Anne M. Burke, Class of 1983
Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court
Justice Anne M. Burke has dedicated her career in public service to providing a voice for society’s most fragile citizens. After graduating from Chicago-Kent in 1983, she began a neighborhood practice that represented the interests of children and families involving issues of neglect and abuse. As Special Counsel for Child Welfare Services and a member of Governor Jim Edgar’s Legislative Committee on Juvenile Justice, Justice Burke aided in reshaping and improving the Illinois juvenile justice system by initiating significant reforms which established more unified coordination among city, county and state law enforcement agencies and other governmental bodies charged with the protection of children. She co-founded the Chicago Special Olympics in 1968 and later served as a director of the organization as it grew to become the International Special Olympics represented in more than 160 countries.
Justice Burke’s judicial career began in 1987, when she became the first woman to serve on the Illinois Court of Claims. She was appointed to the Appellate Court in 1995 and was elected the following year, serving until her appointment to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006. She was then elected to Supreme Court in 2008. Justice Burke is a frequent speaker and panelist before many local bar associations and a member and trustee on many local boards. She has also received 11 honorary degrees from educational institutions, including Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the John Marshall Law School.
How would you persuade a potential student to attend Chicago-Kent?
Who was your favorite professor at Chicago-Kent?
That’s not fair because every one of them was my favorite. I just loved every one of my teachers. However, I have to say there were some classes I didn’t take because I knew they were tough graders, like Justice Warren Wolfson and I tease him to this day. I tell him, “Warren, I just couldn’t take your class because I couldn’t afford to get a D.” I was just barely making my other classes so I would’ve loved to have taken it. But how great it was that later on in life when I was on the Appellate Court, he taught me everything I knew.
What would people find most surprising about you?
Probably that I’m dyslexic. It isn’t always something that I have always ever talked about because in the old days, when I was a younger person, I didn’t know what it was. Growing up, it was a name for someone, a person who wrote backwards, read backwards and had to read everything twice. And even in law school, it was part of me, I learned to do it, but would take me forever to do things. So I think now I know what it is and that’s the reason I am like I am. I think that would probably be the most surprising to anyone, being on the Supreme Court and you have trouble reading and writing. But I have a lot of help.
What does it mean to you to be one of Chicago-Kent’s 125 Alumni of Distinction?
Well, it’s amazing. I had to pinch myself. Who would’ve thought, you know? Surely my study group wouldn’t have thought it either. They had to really kind of babysit me through the whole bar exam and everything else, all my exams. But, the positive mental attitude of my students, my colleagues, my class and other Kent graduates, you know that you’re part of a big family. And so I’m never going to be alone in whatever I do and I don’t think any of us will be.
What advice would you give to a young attorney just starting out today?
I think that what I would just say is, try everything. If you don’t like workmen’s comp work, then don’t do it again. But don’t say before you start something that you don’t like it. I never thought I would love probate court. Somebody suggested, you know, you ought to try to be a GAL on the probate court. Oh, really? But I told them I would sit in the courtroom and I ended up having the most rewarding part of my legal career being there. I represented a fetus in a five-day trial. How could you not have a challenge there? And then all the persons with disabilities and adult disabled persons’ estates, minors’ estates and all of that was just interesting. So who knew that something that you knew nothing about would be interesting? So I would tell everyone to keep an open mind. And also that a law degree has many paths to take and it isn’t always to practice but because you have a good law degree, you are the best person on the market for any kind of a job; even if you aren’t practicing you cannot leave from your mind the way you think. You’re an asset to the community in whatever job you take.