A time for Chicago’s legal community to lead

More than ever, we need to step up for our community’s dedicated pro bono and legal aid organizations and the people who depend on them.

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Crain's Chicago Business

This letter appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business on April 22, 2020.


By Sean Berkowitz | Latham & Watkins

As the coronavirus pandemic has turned our entire world upside down over these past few weeks, it has been heartwarming to see the way so many have stepped up to help the people who are most impacted. Bringing groceries to an elderly neighbor, supporting food pantries that are suddenly seeing a surge in demand, and doing a little extra to support our favorite local restaurants and their employees are just a few of many examples.

We know the need for legal help will be greater now than ever. The list of the people who will need legal help is almost infinitely long. It includes the hourly worker in the restaurant who suddenly has lost their livelihood, the domestic violence victim who now faces even greater barriers to getting an order of protection, the retail associate downtown or at the airport who has been laid off because business is grinding to a halt, and the small business owner who was thriving a few short weeks ago and is now just trying to hold it together. And the list goes on and on.

These people will quickly be at a higher risk for eviction or foreclosure, consumer scams that prey on their financial uncertainty, missed child support payments, bankruptcy, and a host of other issues that require legal help.

More than ever, we need to step up for our community’s dedicated pro bono and legal aid organizations and the people who depend on them. These organizations face a perfect storm of vastly increased demand for their services at the same time as their other major funding sources are under severe stress. With an unprecedented number of unemployment claims filed in Illinois in a matter of days, our legal community needs to come together to rise to this challenge.

The response from the Chicago legal community has already been impressive, and I am confident we will continue to answer the call for help.. The last time we faced a crisis of this magnitude was at the depth of the financial crisis in 2009. Chicago’s legal community responded magnificently, stepping up to provide more bono services and significantly increasing our individual contributions to The Chicago Bar Foundation Investing in Justice Campaign and beyond.

Those positive results did not just happen. It took leadership, commitment and a desire to help those less fortunate than us during a time of crisis. I am confident we can do it again this year, and it has never been more important than it is right now. If not us, who; and if not now, when?

Sean M. Berkowitz is a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP and the 2020 Chair of The Chicago Bar Foundation Investing in Justice Campaign.