On October 15, Kane County Magazine honored Oswego’s Elizabeth Berrones-Rotchford as one of their inaugural Women of Distinction due to her commitment to helping the community through pro bono attorney assistance.
Berrones-Rotchford acknowledged that lawyers don’t have the best reputations but that she became a lawyer to help others.
“For me, honestly, it gives me so much gratification to make a difference in someone’s life…It’s not about the money,” she said.
Berrones-Rotchford became a single mom at 19. Despite this challenge, Berrones-Rotchford graduated in the top 1 percent of her undergraduate class at the University of Illinois at Chicago and in the top 15 percent of her class at DePaul University College of Law.
Berrones-Rotchford said she shares her personal stories with her clients and believes her struggles and ultimate success help many of her clients relate to her.
“I believe my struggles make me more human to my clients and show that everyone is flawed,” she said.
“I worked very hard to be where I am. There were millions of times I wanted to give in. I also did this for my parents, who immigrated from Mexico to find a better life for themselves and their kids,” she said.
Berrones-Rotchford said she was “shocked” to be honored as one of Kane County Magazine’s Women of Distinction.
“I’m not any more special than anyone else…I heard the stories of the other women – these are some amazing women. I don’t feel I am at that level. I just do pro bono work and shouldn’t receive this kind of recognition. I was surprised and honored. I want to be that role model – especially for teen mothers and single moms – to show them that it will be a struggle but that you can still live out your dreams. I want to be that person you think of when times get tough – I want to be that voice in the back of your mind,” she expressed.
During her second year of law school, Berrones-Rotchford interned with the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic. While there she realized the need for lawyers to assist low-income individuals – especially Spanish-speaking - and realized her passion for family law, she said.
Berrones-Rotchford served as Director of the Family Law Program for the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic from 2001 to 2004. She then accepted a position with the DuPage Bar Legal Aid Service. In 2006, her husband lost his job. She became the main breadwinner and realized she couldn’t do that and repay her student loans on a legal aid salary.
She sought a position within the private sector but held on to her commitment to serving low income individuals. In 2006, she accepted a position with Gil & Cruz of Aurora.
“I was very fortunate to find a firm like this. They aren’t keeping track of my pro bono work and it’s quite a blessing,” she said.
Berrones-Rotchford said she has ten pro bono cases at any given time and estimates ten percent of her workload is pro bono work.
Eduardo Gil, owner of Gil & Cruz Attorneys At Law, provided insight into Berrones-Rotchford:
“She gives her full attention and is very involved with every case. She goes above and beyond in caring for her clients…Her personality and warmth allow her to get closer to her clients and build the trust which is crucial,” Gil said.
“We expect our employees to be involved in the community. Elizabeth takes that to a new level and is very involved. She still maintains the right mix of pro bono and doing what we need her to do. She works many late hours, weekend hours and hours from home to accomplish this. It is obviously a big sacrifice for her and her family but is something she thoroughly enjoys,” Gil said.
Berrones-Rotchford has lived in Oswego for five years. Her son is a sophomore at Oswego High School. She met her husband, Matt, when her son was five. Matt legally adopted her son and they have a two-year-old daughter.
“Right now I’m enjoying the work I’m doing and the individuals I’m helping. Ultimately, I hope to become a judge,” Berrones-Rotchford said.
Berrones-Rotchford has been awarded the Distinguished Alumni Service Award by DePaul University College of Law (2005), the Chicago Bar Association Public Interest Award (2003), and most recently the Kane County Bar Foundation Pro Bono Award (2010).