Chicago Bar Foundation sets fundraising record

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
By Mary Kate Malone |  Law Bulletin staff writer

Chicago Volunteer Legal Services plans to use a $90,000 grant from The Chicago Bar Foundation for the most essential part of its budget electricity, rent and the copy machine.

“General operating funds are incredibly important to us €¦ A lot of foundations don’t want to pay for general (expenses), they want to pay for a special project, something they can put their name on,” said Margaret C. Benson, executive director of CVLS.

The grant money comes from the CBF’s annual Investing in Justice Campaign, which has taken place every spring since 2007.

The campaign set a record this year, raising more than $1.8 million from the legal community a 20 percent increase from last year.

The money was distributed this week to 37 pro bono and legal aid agencies around the city with two-thirds of it going toward the organizations’ basic operating expenses.

“People who want to give money often earmark it €¦ but when (the organizations) aren’t getting (as much) state or federal funding, the place they really starve is central general operating,” said Daniel E. Reidy, managing partner of Jones, Day’s Chicago office who chaired the campaign this year.

CVLS provides free legal services to low-income people in the Chicago area. It plans to move to a new office this fall and the grant money will also help cover some of those costs, Benson said.

The campaign has set a new record for fundraising every year since it started.

“The idea of the campaign isn’t to be the only time lawyers or firms contribute money to this cause,” said Robert A. Glaves, CBF executive director. “Almost everybody participating in the campaign gives directly to some of these organizations and often volunteers there, too.”

This year, about 4,000 people from 137 law firms, corporate legal departments and law-related organizations donated to the campaign.

Each donor organization has a campaign vice chairperson who gathers donations from employees. The participating organizations range in size from large law firms to three-person legal departments.

“It’s something that we’re finding the legal community does believe in €¦ We’ve certainly reached a point where each year more and more people are aware of it, more and more leaders are involved,” Glaves said.

To generate support for the campaign this year, Reidy wanted to frame the funding issue differently than in the past.

“They’ve really been talking about a ‘crisis’ in funding for two or three years now, because of so many cutbacks in state and federal support for organizations that provide legal service to the poor,” Reidy said. “This is a world where, whether or not we call it a crisis, there’s just not going to be very much in state or federal funds anymore.”

Now and into the future, he said, these organizations will rely on private money like the Investing in Justice Campaign.

Lawndale Christian Legal Center will receive a $10,000 grant. The money will support its two lawyers on staff, who provide representation to young people from Lawndale accused of crimes.

The lawyers work to have felonies reduced to misdemeanors when possible. Many of the young people face drug charges and, if convicted, will be labeled a felon for the rest of their lives even when the amount of drugs might only equal the size of a postage stamp, said Clifford M. Nellis, lead attorney and founder of LCLC.

“We’ve had remarkable success in having felony charges reduced to misdemeanors,” he said.

The organization also provides social services because it takes a “holistic” approach to helping young people, he said.

The campaign gives every dollar it raises to the 37 organizations, selected through an application and vetting process, Glaves said.

“It’s always going to be an important source of funding,” Glaves said. “But it’s particularly important in this type of climate, and our legal community has really stepped up.”