Back in 1999, when the initial conversations that led to what is now Illinois Legal Aid Online began, the idea that people would have access to and use the Internet to get legal information and resources particularly low-income and disadvantaged people was considered questionable at best. While it is hard to imagine now when virtually everyone has a smart phone, back then those were just cell phones and internet access was still far from universally available.
Yet despite those questions, the potential for a user-friendly online platform to serve as a hub for legal information and resources for the public was increasingly clear. Prior to that time, there was no central place where people could go to get reliable information about their legal rights and responsibilities or to learn where they could turn to for free or affordable legal help.
The result was that various legal aid organizations, bar groups, and others were creating their own, often duplicative print resources on common legal topics like eviction, child support, consumer debt and other bread and butter legal issues people regularly encounter. Not only was this an inefficient system with a lot of unnecessary duplication of time and resources, there was a wide range in the quality of these resources, and they often could be out of date shortly after going to print.
The CBF and the other founding partners of what was initially called the Illinois Technology Center for Law and the Public Interest believed the opportunity of creating a central online platform to house legal information and resources far outweighed concerns about internet access. While maybe only Steve Jobs saw smart phones in our future at that time, the internet already was a growing presence in our lives, and public libraries, schools and other community gathering places increasingly offered free internet access points.
Fast forward to today and Illinois Legal Aid Online is a central part of the pro bono and legal aid system that offers comprehensive and user-friendly information and resources for the public on a wide range of legal issues. More than two million people now visit the website, www.illinoislegaid.org, each year at all hours of the day. Many are able to resolve simpler legal issues with the resources they find there, and many more find themselves in a much better position to move forward.