We are fortunate in Chicago to have a robust and committed pro bono and legal aid community, with more than thirty organizations offering free or affordable legal help to people who would otherwise have nowhere to turn. While there is not nearly enough help to go around for everyone who needs it, people looking for help still struggle to figure out how and where to start their search. Upon seeing a list of the many excellent pro bono and legal aid organizations serving the Chicago area, people often describe it as alphabet soup and can find it overwhelming.
The CBF saw a need for a better way to connect people with the valuable free and low-cost legal resources in our community. Almost two decades ago, the CBF worked with the CBA Young Lawyers Section, CARPLS and other partners to create the original version of Where to Go for Legal Assistance in or Around Chicago. This guide offered information on where to find free or low-cost legal assistance or legal information and included a comprehensive directory of programs sorted by the type of legal problem someone was encountering. Over the years, the CBF has not only regularly updated information in the guide, but has also streamlined the resource to become the more user-friendly version currently available online.
The CBF also realized over time that in most initial referral situations, less is more. The CBF created a companion to the guide, a one-page sheet of starting point referrals, Finding Free or Low-Cost Legal Help. The sheet directs users to start with CARPLS or Illinois Legal Aid Online, two organizations designed to serve as central hubs for people looking for legal help and referrals. Through the CARPLS hotline, callers can speak with an attorney for free and get customized referrals when appropriate. The CBF has also partnered with Illinois Legal Aid Online to create an online customized referral page for Cook County residents, Get Legal Help in Cook County. Both resources offer free legal information and tailored referrals, when appropriate, to avoid the frustration of hearing we can’t help you with that over and over again. The one-page handout has been shared widely with courts, legal aid providers, social service organizations, public libraries, and other entities to help people throughout Cook County more quickly get the legal help they need.