Kwame Y. Raoul, Class of 1993
Illinois state senator known for tackling difficult issues
Kwame Raoul is an Illinois State Senator and a partner in the Chicago office of Quarles & Brady LLP. He has extensive experience in higher education, labor and employment, and litigation law and has represented local governmental entities in finance and other matters. He has served as senior counsel for the City College of Chicago representing one of the nation’s largest community college districts and previously served as a prosecutor for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Raoul has represented the 13th district of Illinois since 2004 when he was appointed to fill the vacancy of then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Since then, he has successfully advanced legislation promoting pension reform, economic development, domestic violence prevention and political reform. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Pensions and Investment Committee and the Senate Committee on Redistricting, as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee and on the Judiciary Financial Institutions Committee. Raoul has been a board member of the Cook County Bar Association and the Cook County Bar Foundation and is currently on the Board of Directors for International Child Care and the Advisory Board for Hope Lives Now. He is also the Vice Chair of the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Committee. In 2013, he was selected as a Business Leader of Color by Chicago United and in 2012 he was honored by the African American Association of the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 2011, he received the Jenner & Block Award from The Center on Wrongful Convictions for his contributions to improving criminal justice.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Initially I had the pressure of my dad being a physician. Then I learned that the sciences didn’t take to me too well. My uncle was an architect and I thought that was my destination until I took an architectural drafting class. I took a step back and decided to take the pressure off of myself. When I went to college I wasn’t aspiring to a particular career. Because I was strong in mathematics, I was told to pursue engineering. Then I discovered political science, where you can argue and express yourself. I enjoyed that debate and study.
Why did you choose Chicago-Kent?
What attracted me to Chicago-Kent was, what I thought, a great balance. I thought it had a great balance between scholarship and training lawyers to actually practice law.
What would you say is your greatest professional achievement?
Two things come to mind. One, on the legislative front, was the abolition of the death penalty. Being able to use the skills I’d developed to make the arguments for such meaningful legislation was certainly a highlight. From a more practical legal perspective, my first jury trial where I represented a young man who’d been accused of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer, where the story was clearly made up. I was a little ill-prepared, but the jury returned a not guilty verdict.
How would you say Chicago-Kent prepared you for your present success?
Chicago-Kent balanced the scholarship, the sort of traditional way of legal thinking, and balanced it with making sure you have what you need to get it done. They make sure you’ll be a good lawyer. Whether it’s through Moot Court or legal writing, you’re given great practical skills. You’re forced to think out of the box and the combination of those two things makes great lawyers.
What advice would you give to a young attorney just starting out today?
My career was a little unorthodox, so I would tell them two things. I would advise young lawyers to really search their soul to explore what they really want to do with their legal career. My Negotiations professor would tell us about law student syndrome, where the competition starts even before school begins. Don’t fall into that. Put up building blocks towards your goals. If something tells you that a certain path isn’t right for you, it’s ok to shift. You’re given tools that can make you successful in a variety of directions.