Improving Access to Justice Through Cy Pres Awards

For class action settlements in the state and federal courts, it is common that some part of the settlement funds will go unclaimed or cannot be distributed as intended to the class members. When this problem arises, there is a win-win-win solution for the parties, the court, and the class: directing some or all those residual funds—commonly referred to as cy pres awards—to access to justice organizations and initiatives.

We thank our many partner law firms who are making possible a number of innovative programs serving people without lawyers in the state and federal courts by helping direct cy pres awards to the CBF. We want to give special thanks to three firms who have made an especially big impact over the past year and for many years before: Bill Boies and his pro bono team at McDermott Will & Emery, Keith Keogh of Keogh Law, Ltd., and the lawyers at McGuire Law, P.C. 

All three firms have been tremendous partners on the cy pres front for the CBF and the greater cause of access to justice for many years now, with Boies and Keogh playing key roles in the efforts to develop and pass the Illinois statute for cy pres awards that has become a model for many other states. Boies and many of his colleagues at McDermott for years now have also served as pro bono counsel for many state and national access to justice organizations on these issues, filing amicus briefs, written testimony, and strategic advice all over the country. 

As the Conference of Chief Justices formally recognized earlier this year, directing residual fund awards to legal aid and access to justice initiatives is an appropriate resolution to this common problem, as all class action cases are about access to justice for a group of people who would not realistically be able to enforce their legal rights as individuals. In fact, as noted above, for state court cases Illinois law (735 ILCS 5/2-807) establishes a presumption that at least 50% of any residual funds in class action settlements or judgments will go to organizations like the CBF that improve access to justice for low-income Illinois residents.

A full list of the dozens of firms who have helped advance access to justice by suggesting the CBF as a recipient for cy pres awards can be found on the CBF website, along with more information on these awards generally and how you can help make a difference through the CBF.