Alumni Interview: Kelli Garcia (JD ’10)

Q. Tell us about your path to law school and the legal profession.

I attended Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY as an undergraduate, majoring in philosophy, with a minor in art history and legal studies. My focus was in logic-based philosophy courses, which combined my love of humanities and mathematics. During undergrad, the head of the philosophy department introduced me to alumni who went into various professions after college. I was inspired by several judges that I met. I really gravitated towards a potential legal career and quickly knew that law school was my next step.

As for DePaul, I wanted to go to a law school in a vibrant urban area. I looked at law schools in New York City, Boston and Chicago. After a visit to the College of Law, I fell in love with Chicago and knew this was the place for me.

Q. What were some of your notable experiences at DePaul Law (classes, professors, student organizations, etc.)? 

My participation with the Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) was an important part of my DePaul Law experience.  It was so nice to have a built-in community to show you the ropes, helping you acclimate to a new city and to the culture of DePaul. The group provided an important outlet from the stresses of law school through educational opportunities, networking within the legal community and every now and then being able to let your hair down to grab a margarita and go salsa dancing.

During my 1L year, I was in LLSA’s mentorship program, and to this day I keep in touch with my mentor, Simone Peart (JD ’09). She was honest about what was to come and would offer to help however she could. I would recommend to today’s students: participate in any clubs or groups that fit within your interests, and find a mentor if possible. Many student groups provide that opportunity.

Additionally, I took advantage of study abroad opportunities in Argentina and China. I think it’s a great opportunity for students to spend time in another country, learn more about other cultures and still have the structure of DePaul with your professors and classmates. Study abroad has helped me be more understanding and respectful of other cultures and political and economic systems. This presents another potential network for students because the shared experience of travelling abroad creates friendships and bonds that are particularly enduring. 

Q: Can you take me through your career and how you ended up where you are now?

Currently, I work as a philanthropic advisor at Northern Trust. In that role, I assist with the delivery of philanthropic services to our wealth management clients. This includes creating mission statements, setting up charitable vehicles, developing foundation strategy and design, legacy planning and private foundation support.

When I graduated law school, the job market was still recovering from the 2008 recession and opportunities for new attorneys were particularly difficult. I recognized that I would likely have to create my own career path. To that end, I accepted a political fundraising and event management position with Gery Chico’s Chicago Mayoral campaign. This initial opportunity allowed me to gain valuable experience and connections that assisted in starting my career. From there, I worked as a director of development for the Golden Apple Foundation, where I oversaw individual, corporate and foundation gifts.

After five years with Golden Apple, I felt a change was needed. I started my own consulting business, advising various organizations on strategy, organizational management and internal operations. I had been running my business for about a year but was also looking at more structured roles that could provide mentorship.

It was this work that led to my recruitment at Northern Trust. My now-manager built the philanthropic advisory services team with attorneys who had a variety of skillsets within philanthropy. Throughout my career I have always worked for mission-driven organizations, supported ultra-high net worth individuals and had deep engagement with the nonprofit sector.

The work I do as an advisor is always changing, and our group is a like an in-house philanthropic consulting firm for the bank and our clients. We help philanthropists at any stage of their journey, whether they are just getting started or are navigating multi-generational giving. 

My specialty on the team is working with private foundations and educating the next generation to participate in philanthropy. I really enjoy working with our clients and creating solutions to help them find focus and support their missions.

Q: What advice do you have for today’s law students?

No one is going to remember how you did when you got called on in class. No matter how terrible or amazing you thought it was. I know those days can cause a lot of anxiety. There’s a Maya Angelou quote I remind myself of often: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Just remember to be good to people. It’s the friendships and connections that you make now that can sustain you far beyond your time in law school. These people can be a resource for you in your career, a support system through the ups and downs of life and strong advocates for whatever you choose to do in the future.

Q: You are involved with a number of different charitable organizations. Tell us more about your volunteer activities. 

Volunteering has always been an important part of my life.  My parents instilled those values in me to give back and support our community from a very young age. Since arriving in Chicago from Texas, I have tried to involve myself in the civic community in ways that are most important to me through providing access to opportunities for others.

For the past ten years, I have served on the Scenemakers Board of the Goodman Theater. My work with the Goodman Theater is focused on the arts and education programs and supporting new work development. 

I also serve as the Co-chair of the Auxiliary Board of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR). CCR provides free mediation services to anyone who needs it as well as mediation training and certification. My involvement provides me with a way to stay connected with the legal community as well. 

Finally, I’m proud to serve as a coach for the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team. I was a women’s collegiate ice hockey player, and it is exceptionally rewarding to work with these dedicated athletes and to give back to a sport that has given so much to me. 

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