Seeking Volunteer Attorneys for New Appellate Pro Bono Opportunity

Self-represented litigants in the Illinois Appellate Court face many unique challenges without adequate resources to help them through the appeals process. A new pro bono opportunity, Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals, is now providing them with more legal assistance. Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals was developed in partnership with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, the American Bar Association and the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI).

“The creation of a statewide virtual help desk for civil appeals is a vital and timely resource. This initiative will not only fill a much-needed gap in appellate resources and assistance for SRLs, it will also help lessen some of the barriers they face in understanding the requirements necessary to complete their appeal,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said.

This is the first-ever legal help desk for civil appeals in Illinois and will allow self-represented litigants to submit questions about their appeal through the Illinois Free Legal Answers platform for which PILI is the state administrator. The program was created to address the pressing need to provide assistance to self-represented litigants, who account for 41% of civil appeals filed in the state. Volunteer attorneys can log on to answer questions at their convenience and will remain anonymous through the online platform.

“We are proud of this partnership in developing this new and much-needed resource for self-represented Illinoisans in civil appeals,” said Michael Bergmann, Executive Director of PILI. “Thanks to the ABA, the Free Legal Answers platform is available to help those who likely have nowhere else to turn for assistance from a lawyer.”

A project of the American Bar Association, Free Legal Answers was created to increase access to advice and information about non-criminal legal matters for those who cannot afford legal assistance. It is now active in 41 jurisdictions within the United States, including Illinois. This is the first time in which the system has been adapted to include a civil appeals component, with the hope that it will be a replicable model to apply in other jurisdictions. The ABA also provides malpractice coverage to volunteer attorneys of Free Legal Answers.

“This new Illinois appellate initiative expands into a new legal arena the free and affordable civil legal services developed through ABA Free Legal Services,” said ABA President Patricia Lee Refo. “The ABA is delighted to work with our partners in Illinois to incorporate a civil appeals component that will provide assistance to additional persons, and we encourage others to consider this model.”

Clients must meet financial eligibility guidelines, not be currently incarcerated, and not be requesting assistance with criminal appeals. Before users are allowed to request legal advice, they will be asked questions to establish eligibility.

Any lawyer who is registered as active and authorized to practice with the ARDC, including those with house counsel status, can volunteer by registering at: il.freelegalanswers.org. Retired or Inactive attorneys as well as out of state licensed attorneys can also volunteer, subject to Supreme Court Rules 756(k). For Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals, PILI is seeking attorneys with appellate experience to start answering questions. PILI has resources for volunteer attorneys and can assist in setting up clinics for groups of lawyers to volunteer.

If you are an experienced appellate lawyer, after registering, you can now start answering questions through this program by visiting il.freelegalanswers.org. You can filter for questions in the “Civil Appeals” category or sign up to receive notifications when Civil Appeal questions are asked under the “Manage Subscriptions” tab.

For more information or if you have any questions about Illinois Free Legal Answers, or if you would like to set up a virtual Illinois Free Legal Answers clinic, contact Brent Page by email or at 312-832-5128.

Introducing New Board of Directors Leadership and Members for FY2021

Newly installed President of the PILI Board of Directors, John J. Bourke, with PILI’s  Executive Director Michael G. Bergmann

PILI’s Board of Directors elected John J. Bourke for a two-year term as Board President beginning on September 1, 2020. John brings a wide range of corporate legal and business experience gained from Chicago financial institutions including The Northern Trust Company, (JPMorgan Chase predecessors) First Chicago Corporation, First Chicago NBD, Bank One and Aon. Outside of PILI, John focuses on corporate transactions in the cyber risk, security and technology space.  He has served on PILI’s board since 2010 and has been serving as Board Vice President for the last two years.

Additionally, the board elected Daniel Lange of Vedder Price to the position of Vice President, Kyle Petersen of Seyfarth Shaw to the position of Secretary, and Traci Braun of Exelon to the position of Treasurer. Sarah Bernstein of Barack Ferrazzano will serve as Immediate Past President.

The board has also elected the following new board members:

  • Perry Browder, Simmons Hanley Conroy
  • Charles Golbert, Cook County Public Guardian
  • Culyer Robinson, Charles River Associates
  • Barry Taylor, Equip for Equality
  • Judge Lisa Wilson, Tenth Judicial Cirucit

Additionally, the board elected Juan Morado Jr. of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP and Trisha M. Rich of Holland & Knight LLP each to one-year terms as a representatives from the Chicago Bar Association Board of Managers.

