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Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of PILI’s Pro Bono Initiative

Pauline Levy of McDonald’s Corporation, the first recipient of PILI’s Pro Bono Initiative Award in 2000, presents the 2001 Pro Bono Initiative Award to Jerry Gilson of the firm then known as Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione.

In 1999, PILI launched the Pro Bono Initiative for the New Millennium. Our goal was to expand the amount and types of pro bono work being done by lawyers at both corporate legal departments and law firms. As part of its launch, a Pro Bono Summit was held with leaders from Chicago-area law firms and corporate legal departments. In 2002, a large group of Chicago-area law firms and corporate legal departments joined PILI for a signing ceremony to formally acknowledge their shared commitment to incorporating pro bono legal services into their business cultures.

At the time, this early statement of pro bono principles was groundbreaking. It acknowledged the critical role of the legal profession in addressing the unmet legal needs of Illinois’ poor and underrepresented individuals. Those trailblazing law firms and corporate legal departments agreed to actively engage in and support pro bono practice, and pledged to develop pro bono policies within their firms and legal departments.

PILI recognized a growing roster of law firms and corporate legal departments committed to pro bono through our Pro Bono Initiative Honor Roll until 2006.  Since 2010, we have honored the significant pro bono contributions of law firms, corporate legal departments and legal industry corporate partners throughout the state of Illinois with our annual Pro Bono Recognition Roster »

Over the last 25 years, PILI has served as a resource for law firms and corporations looking to develop or expand their pro bono programs. PILI developed our Pro Bono Reference Guide as a resource for firm and corporations, organized Pro Bono Technical Consultations bringing together established pro bono leaders to provide guidance and insight for developing programs, and convened various pro bono constituent groups to share best practices and successes. PILI continues this work today »

In 2011, we turned our gaze outside of Chicago, recognizing the unmet legal needs and lack of available resources in other parts of the state. In response to this, PILI began to expand our reach with the establishment of our Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees. PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees strive to increase equal access to justice by promoting and enhancing pro bono legal services within a specific judicial circuit. Specifically, we:

  • Raise awareness of the need for free or low-cost legal services;
  • Identify and reducing barriers to providing free or low-cost legal services;
  • Promote pro bono legal services and recruit attorneys and legal professionals to participate in existing pro bono programs;
  • Identify gaps in the delivery of legal services to low-income individuals and families and develop innovative approaches to filling those gaps through pro bono; and
  • Recognize the pro bono contributions of attorneys and legal professionals.

As of 2024, PILI now has eleven such committees across the state.

As the number of Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees expanded, PILI has helped close gaps in the availability of pro bono legal services around Illinois. Initially, PILI launched a pilot Self-Represented Litigant Help Desk in the Tenth Circuit followed later by a Conflict of Interest Pro Bono Referral Panel. PILI later expanded the pilots to include the Third and Sixth Circuits as well. In 2018, PILI joined the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN), which provides civil legal services across Illinois to veterans, active duty military and 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. Then, in 2019, PILI became the state administrator for Illinois Free Legal Answers, a secure website where low-income Illinoisans can ask a lawyer for help with a civil legal issue. PILI manages the day-to-day operations of the site, including volunteer recruitment, management and training. With the help of a statewide network of pro bono volunteers, we now help thousands of clients a year with everything from brief legal advice and limited scope representation to full representation. Check out all of PILI’s pro bono opportunities »

Today, PILI’s Pro Bono Program works to increase the availability of pro bono legal help for those who cannot afford an attorney in Illinois by developing innovative pro bono opportunities, offering pro bono programming and resources, cultivating best practices, and celebrating the life-changing pro bono performed throughout the state. We are proud to continue the legacy of the leaders and supporters of PILI who established the Pro Bono Initiative as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding. We will mark this special anniversary at our 2024 Annual Pro Bono Reception on June 26th.

Posted in News, Pro Bono, Pro Bono Spotlights.