A ticket to a Rolling Stones concert led
Linda Friedman to a chance taking of the LSAT, which set the stage for
her to discover a love of litigation and enthusiasm for civil rights
As the story goes, Friedman planned to attend the show with a group
of friends who were scheduled to take the test right before the concert.
The group had purchased field tickets for the floor of the stadium. In
an effort to avoid separation, Friedman decided to sit in on the exam
with her friends. She signed up for the LSAT on the day of the exam—and
Oddly enough, she said, none of those friends ended up going to law school.
Friedman, however, embraced her natural legal ability and enrolled at
DePaul. She found herself primarily drawn to the students attending
evening classes, “because they had careers and lives, and had made a
deliberate choice to go back to law school.” She split her time between
day and evening classes to accommodate jobs that let her experience
different areas of law—a move that, in retrospect, she credits with
helping her find her way. “I think it’s what every law school student
should do: Use law school as an opportunity to figure out what makes
your heart tick, what makes you happy in law.”
Through the College of Law’s externship program, Friedman worked
under James B. Parsons, the first African-American federal district
court judge in the country, who drew out her fervor for civil rights.
That externship continued on a voluntary basis after the semester was
over because a law clerk was going on maternity leave. Later, Friedman
moved into a federal clerkship of her own under Judge Harry D.
“Between the extern experience and the clerkship, I watched dozens
and dozens of trials, participated in jury instruction conferences,
conducted legal research and prepared bench memoranda for the judges: I
had a full apprenticeship,” she said.
Through Friedman’s next job, she met Mary Stowell and Richard Leng,
both of whom had previously worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Together, they started Leng Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. in 1989, when
Friedman was 29 years old. Leng and Stowell, she explained, were both
experienced trial lawyers who brought with them corporate and criminal
experience, respectively, and Friedman knew civil rights law. Leng left
after about 10 years and Stowell just recently retired, so Friedman runs
the Chicago-based civil rights law firm, now called Stowell &
“If you attend DePaul Law you get a wonderful education. There’s no
question that the educational experience taught me the skills I needed
to think like a lawyer. Because the law school is located in downtown
Chicago, I also had the opportunity to spend three years figuring out
what I liked and what I didn’t like, and where I could really see myself
contributing [as] a lawyer.”
In other words, “I knew what I detested, what I could tolerate and what I loved,” she said.
“I just felt a pull to do something, on a personal level, that would
be meaningful,” Friedman said, explaining why she felt passionate about
becoming a civil rights lawyer. “I love to be part of change. To learn
about it, to study it, to work with the experts who are at the top of
their fields trying to understand how to make the world a better and
more fair place.”
Friedman credits the practical experiences she pursued while at the
College of Law with providing an advantage over her peers. She tries to
recreate this for law students, recent grads and lateral hires that
apprentice with her, so they not only learn to be effective lawyers but
also how to run a law firm. Many have moved on to open up their own
firms or become partners at her firm.
For Friedman, success is defined by the amount of change she and her
colleagues are able to inspire. “It makes me happy to know that we’ve
changed a lot of peoples’ lives. That we’ve taught people how to stand
up and change their own life experiences, and teach their children,
nieces, nephews and neighbors to do the same.”
Friedman points to McReynolds et al. v. Merrill Lynch as a case she
is quite proud to have worked on. It was a nine-year legal battle that
ended in an appellate decision, and achieved certification of a
nationwide class of approximately 1,400 African-American financial
advisors and trainees to determine liability and injunctive relief for
claims that the firm’s policies had a racially disparate impact.
Friedman’s firm recovered $160 million, the largest common fund ever
achieved in a settlement of a race employment discrimination class
“Sometimes it isn’t always fun to be chef, cook and bottle wash of a
firm,” Friedman said. “But I do [have a sense of] pride when I walk
through the door and I know that there are 25 people who come to work
every day at a place that I, along with my partners, created.”