Helping to Incubate Pro Bono and Legal Aid
As we celebrate the CBF’s 70th Anniversary, we have been looking back on many of the long-standing partnerships we have with pro bono and legal aid organizations in the Chicago area. Throughout our history, the CBF has played a critical role in many new organizations getting off the ground by providing inaugural grant funding, which in turn helped to attract funding from other individual donors and foundations. Some of these organizations were born in The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) and its Young Lawyers Section, with the CBF providing seed funding to help these fledgling organizations gain their footing and the continued support to help them take flight. The organizations below, which the CBF continues to support today, are examples of these partnerships and have gone on to become long-term successes.
- Lawyers for the Creative Arts (LCA) was founded in 1972 by a group of lawyers from the CBA’s Young Lawyers Section who wanted to provide free legal help to Chicago’s artistic community. In its 46 years, the organization has expanded its services working with a corps of pro bono attorneys, serving about 1,000 artists and arts organizations and providing educational programming. The CBF was among LCA’s first funders.
- The Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) was founded in 1977 as The Chicago Law Student Public Interest Program as a pilot project to fund law student internships at Chicago legal aid and public interest law organizations. The CBF was among PILI’s first funders and today continues to support the Law Student Internship Program, sponsoring five interns per year to work for a summer or semester at a CBF-funded pro bono and legal aid organization.
- The Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) was founded in 1979 as Neighborhood Justice Center of Chicago with a goal of providing free mediation services to help people resolve their disputes, and received early support from the CBF. Today, CCR provides free mediation services in over 1,600 cases annually, trains new volunteer mediators, and currently runs over 20 different mediation programs, most of which are court-based.
- The South Chicago Legal Clinic, now known as Chicago Legal Clinic (CLC), was founded in 1981 to address the legal needs of area workers who lost their jobs due to the reduction of steel mill operations in South Chicago. The CBF awarded the Clinic its first foundation grant. During the past 35-plus years, CLC has grown from a small storefront office with a single attorney into a broader legal aid program helping people across the Chicago area.
- Based on findings that free legal help for Chicagoans with disabilities was lacking, the CBA’s Young Lawyers Section worked to launch the Legal Clinic for the Disabled. The CBF provided inaugural funding and in 1984, the Clinic opened its doors. In the 1990s, the organization expanded its mission and changed its name to Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL). Today it serves over 2,000 people annually. The CBF continues to work closely with and support CDEL.
- The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) was originally founded in 1984 by members of Chicago’s legal and faith communities as the Midwest Immigrant Rights Center to help thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Central America, and the CBF provided one of its first grants. Today NIJC serves over 10,000 people a year and is dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through direct legal services, policy reform and impact litigation.
- In the late 1980s, the CBF provided early funding to a new organization, AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, formed to address the urgent and unique legal needs among people diagnosed with HIV. The organization continued to grow over the years. Now known as Legal Council for Health Justice, the organization has expanded its mission beyond single-disease advocacy to serve low-income people facing barriers due to illness or disability throughout Chicago. The Legal Council helps over 1,500 people annually through its direct services work and thousands more through its policy advocacy and systemic litigation.
- The organization now known as Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) was founded in 2001 as a user-friendly online platform to serve as a hub for legal information and resources. As a founding partner of ILAO, the CBF continues to work closely with and support ILAO, which today is visited by over 2 million users annually.
The CBF is proud to continue working alongside these organizations and many others to help people in need get critical legal help and make our justice system more fair, accessible and efficient for everyone.