It was a tough case, and Elizabeth S. Lenivy knew it would take a lot of digging. But eventually she got her client, who was facing five felony charges, a plea arrangement for only seven years in jail.
He could have served three decades behind bars.
“His girlfriend had given birth to his child while he was in jail,” said Lenivy. “He’d never gotten to hold his baby. We’re hoping that once he gets out of jail with that child, he’s going to turn his life around and that child will still be young enough [to] get to spend time with their dad.”
The matter was just one of many pro bono efforts undertaken by Lenivy, a Saint Louis University School of Law graduate whose practice focuses on plaintiff’s cases for The Simon Law Firm in St. Louis.
Lenivy said she enjoys her paid work as much as her pro bono cases.
“Obviously the subject matter is difficult to deal with, but I feel like I truly get to make a difference in people’s lives, as hokey as it may sound — especially if they’ve been hurt by someone they felt they could trust, like a doctor,” said Lenivy, a native of Troy, Illinois. “Being able to step in, advocate for that person and try and get them some form of compensation for their injuries, especially lifelong injuries — that’s incredibly rewarding.”
The daughter of a police officer, Lenivy said she originally intended to be a prosecutor. She was inspired to pursue a legal career from watching TV shows which fascinated her with portrayals of the criminal justice system. She became the first person on her father’s side of the family to graduate from college.
But in law school, Lenivy found that she had an affinity for work with torts more than criminal complaints. She also did a summer internship working with lower-income clients, often survivors of domestic violence, that would fuel her passion for pro bono matters.
She said she feels lucky to be working at a firm where giving time to others is considered a priority.
“Obviously, we’re all encouraged to do pro bono, but I feel like the culture of the firm and what John Simon has promoted is that it is really our responsibility as attorneys,” said Lenivy, who also is active on the pro bono committee for the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis.
She volunteers for both Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and the Missouri Coalition for the Right to Counsel, which helps to relieve the caseload on public defenders. She also talks to high school students about the importance of jury trials.
Lenivy has been previously honored by Missouri Lawyers Media as both an Up & Coming Lawyer and an Influential Appellate Advocate.
“She is a true advocate for those she represents,” writes one of Lenivy’s nominators who noted her “maturity, dedication and grace under pressure” among other qualities. “Liz takes time to counsel, listen and guide her clients who are often faced with desperate needs.”