Federal commission-appointed attorney shares advice for women

Friends, women in the legal profession have made strides to get in the door.

But they continue to face hurdles beyond the entry level to higher levels. So the successes of women in law and in all industries, really, should be celebrated.

President Biden’s appointment of Maureen C. Pikarski of Chicago to the American Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad on January 14 gives women a reason to celebrate.

The Commission is an independent agency of the United States government. The Commission was created when American Jews became concerned about the jeopardy of cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the Holocaust.

The Commission has two missions: to identify cemeteries, memorials and historic buildings in Central and Eastern Europe associated with American heritage, and to obtain assurances from the governments of these regions that the sites identified will be preserved.

To help meet the Commission’s load, Ms. Pikarski will lead a 21-member team comprising 7 members appointed by the President, 7 by the Senate and 7 by the House.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Ms. Pikarski’s appointment is the culmination of a legal and political career deeply rooted in public service. Ms. Pikarski is co-chair of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council of the Democratic National Committee and delegate to the DNC. Under President Bill Clinton, she served in the White House Public Liaison Office, doing outreach to national ethnic constituencies. Ms. Pikarski accepted Vice President Al Gore’s invitation to work on his national performance review committee. Ms. Pikarski’s community and political involvement began under Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat from Chicago, as an assistant on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. Closer to home, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley nominated her to serve on his 21st Century Leadership Council.

Ms. Pikarski is a partner at Gordon & Pikarski, where her practice focuses on all aspects of real estate transactions, including land use, acquisition, development and redevelopment, ownership, sale and leasing, and sentence. She has extensive experience in property tax assessment. She has lectured extensively not only on real estate topics, but also on community engagement.

Ms. Pikarski is Past President of the Chicago Advocates Society, a member of the Warsaw-Chicago Sister Cities Committee, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, and the General Assembly of the Illinois State Bar Association. She resides on the northwest side of Chicago with her husband and four children.

I had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Pikarski about her role as Commissioner and her advice to women. As a lawyer, Ms. Pikarski imparts her wisdom through the lens of the law. That said, let this article be an invitation to share Ms. Pikarski’s wisdom with women of all ages because her wisdom is timeless.

Q: What advice can you give to women going to law school or a career in law?

A: The best advice I can give you is to follow your passion. To succeed, you have to be passionate. This passion will keep you invested when you have bad times or days. I would also advise you to be prepared to invest time and money in this passion. To discover your passion, conduct informational interviews and participate in internships in college or before law school. This collection of information will allow you to focus on your studies and set you on the right path after graduation and for your career.

Q: What work does the Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad do?

A: The Commission works to identify and report cemeteries, monuments and historic sites in Eastern Europe that are associated with US citizens. This allows the Commission to preserve the heritage of American citizens in their country of origin.

The Commission has a charter and focuses its energy on the 29 countries with which the United States has reciprocal agreements for preservation work. The Commission is seeking to broaden its scope of action. Currently, there is a bill in the Senate to include countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Q: What are your main tasks as curator?

A: As Commissioner, one of my main duties is to identify a project for the Commission to undertake. Given my Polish ancestry, we will focus on the contributions of Polish Americans to the United States.

To do this, the Commission could possibly work with trade unions which were critical, particularly in the 1980s in the solidarity movement. For example, the AFL-CIO was a tremendous stimulus to help Solidarity grow and overthrow communism in Poland. Unions are an important part of the American fabric. In fact, the first Polish immigrants arrived in Jamestown, Virginia 12 years before the Pilgrims. In 1691, Polish artisans were the first to organize and strike against the Virginia Company. They were successful in their efforts against the company. I hope the Commission can commemorate these and other contributions of Polish Americans during my tenure.

Q: As Commissioner, what do you want to achieve next year with the Commission?

A: As Commissioner, next year I hope the Commission will succeed in negotiating reciprocity agreements with Greece and Turkey. The Commission is encouraged by the good work it can do in these countries if the negotiations are successful. I would like my fellow Commissioners to be supported in any way possible to highlight the contributions of our ancestors to America.

Q: How has your work in the legal profession prepared you for the role of commissioner?

A: My work as a lawyer has helped prepare me for my role as commissioner. To be a good lawyer, you must be able to work with other people. In my work as a lawyer, I learned to work with people. In a Commission with 21 fellow Commissioners, we will all work together to support each other, so my legal background will certainly help me here.

Reading documents as a lawyer will also help me in my role as commissioner. Careful reading is necessary as we review our charter and negotiate the agreements we hope to put in place with Greece and Turkey.

Like my reading skills, the writing skills I learned as a lawyer will also be useful to me in my work at the Commission.

Q: What advice would you give to a lawyer who wants to get involved in politics?

A: I recommend getting 100% involved in politics! I think it’s a fantastic way to network and do good in your community. You can do this in your free time or devote more time to it if you wish. There is always a candidate or campaign looking for help. The policy is a good way to make yourself known to people and potential customers. Do it!

Q: How has your life experience, personally and professionally, shaped you as a leader?

A: My leadership style has been influenced by the combination of my studies and life experiences. I strive to be the best leader possible. Education was key for me and something my family valued. Education remains a priority for me and my family as well. I was encouraged to take risks and challenge myself in school. Because I had this foundation, I had the confidence to seek out and try challenging things in school and professionally.

Q: What professional advice would you give to younger Maureen?

A: From a career perspective, I would tell young Maureen to take time between graduate school and university to gain the work experience that is important to your passion. It is perhaps a bit like what business schools like to see today – work experience before undertaking the master’s work. I think taking the time to work will make someone a better candidate for business and law school.

For example, after law school, I worked for the Clinton administration, focusing my efforts on ethics awareness. I worked for Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski for a summer in Washington DC which was the start of my political and legal career. Since then, my legal and political career has been intertwined. These careers have energized my beliefs in community engagement and social justice. I want the average person to have a say with the people sitting around the table.

That’s why I’m a delegate to the National Democratic Party, an elected role that will guide me through the Convention. I am very proud of this role. It helps to ensure representation of people with decision makers.

Q: What personal advice would you give to younger Maureen?

A: From a personal perspective, I would say two things to young Maureen. First, don’t be afraid to try new things. Second, don’t limit yourself. The sky is the limit, especially when you are young!

• Corinne Cantwell Heggie is Principal of Wochner Law Firm LLC in Northbrook. Corinne helps people avoid loss of assets, legal battles and taxes, with wills, trusts and powers of attorney. Corinne lives in Glenview with her husband and legal partner where her family is active in sports, ministries that support women and children in crisis and scouts.