We are very grateful to directors Arthur Don, Federico Rodriguez, Kaarina Salovaara and Kris Swanson, whose terms ended on August 31st, for their leadership of and service to PILI.

Meet the rest of PILI’s Board of Directors »

Introducing New Alumni Council and YPB Leadership

On September 1, 2020 PILI started a new fiscal year and welcomed new officers for two of our leadership bodies.

David Scriven-Young of Pecker Abramson has been named Chair of the Alumni Network Leadership Council. He served as a PILI Graduate Fellow at the Alliance for the Great Lakes after graduating from law school. Martin Cozzola of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services has been named Chair-Elect and Marlow Svatek of Sidley Austin has been named Vice Chair. Jessica Schneider, who now works at PILI, will serve as Immediate Past President.

Themi Rush of Berkeley Research Group has been named Chair of the Young Professionals Board. Michael Whalen of Paul Hastings has been named Chair-Elect and Judy He of Haynes and Boone has been named Vice Chair. Steve Trubac of Bryan Cave will serve as Immediate Past President.

Thank you to all of our volunteers who serve on these leadership bodies to support PILI!

 

Meet the rest of PILI’s leadership »

Celebrate Pro Bono Week with PILI

Coordinated by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, Pro Bono Week is intended to inspire even greater pro bono participation by lawyers throughout the nation. In 2020, Pro Bono Week will be celebrated from October 25-31 and all of PILI’s Pro Bono Week events will be held virtually this year.

This initiative provides an opportunity for legal organizations across the country to collaboratively commemorate the vitally important contributions of America’s lawyers and to recruit and train the many additional volunteers required to meet the growing demand. The Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service undertook this initiative to provide a format for showcasing the incredible difference that pro bono lawyers make to our nation, to our system of justice, to our communities and, most of all, to the clients they serve.

If you have any questions, please contact Managing Attorney Jessica Schneider by email or by phone at 312-832-5125.

Friday, October 23

Sixth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Sixth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, to recognize the efforts of its Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and to honor its Community Legal Services Award Recipient. A video will  premiere at noon on Friday, October 23rd on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Monday, October 21st

Tenth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Tenth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, to recognize the efforts of its Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and to celebrate its Pro Bono Service Award Recipient. A video will premiere at noon on Monday, October 26th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Tuesday, October 27th

Eleventh Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, and to recognize the efforts of its  Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and local pro bono volunteers to expand and enhance access to justice in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. A video will premiere at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 27th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Third Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, to recognize the efforts of its Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and to celebrate its Pro Bono Service Award Recipient. A video will premiere at noon on Tuesday, October 27th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

PILI Legal Answers Clinic

PILI Alumni and Young Professionals Board Members will gather virtually to learn how to use Illinois Free Legal Answers and answer 1-2 questions for those in need through this discrete pro bono opportunity. This virtual event will be held from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 27th.

Wednesday, October 28th

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, and to recognize the efforts of its  Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and local pro bono volunteers to expand and enhance access to justice in the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit. A video will premiere at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 28th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week and to celebrate its Pro Bono Service Award Recipient. A video will premiere at noon on Wednesday, October 28th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Thursday, October 29th

Twentieth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Twentieth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week and recognize the commitment of local pro bono volunteers in increasing access to justice. A video will premiere at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 29th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Fifth Judicial Circuit Celebrate Pro Bono Virtual Event

The Fifth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will host this event to commemorate Pro Bono Week, to recognize the efforts of its Pro Bono Pledge Signatories and to celebrate its Pro Bono Service Award Recipient. A video will premiere at noon on Thursday, October 29th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Friday, October 30th

As we wrap up the 2020 celebration of Pro Bono Week, a closing video will premiere at noon on Friday, October 30th on PILI’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Pro Bono in a Crisis: Highlights from the 2020 Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable

On September 15th, law firm pro bono leaders met remotely for the Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable. This year, the group discussed the impact of pro bono in a crisis.

Exploring PILI’s Illinois Free Legal Answers Program

To start out, Jessica Schneider, PILI’s Managing Attorney, talked about Illinois Free Legal Answers. She explained how this had been a good pro bono opportunity during the pandemic and how firms and corporations were hosting virtual clinics to answer questions. Sara Ghadiri from Chapman and Cutler and Michael Whalen from Paul Hastings shared how their firms have volunteered with Illinois Free Legal Answers.

