Fifth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Pledge
This pledge reflects the principle that members of the legal profession have an obligation to provide legal services to those who are under-represented in or lack access to the legal system. The preamble to the Supreme Court of Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
It is the responsibility of those licensed as officers of the court to use their training, experience and skills to provide services in the public interest for which compensation may not be available. An individual lawyer’s efforts in these areas is evidence of the lawyer’s good character and fitness to practice law.
In Illinois, 14.7% of people live below 100% of the federal poverty level, and an additional 17.6% are near poverty. This is a total of over 4 million people. Within the Fifth Judicial Circuit, 32,425 people are living below the federal poverty level, which is 19% of the total population. Three of the counties – Edgar (17%), Vermilion (18.9%), and Coles (22.9%) – have a poverty population higher than the state average of 14.7%. Yet, there are only approximately 350 full-time legal aid attorney across Illinois. Despite this drastic need and the limited resources, in 2012, legal aid funding was cut by the state twenty percent and federal funding cut fifteen percent, resulting is decreased service for low-income people in legal crisis. Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation is the local legal aid organization providing free civil legal services to the poor in the Fifth Judicial Circuit. The rapidly growing gap between the legal needs of those who cannot afford legal services and the resources available to meet the needs must be bridged, and pro bono attorneys are extremely necessary to close that gap.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f) defines pro bono as “legal services to persons of limited means; legal services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters designed to address the needs of persons of limited means; legal services to charitable, religious, civic or community organizations in furtherance of their organizational purpose; or training intended to benefit legal aid organizations or lawyers who provide pro bono services.” In recognition of the responsibility of all members of the legal profession – from corporate lawyers to law firm lawyers to solo practitioners to legal staff – to increase access to our legal system, we are asking law firms and corporate legal departments to pledge the following:
- To encourage their attorneys and legal staff to provide pro bono legal services and in doing so provide an environment which is hospitable to the rendition of such services;
- To designate a primary pro bono point of contact within the firm or corporate legal department;
- To consider adopting a written pro bono policy; and
- To recognize attorneys and legal staff who participate in pro bono services, as appropriate.
In addition to signing the pledge, law firms and corporations can sign on to the optional Abraham Lincoln Commitment, wherein signatories pledge to support the four tenets of the Pledge, and also to annually provide either 10 hours of pro bono legal assistance or a donation of $250 to support legal aid. The Abraham Lincoln Commitment was modeled on the Coles-Cumberland Bar Association’s Pro Bono Project. As such the numerous attorneys in Coles and Cumberland County who have committed to this level of service automatically qualify for the Abraham Lincoln Commitment. By incorporating this additional level of commitment into the Pro Bono Pledge, the Committee hopes to expand it to Clark, Edgar and Vermillion Counties, the other three counties that constitute the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Illinois.
If you wish to take the pledge, fill out the form below. Please direct any questions to:
Fifth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee
c/o Angelica W. Wawrzynek, Chair
Tapella & Eberspacher LLC
6009 Park Drive
Charleston, IL 61920