The passing of Professor Barbara Bressler in early May 2018 was a loss to the entire DePaul Law community. The creator of DePaul's TIP Clinic® and the former Faculty Director of CIPLIT®, Professor Bressler had an impact and passion that influenced faculty, administration, students, and the legal profession at large. Professor Maggie Livingston called her the “salt of the earth,” and Howard Rubin remarked, “There was so much to her that was the best of our profession.”
Affiliated with the school for nearly 40 years, Barbara Bressler matriculated at DePaul Law in the late 1970s. Howard Rubin, Emeritus Associate Professor of Law and director of the DePaul Legal Clinic for 27 years, remembered when she worked in the DePaul Legal Clinic as a student. “I was very impressed with her commitment to the client, to their problems,” he recalled. “She was very focused. She understood from the get-go. Right away she knew the questions to ask [clients] and was very professional.”
After graduating law school in 1980, she spent several years as a sole practitioner, practicing mostly in family law and real estate. In 1984, when there was an opening in the DePaul Legal Clinic for a new staff attorney/clinical professor, Professor Rubin knew that she would be perfect for the role.
During this period, DePaul Law had a sole legal clinic, which functioned as a community law clinic for middle and low-income clients. Described as a general civil law office, it handled 'basic' cases such as evictions, social security, civil injury, and family law matters so that students would be able to remain with their client from the beginning of the case until its culmination.
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, DePaul Law abandoned the single, all-purpose legal clinic model and transitioned into specialized, modular clinics. This period coincided with a rise in the importance of intellectual property law throughout the world, and DePaul responded to the change. Professor Roberta Kwall spearheaded the school's increased focus on intellectual property and the creation of its nationally ranked program with an ever-growing curriculum.
Despite having minimal experience in intellectual property law, Barbara Bressler also recognized its relevance and created the TIP (Technology/Intellectual Property) Clinic®, the first clinic in the nation that allowed students to get actual experience in counseling clients (e.g. artists, entrepreneurs, ) with their IP issues.
Professor Kwall remembered that “in the late 90's when we were establishing CIPLIT®, Barb eagerly joined our venture by embracing the chance to create the first IP/Tech clinic in the country. She founded, and then directed, the TIP clinic for many years, educating scores of DePaul students along the way.”
“It was a real innovation at the time,” recalled Professor Bruce Ottley. “Nobody had ever thought of doing that – a clinic to provide free/legal advice to young entrepreneurs who had IP questions and because they were start-ups couldn't afford the going rate of attorneys.”
The TIP Clinic® served as a practical complement to the academic side and further established the school's intellectual property program. By working closely with Professor Kwall, Professor Bressler re-invented herself in intellectual property law and was more than ready to become the head of the CIPLIT® when Professor Kwall stepped down.
In addition to her work with the clinics, Barbara Bressler was active in other areas of the school. She taught Legal Profession and Trade Secrets Law. “She was willing to do new things and able to do new things,” commented Professor Ottley. Per Professor Kwall, “she was always eager to do the right thing and help DePaul in any way she could.”
Regardless of what initiative she took on, her main focus remained on the students. She was seen as a role model who was able to instill in them the role of an attorney, the obligation to the client, and ethical values. She worked closely with her students, often on daily basis, so that they could develop the skills necessary to become talented attorneys.
“She helped many of them navigate the rigors of law school as well as assisting them in finding jobs both during and after law school,” said Professor Livingston. “She would do whatever it took to make sure the students followed their legal education with employment, which was really impressive,” added Professor Rubin.
Even with her responsibilities at DePaul, Barbara Bressler remained connected to the legal profession and was active in pro bono work. She was President of the Legal Assistance Fund, chaired the Chicago Bar Association's Legal Aid Committee, and was an important member of the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Foundation. She also created the Law Alumni Clinic at DePaul, which allowed graduates to help on cases.
She was widely recognized for her achievements. DePaul Law alumni Ed Grossman and Bishop Tom Paprocki, co-founders of the Chicago Legal Clinic, honored her for inspiring them and her commitment to legal services. The NY State Bar Association gave her a pro bono award. In the 1990s, Today's Chicago Woman ranked her among the 100 women making a difference in Chicago.
Barbara Bressler's legacy is one that will not be forgotten by those who knew her and who were affected by her.
Upon hearing of her passing, attorney Hillel Frankel (JD '93) of Leavens, Strand & Glover LLC who participated in the DePaul Legal Clinic under Professor Bressler in the 1990s praised her for teaching him “about being patient under pressure and handling difficult situations in a positive manner. I am sure that my 20+ year practice has benefited every day from my time in the DePaul Legal Clinic. Barbara’s patience and insight are with me in my practice every day.”
Current CIPLIT® executive director Ellen Gutiontov reminisced, “once you had a chance to get to know Barb, you quickly realized that you were fortunate enough to gain a true friend, someone who had your back, who would give you the best advice they could and ask for one if needed, and who was always there for her friends, students, and colleagues.”
Professor Kwall wrote in memoriam, “Barb was not just the salt of the earth but she was truly a rock of strength. Barb’s memory will be a blessing for us all and her strength will continue to inspire us.”
DePaul Law plans to memorialize Barbara Bressler at an event in September.