ABA Free Legal Answers 2022 Summary Report

The American Bar Association 2022 Summary Report indicates Illinois is a national leader for the virtual online legal clinic.

Over 250,000 civil legal questions have been answered since the launch of the ABA Free Legal Answers website in 2016 according to the ABA’s 2022 Summary Report. The site, which allows low-income people to post civil legal questions for lawyers to answer, was an especially important resource during the pandemic when typical legal clinics and help desks had to close during the shutdown. These effects of the pandemic are still being felt today as the increase in questions is a reminder of the unmet legal needs in the country. Over 11,000 volunteer attorneys across the country have made an incredible impact in expanding access to justice by assisting those in need in underserved and underrepresented communities.

ABA Free Legal Answers offers, for some, the only opportunity to get assistance to a legal question for those who cannot access legal services for a number of possible reasons whether it be financial, geographical, or transportation constraints. Over 15,000 questions were submitted by veterans and over 12,000 questions were submitted by seniors since the website was launched. The most common types of questions submitted pertained to Family and Children (39%), Housing and Homelessness (15%), Other (18%) or Consumer/Financial (10%).

“ABA Free Legal Answers continues to provide a critical resource for civil legal matters for those who cannot afford an attorney and often have nowhere else to turn,” ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross said. “We salute those attorneys, law firms, corporate law departments and other legal organizations nationally who have demonstrated their extraordinary pro bono commitment by leading by example. We urge other attorneys to step up and assist as well. The need has never been greater.”

Illinois now has registered 1,077 volunteer attorneys, the most in the nation as of February 2023. Thanks to these volunteers, we were able to answer 3,335 civil legal questions in 2022. PILI continues to focus on volunteer recruitment and training across the state, regularly working with law firms, corporations and law schools to set up virtual clinics to train volunteers to use the site and then answer questions together. This virtual model has proven successful in engaging more volunteers who then provide quality advice to clients. According to PILI Executive Director, Michael Bergmann, “PILI is proud to serve as the state administrator for Illinois Free Legal Answers and we are so grateful to our volunteers across the state who have contributed hundreds of hours each year to help those in need of free civil legal assistance.”

Illinois Free Legal Answers is a convenient way for attorneys to volunteer their skills in a way that best fits their schedule while assisting those who have nowhere else to turn. If you would like to volunteer to answer questions for those in need, please visit our website or reach out to PILI Managing Attorney Abigail Causer by email or at 217-693-6017.

PILI Welcomes Arthur Surratt to the Team

Arthur joined PILI on March 13th as our Attorney Program Manager. He is responsible for managing PILI’s Law Student Internship, Graduate Fellowship, and Alumni Network as well as providing support to PILI’s statewide efforts to expand and enhance pro bono.

Arthur graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and received his Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law with a Certificate in Legal Innovation and Technology. After graduating law school, Arthur served as a PILI Graduate Fellow with Illinois Legal Aid Online.

Most recently, Arthur was an Associate Counsel with GTI Energy in Des Plaines. Prior to that he worked for Illinois Legal Aid Online and Reed Smith LLP. Arthur also served in the United States Navy as a Signals Intelligence Analyst. Arthur serves on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Freedom School.

Arthur can be reached by email or phone at 312-832-5130.

Meet the rest of the PILI staff here »

Illinois Ranks #1 for Number of ABA Free Legal Answers Volunteer Attorneys

According to the ABA Free Legal Answers February 2023 Report, Illinois is now number 1 in the nation for number of volunteer attorneys registered since the Free Legal Answers launch in 2016. Illinois now has registered 1,077 volunteer attorneys. Thanks to these volunteers, we were able to answer 3,335 civil legal questions in 2022.

Several of our volunteer attorneys have also been recognized by the ABA for their outstanding contributions to the program and helping those in need across Illinois. These attorneys have been recognized for answering 50 or more civil legal questions on Free Legal Answers throughout 2022. Thank you to all of our incredible volunteers who help cultivate a community of service across Illinois by helping further access to justice and especially those recognized for their extraordinary efforts in 2022, including:

  • Reuben A. Bernick of Feinberg Sharma PC
  • Anthony Frank of MCC
  • Laura Gastel of Pro Bono Network
  • Sara T. Ghadiri of Chapman and Cutler LLP
  • Harold B. Hilborn of Much Shelist
  • Jennifer L. Kincaid of Pepping, Balk, Kincaid & Olson, Ltd.
  • Steven C. Lindberg
  • Mike McElvain of the Law Office of Mike McElvain
  • Barbara J. O’Brien of Pro Bono Network
  • Kerrianne L. Waters of Westervelt, Johnson, Nicoll & Keller, LLC
  • Nancy N. Zhao of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg

Read the full ABA Free Legal Answers February 2023 Report here.

