Demand for Legal Aid Services Is Rising While Funding Is Dwindling

CHICAGO, February 23, 2010 – The Chicago Bar Foundation will launch its fourth annual Investing in Justice Campaign at an event on March 1. The Campaign aims to raise more than $1 million for pro bono and legal aid at a time when the demand for such services is rising and critical funding has been cut.

The Campaign is a communitywide effort through which thousands of individual attorneys at Chicago-area law firms and corporations come together to expand the capacity of the area’s pro bono and legal aid system by making personal financial contributions. The Campaign has raised almost $3 million over the past three years, with all the proceeds going directly to Chicago Bar Foundation Grants that support more than 35 pro bono and legal aid organizations.

The need is greater than ever. Consumer bankruptcy filings in Cook County in 2009 increased by 35 percent over the previous year. About 48,000 foreclosure cases were filed in Cook County in 2009, a threefold increase over 2005. In all, more than one million people in the Chicago area meet the minimum qualifications for legal aid. Only about 300 legal aid attorneys are currently available to serve them.

While the demand for legal aid is rising, funding is decreasing. The State of Illinois cut legal aid funding by 50 percent in 2009. At the same time, funding from the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program dropped by one-third.

Chuck Douglas, the chairman of the management committee at Sidley Austin LLP, is leading the effort to fill the gap by serving as the 2010 Investing in Justice Campaign Chair.

“People in desperate need of legal assistance--children and families, seniors, Veterans, and other vulnerable individuals--are being turned away and left to struggle with complex legal problems on their own because there is simply not enough capacity to serve them,” Douglas said. “We can do something about this. Over the past three years the Campaign has proven that we can have a real impact when we come together as a legal community. I know that together we can make an even greater difference this year for Chicago's pro bono and legal aid organizations and the growing number of people who depend on them for vital legal assistance. If we don’t step up now, the need will not be met.”

The Campaign helps ensure that critical legal services are available for people like Jonathan, a career soldier who has served several tours of duty. As a result of the ups and downs caused by his deployments, he and his wife fell behind on their mortgage. They were therefore vulnerable to a company that promised to “rescue” them from foreclosure. Although Jonathan and his wife didn’t know it, the company took title to their house and then tried to evict them when they couldn’t buy the house back. That was how matters stood when Jonathan was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan. Then the Legal Assistance Foundation’s Home Ownership Preservation Project stepped in and helped stabilize the situation so that the family could keep their home. Because they had legal help, the eviction was stayed, and Jonathan didn’t have to worry that his family would be put out of its home while he was stationed half a world away.

Bob Glaves, director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, said the Investing in Justice Campaign has had a direct impact on improving legal services during its three year history, and he’s confident the legal community will step up again this year.

"Wherever we are in Chicago's legal community, we all share one thing in common with our fellow lawyers: we are the trustees of the justice system and have a professional responsibility to make that sure everyone has equal access to that system, not just people who can afford it," Glaves said. "While there's a lot each of us can do on our own to fulfill that responsibility, the Campaign is the one place that Chicago's legal community can come together around this issue to collectively make a powerful impact through the CBF that no one person or organization could make on their own."

The Campaign begins Monday March 1 with a Kickoff Reception at Sidley Austin LLP, One South Dearborn. The Campaign will go throughout the month of March.

About the Chicago Bar Foundation: As the charitable arm of The Chicago Bar Association, The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) works to ensure that everyone in the Chicago area has access to the justice system, particularly the low-income and disadvantaged Chicagoans who are in most critical need of the protections of the legal system.

For more information:

The Chicago Bar Foundation

Bob Glaves