Investing in Justice posts another fundraising record

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
By Jamie Loo  |  Law Bulletin staff writer
Read at Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

The Chicago Bar Foundation’s annual Investing in Justice campaign broke records again this year, raising $1.81 million and pushing the overall fundraising drive’s total past $10 million in eight years.

The money goes to pro bono and legal-aid services in the Chicago area.

It’s made a lot of good possible and is something the Chicago legal community can really be proud of, said CBF Executive Director Robert A. Glaves.

This past spring, 146 law firms, corporate legal departments and other law-related organizations took part in the campaign, an increase from 137 groups last year. More than 4,300 attorneys and legal professionals donated $1.3 million, and employers kicked in an additional $500,000 which is the highest amount ever raised in individual contributions.

Donors range from one-person legal departments at companies to the largest law firms in the city. Judges also participate through the Illinois Judges Foundation, and faculty at Northwestern University School of Law organized a fundraiser for the project.

We’re hoping over time other law school faculty will want to get involved similar to what Northwestern has done, Glaves said.

When the campaign started in 2007, Glaves said the CBF raised about $900,000 and had roughly 1,600 participants. The campaign has always broken its prior year’s record.

It’s a real testament to the great leadership we have each year. Pat Fitzgerald was fantastic, and the team leadership at all of the companies and firms made this possible, Glaves said, referring to this year’s campaign chair, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

The continuing success of the Investing in Justice campaign is a credit to the CBF as an organization and its management of the grants, Fitzgerald said. The program encourages more donors to join each year, he said. He added that 100 percent of individual contributions goes directly to nonprofit grantees.

While we measure dollars, it’s hard to put into words what it means to someone who didn’t have legal representation before to now have a lawyer. €¦ There’s a lot of people who will never know where it came from, but the community that contributes knows they’re making an impact, Fitzgerald said.

The money will go to 34 pro bono and legal-aid organizations. About two-thirds of the grants are for organizational support; the rest is distributed to pro bono projects and systemic justice initiatives.

One of the powerful things about pooling a large amount of money through the campaign, Glaves said, is that it helps to attract even more dollars through matching grants and contributions.

For example, the CBF is giving a $140,000 grant to the municipal court advice desk in the Daley Center, a grant that will be matched with funding from Cook County Circuit Court.

The Illinois Funders DACA Relief Initiative collectively has $500,000, which attracted two national foundations to match more than half of it for a total of $267,000. CBF is part of this collaborative of 10 local supporters, which provides legal help and education initiatives for undocumented immigrant youths who may be eligible for deferred action status.

We were able to raise several thousand dollars more than we would’ve been able to, Glaves said.

It also helps CBF-supported nonprofits raise more money for themselves.

Alan S. Mills, a staff attorney at the Uptown People’s Law Center, said donors interested in justice initiatives have numerous options but don’t always have the time or expertise for research into these nonprofits. Mills said seeing the CBF’s support gives donors peace of mind that they’re investing in a cause that has been vetted.

I think a lot of other donors and foundations see the Chicago Bar Foundation (support) as a Good Housekeeping Seal, he said. It’s a way of building a credibility in the donors community.

The Uptown People’s Law Center provides legal education and services to low-income residents with a focus on landlord-tenant issues, public benefits and civil rights for prisoners.

It gets $10,000 from the CBF for organizational support and an additional $30,000 grant for its Prisoner Civil Rights Correspondence Project. Mills said the project grant supports the salary of a paralegal to run the program, which screens letters from prisoners with civil rights complaints, sends responses and connects them to pro bono attorneys interested in taking their cases. It does not accept criminal appeal requests.

The program receives about 125 letters each week, Mills said, which doesn’t include letters forwarded to them from pro bono coordinators at law firms. He said it’s been around for about eight years and thrived after CBF started funding it five years ago.

Having a full-time staff member devoted to the effort means faster response times for prisoners who describe problems such as being beaten by prison officials without cause and denial of religious materials. In one letter, Mills said a hearing-impaired inmate who couldn’t hear an order from a guard was put into isolation for what was perceived as disobedience.

Everybody that writes to us, with few exceptions, has something in their lives that needs fixing. And they ought to have legal rights, he said. The problems they’re facing are real.

The grant support has also helped the center identify trends, which allows them to combine cases into class-action lawsuits to effectuate more systemic change. For example, Mills said they’re in the midst of a class-action case on quality and access to medical care for prisoners.

Our ability to do all of that is entirely dependent on CBF support, Mills said. It has really allowed us to kick it into high gear.

Roughly 700,000 people eligible for legal aid in Cook County need help each year. The 34 groups CBF funds collectively reached nearly 200,000 people last year.

We’re helping a lot of people collectively and making a big difference for people and the system as a whole, Glaves said. We can be proud of where we are with this campaign but with clear eyes know there’s a lot more to be done.


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