PILI Celebrates Women’s History Month by Highlighting Trailblazers of Justice

In 1978, Women’s History Week began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The organizers selected the week of March 8th to correspond with International Women’s Day celebrated on that day. The movement spread across the country, and in  February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. Subsequent Presidents continued to issue such a proclamation until 1987 when Congress officially designated March as “Women’s History Month.” Learn more about the origins of Women’s History Month here.

As PILI celebrates Women’s History Month, we want to highlight several “Trailblazers of Justice” in the Illinois legal community. These pioneers changed the legal landscape for women not only here locally in Illinois, but across the United States.

Learn more about Ada Kepley here.

Learn more about Catherine McCulloch here.

Learn more about Ellen A. Martin here.

Learn more about the Honorable Mary Ann McMorrow here.


PILI’s 2023 Theme: A Community of Service

At PILI, we believe that equal access to justice is a fundamental right. The legal community – law students, lawyers, judges and other legal professionals – have an ethical obligation to ensure this right is accessible for people with unmet legal needs. And we all know that we work best when we work together. That’s why PILI’s theme for 2023 is A Community of Service.

We are focused on connecting people who can help with the individuals, families and communities who need help. We are also committed to building and maintaining the systems that our community needs to ensure the required support is available when needed. Here’s a look at PILI’s community, and how we’re working to support everyone in our shared commitment to equal access to justice:

  • Lawyers and legal professionals count on PILI to connect them with meaningful service opportunities and provide them with educational and networking events that support their pro bono commitments.
  • Legal service agencies across the state count on PILI to provide hundreds of Interns, Fellows, and pro bono volunteers who serve thousands of clients every year.
  • Law firms and corporate legal departments count on PILI for pro bono resources, programing, and technical assistance to build and grow the impact of their pro bono programs.
  • Courts and the judiciary count on PILI to expand the help available to those in need of pro bono assistance whether through full representation or as self-represented litigants.
  • Law students, recent graduates, and law schools count on PILI to create pathways for exploring careers in public interest law and pro bono service.
  • People across the state count on PILI for help with all kinds of civil legal matters through a wide range of efforts to fill the gaps in the legal aid delivery system, like veterans and their families through Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network, our courthouse help desks for self-represented litigants, or Illinois Free Legal Answers – our virtual legal clinic.

Learn more about how our Law Student Internship, Graduate Fellowship, Alumni, and Pro Bono Programs are engaging, inspiring and empowering the Illinois legal community to work collaboratively to increase access to justice.

When people, families and communities in need of legal services can get the help they need, our whole community is stronger. We hope you’ll join us this year in building A Community of Service. Learn about volunteer opportunities and how to get involved with PILI, or make a donation to support our work today!

SAVE THE DATE: Join PILI at one of our events in 2023:

For more information about PILI, our work and how you can support us, please contact PILI’s Executive Director, Michael Bergmann, by email or at 312-832-5129.

Prior year’s themes: 2020: Defining Justice, 2021: Gateway to Justice and 2022: Take the Initiative

Meet PILI’s Spring Semester 2023 Interns

PILI is excited to welcome our Spring Semester 2023 Law Student Interns!

We had our first chance to meet with this semester’s Interns at our Spring Semester Welcome Program on February 14th. This semester, 9 Law Student Interns will provide 1,800 hours of legal services supervised by experienced attorneys at one of PILI’s Participating Agencies. In addition to the work experience, the PILI Internship also includes supplemental educational, networking and advising opportunities for these second and third-year law students.

