Celebrating extraordinary service

In a school known for turning out graduates who pay it forward, these individuals stand out as particularly strong symbols of service. Here are the recipients of the 2021 Loyola University Chicago School of Law alumni awards, which were presented at the Reunion and Alumni Awards Dinner on Saturday, October 23, 2021.

Michael Alkaraki (JD ’06)
St. Robert Bellarmine Award

The St. Robert Bellarmine Award recognizes a graduate who earned a JD within the past 15 years for distinguished service to the community, to the legal profession, and to the School of Law.

Classmates and colleagues who nominated Michael Alkaraki (JD ’06) for the St. Robert Bellarmine Award stress his significant career accomplishments—but they also note how generously he shares his experience with junior attorneys and attorneys-to-be.

“Mike is an excellent teacher, mentor, and role model for Loyola students,” says Pete Hoste (JD ’97). “He loves helping younger attorneys reach their full potential,” says Drew Vaughn (JD ’06). Jerry Latherow (JD ’76) says, “Michael is a great example to law students, younger attorneys, and even attorneys who are older of how to practice law, comport himself on a personal level, and give back to Loyola.”

A trial lawyer at Leahy Hoste Alkaraki, Alkaraki has recovered more than $50 million for plaintiffs he represents in matters of catastrophic personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, and wrongful death.

Alkaraki serves in leadership roles in several bar associations and on the board of directors of Opportunity Knocks, a local notfor- profit addressing the needs of young adults with developmental disabilities. He also participates in Wills for Heroes, an initiative that provides free estate planning to first responders and veterans. “Mike also plays a mean electric guitar,” says Hoste. Alkaraki regularly performs at local venues with Chicago blues legend Mary Lane and has even played on stage with Buddy Guy.

Alkaraki’s contributions to the law school are numerous: He’s a member of the Law Alumni Board of Governors and Dean’s Diversity Council, serves as a judge in trial competitions, and shares professional insights as a panel speaker. As an adjunct professor, Alkaraki teaches courses in legal writing, trial practice, and professional identity formation. The willingness to give back, he says, “is built into the infrastructure of the school. By design, a Loyola law education prepares you to recognize you’re part of the school’s community and broader legal community. Loyola’s great at keeping people engaged in all the ways they want to be.”

An emphasis on building and keeping connections runs through all of Alkaraki’s activities. “This profession is one in which relationships are emphasized,” he says. “Especially in an adversarial situation, the way you work, your professionalism and civility, matter. Those relationships matter. It’s easier to be on a case with good lawyers, and I try to be one. As everyone says, the world is round. You’re going to work with those same attorneys again.” The Bellarmine Award “means a lot to me,” Alkaraki says. “I’m very proud to be associated with Loyola.”

Michael J. Kaufman
Medal of Excellence

The Medal of Excellence honors a member of the School of Law community who exhibits the qualities of character, intellect, and social and professional responsibility that the School of Law fosters.

“Any time you choose just one approach to learning, you’re going to miss reaching the majority of students,” says Michael J. Kaufman, former School of Law professor and dean, explaining why he is so proud of his colleagues who, even in the midst of remote learning in the pandemic, have incorporated more active, participatory learning approaches including team projects, collaborative exercises, experiential learning, and immersion courses.

In this new, more effective learning environment, relationships are still the key. “We know from neuroscience and educational psychology research that people learn in the context of relationships—at the law school, that means peers, faculty members, administration, staff, and alumni,” Kaufman says. “The learning culture is critical, and Loyola is a community in which people are encouraged to develop meaningful relationships from which knowledge, values, and skills are constructed.”

Understanding and responding to the diverse ways people learn has been at the heart of Kaufman’s wide-ranging professional pursuits. He led a large board of education in the Chicago area and is a highly respected scholar in the area of pedagogy at all levels of education, including early childhood. Kaufman’s casebook, Education Law, Policy, and Practice (Aspen, 5th ed. 2021) is a leading text in both law school and graduate school classes.

During his years at Loyola, Kaufman put his research into practice, founding the Education Law and Policy Institute, which conducts conferences, academic programs, direct representation, and advocacy to enhance educational access and equity. Kaufman helped to create the innovative Weekend JD program and to expand the school’s Master of Jurisprudence programs for nonlawyers. Recognizing the centrality of interpersonal skills to professional success, ethical conduct, and the act of learning itself, he ensured that students learn engaged listening, interviewing, and counseling.

As dean, Kaufman garnered many other notable accomplishments: He led the law school in instituting concrete actions to expand equity and seek racial justice; increased the diversity and academic credentials of incoming students; improved bar passage and employment outcomes for graduates; served as the head of the University’s strategic planning team; strengthened alumni outreach; and continued to publish his research in other areas of interest: securities regulation and litigation, civil procedure, and jurisprudence.

Through it all, he continued to teach, considering his one-on-one connections with students invaluable and his time in the classroom “the best part of my week.”

