Matthew Hulstein
Supervising attorney, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Chicago, Illinois
Matthew Hulstein


In addition to being cast in a variety of Northwestern theatre roles, Matthew also participated in the Chicago Semester, interning with the organization where he’s now employed. As a law student at the University of Iowa, he gained experience with the Circuit Court, the Public Defender, Iowa Legal Aid, and the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. Upon graduating, he earned “Highest Service Honors” for volunteering more pro bono hours than any other member of his class. As an attorney in Chicago, he works with a team that provides legal services to people who can’t afford private counsel. In 2013 he was awarded the Chicago Bar Foundation Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship for “extraordinary efforts and accomplishments advocating for low-income individuals and families,” and he was named one of the Chicago Semester's distinguished alumni in 2021.

In what ways did you find theatre and writing degrees to be good preparation for law school and a career as an attorney?

I was very conflicted about whether I wanted to pursue theatre or law, but eventually I realized (with the help of some wonderful mentors in Northwestern’s theatre department) that my true passion was justice. I knew I wanted to be an advocate of some kind; an advocate is someone who aids the disadvantaged in telling their stories, and telling stories is what theatre and writing do best! Theatre also helps you think in terms of narrative. The law and a person’s legal troubles are not isolated or static; they beg for context and they evolve. The most effective lawyers explain the law and their cases as compelling stories. Finally (even though this is somewhat of a cliché), the courtroom really is like a stage.

How did your undergraduate preparation compare to your law school peers?

I was well prepared academically. Northwestern places a high value on critical thinking and quality writing: both essential skills for law school and practice. (I was concerned that I didn’t take enough law classes as an undergraduate, but my adviser assured me I could learn the law in law school, and that was absolutely true.) The best way Northwestern prepared me was by helping me understand who I am and the purpose of my career. Law school and the legal profession are very hierarchical and adversarial. If you’re not careful, you can get caught up in the rat race and lose sight of why you went into law in the first place. My Northwestern foundation keeps me clear-sighted and focused on what counts: serving my clients selflessly and well.

How valuable was your Chicago Semester internship?

That internship—at the same organization I’m working at now—gave me real legal experience my peers didn’t have. I know it strengthened my applications to law school and my first legal jobs.

Are you still involved with theatre?

Chicago is a great theatre town. Several of my friends (who also graduated from Northwestern) are doing theatre here. My wife and I love to go to their shows.

What do you appreciate most about your Northwestern education?

One of my theatre professors often reminded us students that all truth is God’s truth. God is sovereign over all, which gives us the freedom to question, challenge and explore. Northwestern doesn’t give students a canned worldview; we’re encouraged to better understand the world in all its beauty and brokenness through the lens of the gospel. We’re also invited to consider our place in God’s redemptive work. Northwestern students aren’t passive; we engage the world.