Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Highlights from the Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees Summit

On Thursday, April 15th PILI hosted a virtual summit of its Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee leadership. 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 and are led by local pro bono leaders in the community.

In addition to the chairs and PILI staff, representatives from partner legal aid agencies were in attendance as was Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke. The group discussed how the work of pro bono had been affected during the pandemic and expectations for legal aid after the pandemic was over.

First, Chief Justice Anne Burke addressed the group, noting the importance of pro bono work and legal aid. She expressed how, during this time of uncertainty, the work of pro bono lawyers is more important than ever. Then, each committee chair reported on the work of their committee over the previous year.

Next, the group discussed how the COVID-19 Pandemic had changed the delivery of pro bono legal services. Many expected that virtual court would likely continue in certain situations, especially in rural areas, for both pro bono and paying clients. Attendees noted that technology had at times proved difficult, which would need to be addressed if virtual court were to continue.

Another development had been the emphasis on new, virtual, pro bono opportunities. The group hoped the new focus on virtual legal services would unlock a pool of volunteers who may have not had time to volunteer in person, but felt comfortably doing so virtually. Opportunities such as online dispute resolution (ODR) and Illinois Free Legal Answers allowed for attorneys to get involved from their offices or homes.

Looking beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic, the group discussed major pro bono trends. Several attendees noted a need for more emphasis on limited scope representation. Even though the new rule has been in place for several years, attendees noted that they had rarely seen it in use. While discussing possible reasons why, attendees noted confusion around the rule and difficulty in setting up a limited scope relationship. Attendees agreed that this could be a focus of the Committees in the future.

PILI is so grateful to those who attended the summit and for the work and commitment of the volunteers on PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees.

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Posted in Pro Bono.