By Skyler Aikerson
When the Illinois state government experienced a temporary shutdown in 2016, Daniel Egel-Weiss (ΦBK, George Washington University) needed to make a short-term shift to a different job. He loved listening to people—it was a key part of his work as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Majority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives—so he took that love to Uber, where he worked as a driver for three years.
“It was amazing because you’d meet people from all over the world who were visiting Chicago and other Chicagoans. You’d get to see every part of the city, and you’d have the most interesting conversations,” he said. “I think there’s something about being in a car that brings out an openness in people to just talk about their lives.”
It’s no surprise that Egel-Weiss has a dedication to helping others. Whether through his legal work or time in politics, the recent Harvard Law School graduate has made it his focus to listen to, assist, and elevate the needs of those he serves, be they law students or Chicagoans who need a ride.
Egel-Weiss got his start in politics as a teenager, working in Chicago’s City Hall. His interest in policy led him to George Washington University, where he studied political science and minored in sociology, ultimately landing a job as Chief of Staff to Sara Feigenholtz, who was then Assistant Majority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives and is now a State Senator for Illinois. In between drafting and revising legislation, Egel-Weiss also took calls from constituents who were having problems with different state agencies and would help direct them to the resources they needed. “You could actually see what you were doing in the community,” he said. “I found it to be very, very fulfilling.”
It was while working in Illinois government that he realized he was interested in law. “I thought, ‘If we’re writing laws, I should probably understand how lawyers and judges interpret what we’re doing.’ And so it became more clear that being a lawyer was the natural next step that I should take,” Egel-Weiss said.
This realization led him to Harvard Law School, where he graduated in May 2020 with his Juris Doctor. While there he served as Student Body Co-President, where he helped secure free bar exam study programs for students going into public interest; increased access to legal opportunities for first-generation and low-income law students; and helped students find housing, get PPE, and make the transition to online learning at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “There continue to be countless issues of equity, fairness, and well-being in higher education—and especially in law school—that need to be addressed, so I was honored to have the opportunity to lend my voice to these issues and solve problems for my community,” he said.
Egel-Weiss’ commitment to equity and care for others shows in his legal philosophy: making the law more accessible and understandable, especially for those outside of a law school classroom. “If we’re going to have a legal system that applies to everyone, which automatically does, we should make it useful to everyone,” he said. “That is a very, very hard initiative to even start pushing, but every day I’m more convinced that it’s necessary, because we see so much injustice. And there’s a lot of injustice that happens because people simply don’t know their rights.”
The value of a liberal arts education, according to Egel-Weiss, is in how it can apply to so many professions. “A liberal arts education allows you to be creative, no matter what field you go into. It is not a limiting factor; it can only expand your horizons,” he said. “It’s a wonderful foundation. You can go into business, law, government—any one of them is well suited to a liberal arts education.”
For Egel-Weiss, being a member of Phi Beta Kappa is an honor. He is deeply involved with the Society and said that he is rejoining the board of the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area next year. “I really took my undergraduate studies quite seriously, and to be recognized as a member of Phi Beta Kappa after graduating was a surprise and something that I take very seriously and something I’m very proud of,” he said. “My mother instilled in me a value for a lifelong love of learning. Being a member of Phi Beta Kappa allows me to continually learn.”
Skyler Aikerson earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Goucher College, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2020. Goucher College is home to the Beta of Maryland chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.