Chicago-Kent Student Dedicated to Government Labor Relations Earns 2022 Sandra Zemm Prize

A Chicago-Kent College of Law labor and employment law student who specialized in government and community service work has been awarded the Sandra P. Zemm Prize in Labor and Employment Law for 2022.

Erin Monforti ’22 received the prize for her essay highlighting “my love for representing employers in the local government context.”

“In the public sector, at least the way I see it, you’re making sure that the relationships foster integrity in employment, since public agencies interact with residents and the public in general,” Monforti said in an interview. “And that can’t happen unless public employers recognize the value of public employees and make those relationships strong.”

“I think it’s unique too, because a lot of employees that work in the public sector are members of the communities they serve.”

Over the past year at Chicago-Kent, Monforti has worked for Ancel Glink, P.C., a Chicago-based firm that represents small- and mid-size municipalities that often don’t have their own staff attorneys.

“It’s an interesting thing when you’re dealing with public employees and Illinois labor statutes. Today, collective bargaining is much more common in public employment than private employment. Municipal law addresses many unique issues that arise in the government context. It can be a niche area to work in,” Monforti says.

Monforti also worked for the Mayor’s Office in the City of Chicago as a mayoral policy fellow. It was the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was then and there, she says, that she decided municipal law would make a fulfilling and rewarding career. .

“Legal writing, changing policy though law.… As much as I enjoyed policy work, I found that my skills were better suited for legal work,” she says.

Monforti has also done her share of public interest work for several Chicago-area nonprofits. She worked as a legal intern on Equip for Equality’s civil rights team; as a pro bono research alliance volunteer for the Public Interest Law Initiative; and as a volunteer for the Transformative Justice Law Project.

She has also served as president of the Chicago-Kent Society of Women in Law since 2021.

“Between my community service work and being president of Society of Women in Law, I received invaluable experience.… [At the Society] I was able to help give students a space to talk about both legal issues and what’s personally important to them,” Monforti says, adding that the many women attorneys  at Ancel Glick have served as “great role models” for her.

“Erin really lives up to the goals and purposes of the prize, in terms of both management advocacy and community service,” the award judges noted when commenting on why Monforti was chosen for the prize.

Before Chicago-Kent, Monforti received her bachelor’s degree in social and economic development policy from the Illinois Institute of Technology, specializing in urban and regional development.

The Sandra P. Zemm Prize, which includes a $2,000 award, is given annually to a third- or fourth-year student in Chicago-Kent’s J.D. Certificate in Labor and Employment Law program.  It was established in 2009 at Chicago-Kent College of Law by the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP to honor the memory of Sandra P. Zemm, who died in September 2008. The award is given to individuals who exemplify the qualities that Zemm possessed: "a commitment to pursue a career in labor and employment law, a pioneer spirit and willingness to take the initiative whenever possible, and a gracious and generous attitude toward helping those in need," according to Seyfarth Shaw.

Zemm joined Seyfarth Shaw in 1975 as the first female associate in the Labor and Employment practice, and in 1982 became the firm’s first female equity partner in Labor and Employment. Her practice concentrated on traditional labor matters, and on matters involving employment discrimination, wage-hour, and employment litigation. She negotiated collective bargaining and/or shutdown agreements with major labor unions, and represented management in more than 200 hearings before arbitrators, the National Labor Relations Board, and various state labor agencies. In 2002 Zemm was elected to the American College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

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