“The law school has excelled and thrived under Dean Kaufman’s dedicated and passionate leadership,” says Freddi Greenberg (JD ’75), president of the Law Alumni Board of Governors. “His warmth, respect, and generosity to the law school community, and beyond, exemplifies the qualities that the law school hopes to develop in its students.”

“I am moved to tears and overwhelmed with gratitude,” Kaufman says of being selected to receive the Medal of Excellence. “To be included among my true heroes who have received this honor in the past brings me tremendous joy, humility, and fulfillment. I will be forever grateful for the love and support of my dear Loyola friends.”

On July 1, Kaufman became dean of Santa Clara University School of Law. See "A legacy of empathy and excellence.”

Chlece Walker-Neal-Murray (MSW/JD ’13, MS ’18)
Public Service Merit Award

The Public Service Merit Award recognizes a graduate who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to public service and social justice.

Chlece Walker-Neal-Murray (MSW/JD ’13, MS ’18) knew at age 5 that she wanted to go to law school. Her rich educational journey extends far beyond her dual Loyola degree in law and social work: She also holds a Loyola MS degree in software engineering and, feeding her growing interest in policy, is pursuing a PhD in social work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The threads of her wide-ranging education combine to inform Walker- Neal-Murray’s work as cofounder and executive director of Chicago Advocate Legal. This nonprofit firm offers legal services on a sliding scale to help close the gap for clients who don’t qualify for legal aid but cannot afford typical attorneys’ fees. Walker- Neal-Murray manages 28 to 38 cases a month, mostly in family, child, and probate law, and frequently hires Loyola students as externs.

“Loyola opened its doors to me and gave me a little bit of money to help along the way,” she says of her time at the law school. “I was pretty shy then, and my professors worked hard to develop my confidence. I became not just the lawyer, but the person, I hoped to be. So now I try to help other students.”

“Chlece brings a holistic and clientdriven approach to every aspect of her work,” says nominator Katherine Kaufka Walts, director of Loyola’s Center for the Human Rights of Children, where Walker-Neal-Murray works as a research assistant on child trafficking issues. “She has a profound sensitivity to how the process, systems, and language of the law interact with the people— often at the margins—she serves. She’s deeply committed to social justice and is living out the mission of Loyola.”

Walker-Neal-Murray is also a Loyola adjunct professor, teaching a course on U.S. legal systems in the MJ in Children’s Law and Policy program. After she completes her doctorate, she hopes to reduce her practice hours and focus on ways that specialty courts or diversion programs might more effectively address socioeconomic challenges affecting individuals in family court.

She says she felt “surprised, grateful, and validated” when she learned she’d been selected for the Public Service Merit Award. “When you strike out and do something new that may go against the grain of how things have been done in the legal world, it helps to know that not only is your work having an impact on clients, but also that others in the legal community are encouraging it,” she says. “Loyola’s always been very supportive of the things I’ve done.”

Zachary Ziliak (JD ’06)
Francis J. Rooney/St. Thomas More Award

The Francis J. Rooney/St. Thomas More Award recognizes continuous, outstanding loyalty and dedicated service to the School of Law.

Zachary Ziliak (JD ’06) didn’t expect to build a career in the law— even when he decided to go to law school. A Rhodes Scholar with six college and graduate degrees, Ziliak worked for years in math, finance, and trading before attending the School of Law. “I wanted a job I could enjoy that would make a valuable contribution to the world, and I thought about going into education or government,” he says. “Law school seemed like a good path to one of those.”

After graduating first in his class and clerking for Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Ziliak delved into both litigation and transactional law for financial industry clients at the Chicago office of Mayer Brown.

In 2013, he opened Ziliak Law, a firm built on his roots in the trading industry, to offer a broad range of services to clients in finance, entertainment, and media. Much of the firm’s work is related to blockchain and cryptocurrency issues.

“Any new venture is a hypothesis, and mine in building this firm was that clients would want lawyers who understand their business, who’d sit beside them as partners,” Ziliak says. “I wanted to build a place that welcomed attorneys with nontraditional backgrounds, people who had worked in the industries we’re serving. We’re sometimes too quick to think that by age 25 you’re locked into your life’s work. I don’t mind hiring people who graduated law school in their 40s, studied law in another country, or only want to practice for a few years.”

Many of those employees come from Loyola. Assistant Dean for Career Services Marianne Deagle, who nominated Ziliak for the award, says that Ziliak is not only generous in hiring Loyola law students and alumni, “He speaks regularly with our students to share his nontraditional legal education course.”

Ziliak says it’s “a great honor” to receive the Francis J. Rooney/ St. Thomas More Award. “My association with Loyola has been instrumental in my career,” he says, “and I look forward to continue building on that.”—Gail Mansfield


Whether you’re interested in compliance or child law, health care or litigation, or public interest or intellectual property, the Loyola law community will support and challenge you during your legal education—and beyond.  Ready to get to know us more? We’ve outlined a few short steps for you.  Let's get started


Learn how our alumni, faculty, and students drive social change and push for justice. Read the above features from Loyola Law magazine.