As with extensive federal powers yet do not dictate or provide any specifics about what types of legal services cases or projects should be pursued. The Civil Rights Team has an unusually high degree of control over the actual focus of its program and the types of cases it will accept, as well as the appropriate blend of individual legal cases and systemic cases.

Furthermore, the statutory powers Equip for Equality has as the P&A System facilitate Civil Rights attorneys’ unique access to people who are living in both institutional and community settings, including the power to observe and document problems there, allowing the team to complete preliminary work towards systemic litigation in such a way that other nonprofit legal services organizations simply cannot replicate.

Equip for Equality is seeking an analytic and strategic leader who is excited to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Civil Rights Team’s highly skilled, creative, and passionate attorneys. The key responsibilities of the Vice President of Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation include:
Manage, in conjunction with the Managing Attorneys, all aspects of the Civil Rights Team’s legal advocacy program, including working with the team to select the optimal case selection priorities and mix of individual and systemic litigation to pursue each year; exploring new ways to enhance the program’s effectiveness and impact; and building litigation teams with in-house attorneys, co-counsel, and other partners;
Oversee, in conjunction with the Managing Attorneys, litigation in federal and state court and ensure effective client counseling;
Manage, in conjunction with the Managing Attorneys, demand letters, structured negotiations, pre-litigation investigations, discovery, motion practice, brief writing, hearings and trials, appellate work, and amicus briefs;
Play a critical role in the development, filing, and litigation of all class action lawsuits, including serving as a member of the litigation team for all of them, and, depending on the expertise of the other team members and program capacity, often serve a leading role in litigating the case;
Maintain and expand the Civil Rights Team’s attorneys—and to assist the organization in maintaining an appropriate reserve necessary for its long-term financial stability—on fee-generating cases, ensure that the team actively pursues its own attorney’s fees and negotiates with any pro bono law firms co-counseling the case for the donation of their attorney’s fees;
Supervise a team of three Managing Attorneys, an Intake Manager, and 18 senior and staff attorneys, as well as three paralegals, two program support specialists, and multiple legal interns across the state; coordinate in conjunction with the Senior Director of Human Resources recruitment and onboarding of additional legal staff team members; and foster an organizational culture that empowers staff, encourages professional development, and emphasizes a commitment to upholding the highest ethical ideals of the legal professional and Equip for Equality’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging values;
Broaden and deepen relationships among Civil Rights Team attorneys, cooperating and pro bono counsel, and other attorneys to elevate the visibility of Equip for Equality in the legal community and to help build the team’s capacity by engaging attorneys outside the organization in its work;
Serve as a spokesman for Equip for Equality, working closely with our communications and policy team to engage in strategic public forums, advocacy discussions, and media opportunities;
Engage, along with team leadership and in conjunction with the Development Manager, in the submission of private and public grant proposals that further Equip for Equality’s mission, and, because all team attorneys bill to numerous funding sources, in conjunction with the Chief Financial Officer, monitor monthly spending to ascertain whether team attorneys must increase or decrease their time spent on specific grants to stay within budget;
Work in partnership with the President and CEO and other executive leadership and interface with the Board of Directors, including meeting regularly with the CEO to discuss recent developments on major litigation; developments in the program; advancement towards goals and any barriers that have emerged, and new opportunities or threats; and provide regular reports to the governing board of developments and challenges presented by systemic litigation and other program accomplishments;
Ensure that Civil Rights Team supervisors regularly conduct case reviews of all open cases and that any guidance provided is followed, and that team members are evaluated and given annual feedback on their performance and that their goals and staff development needs are met;
Provide guidance and support to the Special Education Rights Clinic in its undertaking of systemic litigation, particularly class action litigation;
Assist with programmatic administrative matters including but not limited to working with the Vice President for the Special Education Rights Clinic to maintain updated legal program policies and procedures, including requirements to have complete case records entered into the P&A Legal Case Management & Timekeeping System; requiring adherence to the organization’s cybersecurity requirements designed to create a new remote work environment that is secure and provides the maximum possible protection to client, employee, and organizational records; and overseeing with the other two programmatic vice presidents the annual process to develop a program plan and priorities, including holding public forums and soliciting input from diverse organizations and the public online and presenting the final proposal to the governing Board.

The salary range is $130,000 to $170,000 based on experience. The Board and President and CEO are committed to making annual increases in the salary ranges. In addition, every three years, the organization will do a salary review in conjunction with a compensation consultant to ensure salaries remain competitive.

Excellent benefits include generous vacation, sick, holiday, personal, and parental leave; medical, dental, and vision insurance and short and long-term disability insurance with premiums paid 100% by employer; a 401(k) match; a flexible spending account; an employee assistance program; voluntary life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance; professional dues and fees, professional development, CLE, and training opportunities; employer-provided laptop computer, cell phone, and home internet service; and relocation assistance to those moving to Illinois from another state. This is a full-time position that can be primarily performed at home or, if the new hire prefers to work full-time in the downtown Chicago office, a dedicated office with a view of Millennium Park is available.


10+ years of trial and appellate litigation experience in administrative forums, and state and federal courts with a strong background in civil rights;
Admitted to the Illinois Bar or eligible for admission; Equip for Equality will pay for processing reciprocity admissions;
Passion for advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities and/or other marginalized communities.
5+ years of experience in recruiting, training, and managing a diverse, high-performing team of attorneys and support staff;
Record of moving individual representation and systemic cases forward from investigation through all stages of litigation in state and federal courts and administrative forums;
Solid experience developing multiple class action lawsuits, negotiating their settlement, and taking effective actions to overcome any noncompliance with those settlement agreements, thereby successfully concluding the case;
Values diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. May be illustrated through training, learning, and lived experiences.
Excellent organizational, leadership, communication, and analytical skills.

Experience negotiating donated attorney’s fees with pro bono co-counsel;
Experience working on legislative and public policy issues, and with government agencies;
Experience working with media/communications.

To apply: 

Equip for Equality has retained the services of Scion Executive Search, a national executive search firm specializing in mission-driven organization recruitment, to assist in conducting this important search. For immediate consideration, please apply with your resume and cover letter, formatted in Microsoft Word, via https://scionexecutivesearch.com/job/9961/.

Please address applications to:
Ex Hopson, Executive Recruiter
Scion Executive Search
(888) 487-8850 Extension 142

Review of applications, nominations, and expressions of interest will begin immediately and continue on a confidential basis until an appointment is made.

Equal Opportunity Employer
Salary range: 
$130,000 to $170,000
Submission deadline: 
Monday, July 24, 2023