Responding to Today’s and Preparing for the Next Crisis

David Sudzus of Faegre Drinker talked with the group about pro bono during a crisis. He discussed how there were fears around pro bono and job security. He offered that flexibility around pro bono could help combat some of the fears and that it is a good idea to have strong alliances with legal aid agencies already in place to lean on during a crisis. He also emphasized the need for self care, and the group discussed how to approach pro bono and build strong programs to withstand crises.

Balancing the Desire for Systemic Change with the Everyday Needs of Legal Aid Clients

Rachel Jennings of Neal Gerber discussed how pro bono professionals within law firms are often driving systemic change within the firm since they are leading the charge in pro bono. The group discussed how the initiatives that pro bono leaders care about are typically are the ones that the firms take on. Attendees agreed that their partners in legal aid were leading the charge for systemic change but the best way for law firms to make an impact may be to support them from beside and behind. Attendees also discussed the importance to strategically plan for your pro bono program, just as you would plan strategically firm-wide.

Overcoming Challenges of Remote Pro Bono Service

Shehnaz Mensuri of Mayer Brown explained the obstacles pro bono leaders had faced by moving to virtual programs. The group discussed how trainings have shifted as well as pro bono opportunities. Attendees discussed how they had been able to replicate clinics and other pro bono projects in the virtual space. The group discussed how there had been some surprising positive outcomes from this and how some projects might do well with a hybrid virtual and in-person model going forward.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Law Firm Pro Bono Roundtable. We look forward to seeing everyone at our Illinois Forum on Pro Bono on November 18th, which will bring together pro bono leaders from law firms, corporations, agencies and law schools.

View more resources for agencies »

Learn more about PILI’s Roundtables and Forums »

PILI Receives Renewed Foundation Support for Our Internship & Pro Bono Programs

This past summer, PILI received renewed funding from several longtime funders in support of its Law Student Internship Program. These funders included the Chicago Bar Foundation, the LAGBAC Foundation, the Illinois State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the Polk Bros. Foundation. We are thankful for these steadfast supporters of PILI’s Law Student Internship Program.

PILI is grateful to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation for their renewed grant to support PILI’s ongoing participation in the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN). IL-AFLAN provides civil legal services across Illinois to veterans, active duty military, their spouses and dependents. Through IL-AFLAN, PILI is responsible for accepting referrals through the Network and placing them with pro bono attorneys in 101 counties in Illinois, excluding Cook County. PILI recruits volunteer attorneys, provides training and support, and offers malpractice coverage.

PILI received renewed funding from the Illinois Bar Foundation to support its role as the state administrator for Illinois Free Legal Answers. The Illinois Bar Foundation has been the primary funder of Illinois Free Legal Answers since its inception in the state, and this renewed funding coincides with PILI’s second year as the state administrator. PILI is incredibly grateful to the Illinois Bar Foundation for its longstanding and generous support of PILI.

Thank you to these and all of our supporters!

Virtual Arcade for Legal Aid a Great Success

On August 25th, PILI’s Young Professionals Board hosted its Arcade for Legal Aid fundraiser. Originally planned for April, the event had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but thanks to the creativity and hard work of our YPB, the event was reimagined as a virtual gathering. Thanks to the leadership and hard work of our YPB members this event brought in more support for PILI than ever before. And, an enormous THANK YOU to all of the generous sponsors of this year’s event who stuck with us in these challenging times!

PILI’s Young Professionals Board is a group dedicated to empowering PILI through fundraising and by serving as PILI’s ambassadors in their communities. If you would like additional information about this event or the Young Professionals Board, please contact Development Manager Sang Yup Lee by email or by phone at 312-832-5130.

Guest Post: Partnering to Help Those in Need During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Colleen Boraca, Clinical Associate Professor, Northern Illinois University College of Law. Colleen recently had to take her law school pro bono clinics virtual due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. She writes about that experience and the role PILI and Illinois Free Legal Answers played.

Each semester and summer, law students at Northern Illinois University College of Law gain valuable, hands-on experience working with clients at one of three legal clinics. Located in Rockford, the Civil Justice Clinic is directed by Professor Wendy Vaughn and the Criminal Defense Clinic is supervised by Professor Paul Cain. I direct the Health Advocacy Clinic which is onsite in Aurora at Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. On typical days in all our clinics, licensed law students represent clients and conduct lawyerly duties such as interviewing clients for Social Security cases, advocating for clients in need of orders of protection, appearing in front of judges on behalf of clients charged with misdemeanors, preparing wills and other legal documents, collaborating with physicians and other professionals, and making a difference in the lives of those impacted by poverty.

