UIC Law alumnus makes history in new role as Illinois House speaker

Illinois House speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, 1997 UIC John Mars
Illinois House speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, 1997 UIC John Marshall Law School alumnus.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a 1997 UIC John Marshall Law School alumnus, was elected Jan. 13 as the new Illinois House speaker, becoming the first Black legislator in the state’s history to hold the leadership post.

Since 2013, he has represented the 7th District of Illinois, which covers several western suburbs of Chicago, including his hometown of Hillside.

During an acceptance speech delivered at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield, he called for political and racial unity.

“Today will be the last time I talk about us as Democrats or Republicans because I want to talk about us being united. We’re going to work together to move this state forward,” said Welch, who replaces Michael Madigan, whose speakership spanned almost 40 years.

Welch joined State Sen. Michael Hastings, a 2014 alumnus, for a September 2019 event at John Marshall Law School to address students about their careers, experiences at the school and opportunities in government available to law students.

“I was that kid that always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was in grade school, in high school and in college, I was always involved in student government, so I would say my love of law and politics kind of grew together,” he said. “I feel like I’m living my best life because I get to practice law at a great law firm here in downtown Chicago and get to serve my district that I grew up in in the Illinois legislature and I think the two careers marry each other very well.”

He currently is a partner with Ancel Glink, a local government law firm. From 2007 to 2018, he was a partner at Sanchez, Daniels and Hoffman, LLP, where he represented local school districts and municipalities. For his work in school, education and civil rights law, he has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and one of Chicago’s Leading Lawyers.

Welch admits that working during the day and going to law school at night was tough, but he would do it again “in a heartbeat.”

“I have never ever had to apply for a job. I’ve always been approached and recruited for the job, and I like to think that’s because of my John Marshall Law degree in my educational background and the reputation that I built out there in the workforce,” he said at the 2019 event.

Welch, a 2016 John Marshall Hall of Distinction inductee, is the third UIC Law alumnus to become Illinois House speaker. Jack Walker, a 1940 alumnus, was speaker in 1969, and Lee Daniels, a 1967 alumnus, held the speakership from 1995 to 1997.

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