Rachel Zemke

  • Hosted by Legal Aid Chicago
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school University of Chicago Law School
  • Issue area Consumer Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2016
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Rachel represented survivors of domestic violence in their consumer legal issues, including debt-collection defense, foreclosure, and credit reporting issues, with a focus on clearing credit and protecting income.

Consumer debt, identity theft, and bad credit pose a significant threat to the possibility of a safe and stable future for survivors of domestic violence. Legal representation in consumer cases directly addresses these issues. Defending a debt-collection action protects a survivor’s wages from garnishment. Applying for a loan modification and defending against a foreclosure keeps a family housed during divorce and separation. Disputing invalid debts on credit reports helps to clear a survivor’s credit history and open up options for stable housing. Most importantly, providing information and advice on financial issues puts the power back in a survivor’s hands.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Rachel has:

  • Defended against foreclosures on marital homes during divorces
  • Represented clients in debt-collection lawsuits to protect clients’ income from garnishment
  • Disputed accounts that were the product of identity theft by former partners to wipe away thousands of dollars of debt
  • Created a monthly help desk at a local domestic violence service organization to provide hour-long consultations on consumer issues for their clients
  • Presented to service providers and client communities on the facts of debt-collection to help clients prioritize their debts and bills
  • Advised clients on their financial options during separation and divorce from abusive partners regarding marital debt and assets

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Rachel plans to:

  • Continue representing survivors of domestic violence in their civil legal needs at LAF, including in foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, identity theft, and debt-collection defense
  • Work on materials to help legal aid lawyers who work with survivors of domestic violence understand the connection between economic justice and gender equity
  • Investigate and pursue a “coerced-debt” defense to collection actions


20 in their 20s

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