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Judge William Bauer's "million-dollar education"

On March 6, 2014, DePaul College of Law awarded Judge William J. Bauer the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

However, to call Judge Bauer’s career distinguished is an understatement. Judge Bauer has worked as a public servant in several impressive capacities: assistant state’s attorney, state’s attorney for DuPage County, Illinois, judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit in Illinois, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of llinois, district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois, and circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

In addition, he has taught countless courses on trial advocacy and criminal procedure across the country. Along the way, Judge Bauer served as a mentor to numerous law students and lawyers. I am lucky to count him as a mentor, as I had the honor of clerking for him during the 2005-2006 term. Judge Bauer helped shape my legal career.

Karyn Bass Ehler ('05) and Judge William J. Bauer pose during the DePaul College of Law Alumni Awards Dinner.
As a young lawyer, I knew I wanted public interest law to play a significant role in my practice. While at DePaul, I helped to establish the program that eventually became the Center for Public Interest Law. When I clerked for Judge Bauer, he applauded this work and encouraged me as I pursued my passion for constitutional law and civil rights. Judge Bauer instilled in me that the point and privilege of being a lawyer is to deliver the maximum amount of justice to the maximum amount of people.

Judge Bauer’s own career mirrors this principle. In his first job out of law school, he worked as an assistant state’s attorney in DuPage County. Though he earned a meager salary, money was not what motivated Judge Bauer. For six and a half years he worked in an understaffed and overworked office, but he was in trial court every day. Judge Bauer says there were times it felt like he was earning a nickel an hour, especially as he supported his young family, but those years were invaluable because the experience provided him with a “million-dollar education.”

Equally important, however, were the lessons Judge Bauer taught me about collegiality and our responsibility to the legal community. Judge Bauer is fond of saying that it “doesn’t cost a dime to be kind.” Lawyers either forget this value or feel it will impede their advocacy. Judge Bauer taught me that being a good lawyer and being a good person are not mutually exclusive.

He advises that, in life, as in law, it is vital to be kind, be decent and do the right thing. As I advocate for my clients, I keep these lessons in mind. I am eternally grateful for my own million-dollar education provided by Judge Bauer both during my clerkship and in the years that have followed.

Karyn Bass Ehler (JD ’05) clerked for Judge William J. Bauer from 2005-2006. She is a partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.