Nancy Langert’s murder spurred Jeanne Bishop to grapple not only with Christian forgiveness but also with her vocation. In 1990, the then-29-year-old was a corporate attorney in Chicago.

“I was doing the job out of fear and pride, really—fear of not having enough money, pride in working for the big fancy law firm,” Bishop told CT. “I realized that God gave me this gift of life, and I was squandering it.

“I needed to do the things God gave me this life for: to serve others and not myself.”

Within a year of her sister’s death, Bishop quit her job to become a Cook County public defender. Today, the Yale Law School graduate advocates for Chicagoans who can’t afford a trial lawyer, representing thousands accused of everything from petty theft to murder.

Before Bishop and her clients meet—typically in the lockup of a courthouse—the defendants have been handcuffed, arrested, and put in a cell. They will “be wearing a uniform they did not choose, shoes that may not fit,” said Bishop. They have a number written in marker on their arms, so “they’re not called out by name. They’re called out, ‘Number 24!’”

The majority of Bishop’s clients opt for a plea deal instead of a trial. But before Bishop offers counsel, she asks them for the truth.

“I want to be the smartest person in the room when I stand in front of the judge,” she said. “If I don’t know what really happened, then I’m not the smartest person in the room. I want to know everything so I can investigate every possible avenue of defense.”

Bishop also uses all the details of the crime to teach her clients. ...

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