Member Spotlight

Ava George Stewart

Chief of the Misdemeanor/Traffic Division // State's Attorney's Office - Lake County, IL

Description of your practice.
I am currently the Chief of the Misdemeanor/Traffic Division for the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.  Prior to becoming Chief, I was a criminal defense attorney with my own practice for over sixteen years in Chicago.

Why are you a member of the WBAI?
I have met some of the most incredible women through WBAI.  They have been the source of professional growth, clients, resources, sisterhood and fellowship in the Bar.

Through the WBAI I have been able to provide meaningful CLE and write substantive law pieces. Additionally, I was co-chair for criminal litigation.  I was honored to give back to the WBAI by serving as a member of the Hooten Committee.

What do you think is the best way to empower women in law? Tell us about a story or time when being a female attorney was advantageous.
The best way to empower women in law is to champion them. It can be a challenge to even think about what one wants or needs. We support each other best when we acknowledge those challenges and ask how we can help.  Currently, when I meet with my Division for their regular one-on-one meetings we have an explicit discussion as to their wishes, hopes, and dreams. It’s when we uplift the wishes, hopes, and dreams of women in law that we all advance.

One experience I attribute to being a woman and an attorney occurred several years ago, when I was the guest of past president Eugena Whitson-Owen, at a Women Employed screening of a documentary on Anita Hill. I met an awe-inspiring attorney at that event. Her name is Lydia Bueschel.  We connected.  We laughed. We shared our wishes, hopes, and dreams. They weren’t directly focused on ourselves or our practices. We wanted to do more for women attorneys. We brainstormed and eventually gathered a group. The group met regularly over a period of a few months and that led to more incredible connections and relationships with women who were able to discuss their wishes, hopes, and dreams in a space where they would be championed. Lydia went on to co-found the women-owned law firm Valentine Austriaco & Bueschel, P.C. Others in the group went on to become law partners at large law firms, professors at top-ranked law schools, and general counsel for universities as well as Fortune 500 companies.

What are you most looking forward to in the following year, personally/professionally?
Last year I was the first woman of color to ever run for Illinois State Bar Association’s (ISBA) Third Vice-President.  That historic run cracked a ceiling. I traveled throughout the state, talking to members, many of them women in rural communities and many of them wise women who fueled my run as they became lawyers and active members of the ISBA over forty years ago. It was amazing to have women practitioners, all ages, all practice areas, and geography supporting me. I went on to become the  ISBA Secretary of the Board of Governors.

I look forward to more shattered ceilings. We have an accomplished lawyer and woman as Vice-President of the United States of America. I anticipate shattered glass everywhere as we persist.

Tell us something interesting about you.
Prior to becoming an attorney, I gained over ten years of management experience as Executive Director at several not-for-profit organizations, with a focus on homeless and disenfranchised women and children throughout Chicagoland. In addition to managing a Division at the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, I also teach Advocacy and Appellate Advocacy at The UIC John Marshall Law School.

Additionally, I am a Master Gardener.  I had to pass a test with quite a bit of chemistry and botany to achieve the title in addition to completing over sixty hours of volunteer work.  I declared at the conclusion of the Bar exam that I wouldn’t take another test. I am glad I changed my mind. It wasn’t until I completed the program that I realized why so many Master Gardeners were retired, not working full-time as lawyers. This time of year, I start planting leafy green vegetables and earnestly considering how I will plant more varieties of tomato, peppers, and eggplant than I did last year.

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