Simmons Hanly Conroy is a national law firm headquartered in Alton, Illinois. Last June, they hosted an Expungement Day to help individuals review their criminal history and draft petitions for expungements and sealings. Fifteen attorneys, from Simmons and local firms, attended a training and volunteered. They advertised with local groups and over 200 people attended looking for help clearing up their criminal records.
“It was a tremendous collaborative effort,” said Clarissa Gaff, a Managing Attorney at the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. “Many of the individuals assisted expressed significant gratitude for the event.”
At founder John Simmons’ request, Ted Gianaris and Amy Garrett, both shareholders for the firm, organized the event. Amy said some of the people they helped had charges that were 20-30 years old and hadn’t had any convictions since. She also met people whose records prohibited them from qualifying for jobs or advancing in their careers. “I met CNAs who wanted to become Registered Nurses,” she said, “but were unable to sit for the exams due to their convictions.”
With the help of Simmons, many people were able clean up their records. In other cases where the conviction could not be expunged, people were happy to better understand their situation. “It can be an easy fix,” said Amy, “but people just don’t know.” The firm received the “Pro Bono Firm of the Year” award at the Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee’s Pro Bono Week luncheon last fall in recognition of their work on this event and the firm’s other pro bono work.
Simmons has many other pro bono projects going on year-round. “The Simmons firm goes out of its way to perform pro bono work,” said Clarissa. “Its attorneys serve as guardians ad litem, take pro bono cases from Land of Lincoln, volunteer at the Ask a Lawyer clinic, and the firm’s paralegals even volunteer at the Order of Protection docket weekly.”
Amy said the pro bono projects are driven by the interests and passions of its attorneys. Several Simmons attorneys volunteer on prisoner’s rights cases to represent, investigate and argue on behalf of inmates claiming their constitutional rights were violated. Other attorneys recently completed a training to work with the public defender to help with overflow cases. “We see a need, we fill a need,” said Amy.
The culture of service at Simmons has been nurtured from their leadership, including Chairman John Simmons. “John Simmons is a very kind and generous person,” said Amy. “He sets a great example for the rest of us for giving back to the community.”
Clarissa confirmed that the pro bono work done by Simmons attorneys has a huge effect on their community. “Simmons’ efforts are important in ensuring that Madison County residents’ legal needs are met and everyone has a chance to achieve justice,” she said.