Our Spring 2023 Law Student Interns Include:

  • Jessica Chong from Saint Louis University School of Law at National Immigrant Justice Center*
  • Stephanie Flores Reyes from University of Oklahoma College of Law at National Immigrant Justice Center*
  • Juan Gonzalez-Martinez from Loyola University School of Law at Greater Chicago Legal Aid*
  • Daniel Jackson from DePaul University College of Law at Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing
  • Keerthi Madala from University of Illinois College of Law at Legal Aid Chicago*
  • Ayesha Mohammed from Chicago-Kent College of Law at ACLU of Illinois
  • Taylor Rathwell from Loyola University School of Law at CARPLS
  • Lia Raves from Loyola University School of Law at Cabrini Green Legal Aid*
  • Danielle Taylor from Chicago-Kent College of Law at MALDEF

Five of these Internships are made possible by special donations for Named & Honorary Interns (designated with an asterisk above). Meet our Named & Honorary Interns »

Learn more about the Law Student Internship Program »

Have questions about PILI’s Law Student Internship Program? Please contact PILI Executive Director Michael Bergmann by email or by phone at 312-832-5129.

PILI Spotlight: 2022 Alumni Representatives to PILI’s Alumni Network Leadership Council

PILI is excited to welcome Mariah Levy and Elisa Epstein to our Alumni Network Leadership Council as the 2022 Intern and Fellow Alumni Representatives. Each year PILI picks representatives from the most recent class of Interns and Fellows to serve on the Council for a two-year term. Mariah is an Associate at Latham & Watkins and did her PILI Graduate Fellowship at Bluhm Legal Clinic. Elisa is a 2L at University of Chicago Law School and did her Law Student Internship with the ACLU of Illinois.

Mariah Levy

Associate, Latham and Watkins
2022 Graduate Fellow

What have you been up to since your PILI Fellowship concluded?

I’ve been in my Associate role since September 2022. As an unassigned associate, I’ve been able to work on both transactional and litigation matters, which has broadened my perspective quite a bit in a short time. Recently, I’ve also been able to take on pro bono matters.

What was your favorite thing about being a PILI Fellow?

I love having the opportunity to engage with others who value service. It’s important to maintain momentum when trying to solve complicated and persistent issues. A combination of passion and dedication to values like equity and fairness set a wonderful foundation for collaborating meaningfully. When it comes to difficult tasks like promoting justice and consistent advocacy, we’re always stronger together.

How has your commitment to service played a role in your life and career?

Prior to law school, I was a social worker with a focus on addictions counseling. Addiction, like many other conditions, can be difficult to manage as both an individual or community. And it’s something that has touched the lives of most. In the process of looking for ways to support happier and healthier lives as a social worker, I found a renewed sense of commitment to doing my part in the world. Because we are all in community with one another—from neighborhoods to cities to states to our full globe—we should share a collective responsibility for our health and happiness. In law, we work in service of clients who are trying to achieve a variety of goals. Regardless of what those goals are, we always have a responsibility to provide assistance in navigating a complicated system with a complex set of rules. My career has helped me appreciate how we are all connected to something greater. Since we’re all connected, being in service of others is being in service of ourselves.


Elisa Epstein

2L at University of Chicago Law School
2022 Law Student Intern

What have you been up to since your PILI Internship concluded?

Since my summer PILI Internship with the ACLU of Illinois concluded, I’ve been back in school as a 2L at the University of Chicago Law School.

What was your favorite thing about being a PILI Intern?

I loved that being a PILI Intern gave me the opportunity to connect with other law students and lawyers passionate about public interest work and working in a variety of capacities throughout the city. And, of course, I gained so much from my internship experience itself!

How has your commitment to service played a role in your life and career?

In my career before law school, I was a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C working to protect and promote human rights in US foreign policy and national security. That experience informed my decision to come to law school by showing me the value of a legal education in the promotion of human rights – from systemic change to seemingly small fixes that make a big impact. I understand the power that a legal education confers, for better or for worse, and am committed to using the immense privilege that comes with a law degree in service of civil and human rights.

PILI Celebrates Black History Month by Spotlighting Trailblazers of Justice

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in the history of the United States. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of the work of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Learn more about the origins of Black History Month »

As PILI celebrates Black History Month, we want to pay tribute and highlight several “Trailblazers of Justice” in the Illinois legal community. These pioneers have changed the course of the legal landscape not just in Illinois, but in the United States by breaking barriers and working against systematic oppression and racial division. Black history is American history.

Read more about Lloyd Garrison Wheeler here »

Read more about Ida Platt here »

Read more about Judge Albert B. George here »