Since mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented these typical days. Professors Vaughn, Cain and I had difficult questions to answer. How could we continue to provide law students with real client experiences? How could we make a difference for clients experiencing legal problems as a result of COVID-19?  How could we accomplish these goals while creating a virtual law firm entirely online?

In response, the NIU College of Law COVID-19 Legal Response Clinic was developed. For the summer session, 17 students participated. They took part in weekly virtual office hours and supervision sessions with one of the three clinical professors. The students provided legal advice and referrals to clients via the phone under professor supervision. They addressed a variety of legal matters including SNAP, Medicaid, child custody, divorce, expungement, unemployment, domestic violence and stalking no contact orders of protection, juvenile court abuse and neglect, guardianship of minors, wills, victim economic security and safety act. In seven weeks, approximately 100 people throughout Illinois contacted NIU’s COVID-19 Clinic for help.

Students also participated in a biweekly online seminar class. Some of the classes focused on skills-based development including interviewing, fact investigation and theory of the case. These skills will transfer with our students no matter what area of law they practice. Other seminar classes examined some of the legal issues highlighted by the pandemic and their impact on people living in poverty. These topics included low-wage workers, expungements, domestic violence and public benefits. We knew that the clinic work would be emotionally difficult for students. A professor from NIU’s Department of Psychology presented to students on working as advocates with clients experiencing trauma. A class focused on professional self-care, and a faculty member from the College of Law taught the students about mindfulness.

PILI is an important partner in the NIU COVID-19 Legal Response Clinic. As part of their client experience, students answered questions through PILI’s COVID-19 Illinois Free Legal Answers Task Force. To prepare them, Brent Page, PILI’s Senior Managing Attorney, attended one of our first seminar classes. Brent provided information about PILI and the task force as well as helpful tips for answering questions. Students were enthused to learn about PILI’s work throughout Illinois.

The students I supervised and I had a routine for answering PILI questions. Each week, we would look at new questions in the queue that had been posted and select ones to answer. Students would research answers and prepare memorandums citing the statutes and legal authority for their proposed answers. There were times when students did initial research on a topic and realized it was more complicated than originally anticipated. If they were confident in their research, they drafted proposed answers. I provided feedback on multiple drafts, frequently taking out some of the “legalese” that was originally included. The students and I were excited to post the final answers, hopeful that the information helped those in need. In seven weeks, NIU’s COVID-19 Clinic answered PILI questions on the following topics: child custody, common law marriage, guardianship, completing financial affidavits, unemployment, traffic violations, family law/visitation, employment rights and eligibility for Social Security disability.

Working in the COVID-19 Clinic surprised students. Some students were intrigued by the differing opinions about the pandemic raised in PILI questions. For example, one question asked if someone could quit her job if her employer made her wear a mask while the next question we read asked about receiving unemployment if someone quit a job where an employer was allowing people to not wear masks.

Even though they were not able to work with clients in person, students found the clinic experience beneficial. They were surprised by how emotional clients were during our calls or the text of the PILI questions. Multiple students commented on how hearing these stories helped put into perspective their loss of internships and other changes in law school plans.

The whole experience helped instill in our students a duty to use their legal training to help others. Brittany Harrell, a 3L, states that “I enjoyed answering PILI’s Free Legal Answers questions because it is a safe and convenient way to help others, especially during this difficult time. Answering the questions really reinforced the idea that small actions can have a really big impact on people’s lives, and I plan to continue to answer questions as a pro bono attorney after I become licensed in the Spring.”

NIU’s COVID-19 Legal Response Clinic will continue this fall, and clients needing advice and referrals can contact us at (815) 962-9980. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with PILI and look forward to working together as long as people need our help.

Interested in hosting an Illinois Free Legal Answers Clinic with your students or colleagues? Reach out to PILI Managing Attorney Jessica Schneider to learn more.

New Appellate Pro Bono Opportunity Coming this Fall

Self-represented litigants in the Illinois Appellate Court face many unique challenges without adequate resources to assist them through the appellate process.

Illinois Free Legal Answers for Civil Appeals will be the first-ever virtual legal advice clinic for civil appeals in Illinois and will allow self-represented litigants to submit questions about their appeal through the Illinois Free Legal Answers platform (a project of the American Bar Association). Volunteer attorneys can then answer questions at their convenience and will remain anonymous through the online platform.

Learn more and sign up for future updates here »

Read a press release from the Illinois Supreme Court about this project here »

This program is sponsored by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, and the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI).