CBA Record Sept-Oct 2019
PRO BONOWEEK 2019 – CONNECTINGWITH COMMUNITIES
where community members can walk in and be seen immediately by volunteer attorneys from law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, bar associations, or solo practices. With guidance from legal aid staff members and attorneys, the volunteer attorneys interview clients and advise them on their legal options and next steps. Depending on the case, it may be considered for ongoing representation by either the volunteer attorney, the legal aid organization, or both. The theme of Pro Bono Week 2019 is “Pro Bono: Connecting with Communi- ties.” Ms. Martin’s experience exemplifies how legal aid and pro bono partnerships enhance our collective ability to serve our clients and their communities. We, as lawyers, have a responsibility to ensure our justice system works for everyone, regard- less of their ability to pay for an attorney. And we have a responsibility to consider, and be accessible to, serving clients directly in their communities. Bridging the Gap Many clients have logistical and physical barriers to traveling downtown to meet with a lawyer. Travel times to the Loop can be significant. The cost of parking can be prohibitive, and waiting for and taking public transit is simply not an option for some clients who have disabilities, restric- tive work schedules, or child care chal- lenges. For some, venturing downtown is simply daunting, and yet another hurdle to connecting with the legal help they need. The ability to meet in person, in their community, and in a comfortable place and space, can be the essential first step to connecting with legal help. Legal aid organizations, and the volun- teer attorneys who work with them, help to bridge this gap. Though many legal aid organizations are headquartered in down- town Chicago, they collectively have over 100 outposts throughout Cook County. From Rolling Meadows and Rogers Park toMarkham, North Lawndale, Austin, and everywhere in between, legal aid organiza-
Piper were able to help this family navigate the court process in record time. Although they could not diminish the children’s grief, Annie and Erica’s diligence, hard work, and compassion made a huge difference in the lives of the children and their caregivers. No longer facing uncertainty, the court’s ruling allowed the children to be secure in a home with their loving aunt who was able to make parental decisions to ensure that the children’s needs were met during a difficult time. The Woodlawn Legal Clinic is one of nearly 50 community-based legal clinics operating on a recurring basis in neighbor- hoods throughout Chicago. Each clinic works in partnership with a community- based organization such as a school, social service center, or church, and offers a place
tions have a wide reach into the communi- ties where their clients live and work. These community-based clinics and help desks, and the legal aid organizations with neigh- borhood offices, are critically important to ensuring all community members have true access to the legal services they need. And it cannot be done without pro bono help. For example, the Center for Disability and Elder Law operates 10 senior legal assistance clinics throughout Chicago and suburban Cook County. “We could not have such a large presence in the com- munity without our pro bono partners.” says Caroline Manley, Executive Director. Margaret C. Benson, Executive Director of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, agrees with that sentiment; CVLS operates 25 community based legal clinics, all of which are fully staffed by volunteer attorneys. “Organized pro bono started in 1964 when a group of young attorneys began meeting with low-income clients in neighborhood churches. By 1970, scores of attorneys were meeting clients in com- munity centers. Today, although thousands of lawyers volunteer their services all over Chicago and pro bono has grown beyond the neighborhoods, its heart will always belong to the community,” said Margaret. Imagine Ms. Martin, an older adult, facing the impending loss of her daughter, and the challenge of caring for her grand- children, having to navigate the complexi- ties of the Loop to meet with an attorney. That could have been just the obstacle that prevented her from reaching the help she needed. Thankfully, she only had to travel a short distance to meet with Annie and Erica. Her connection with them in a welcoming community setting, and the ultimate services they provided, set the stage to create stability and certainty for her grandchildren. Stories like Ms. Martin’s show the impact that pro bono attorneys can have when they work directly in the communities to serve clients in need.
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Kate Shank is the Deputy Director of Legal Aid Chicago.
CBA RECORD 21
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