The Investing in Justice Campaign: 10 Years of Influence and Impact

March 15, 2016

When the Investing in Justice Campaign launched in 2007, it raised more than $600,000 from about 1,600 individuals at 35 participating law firms and companies within just a few weeks for the cause of access to justice. Skeptics pegged this strong response as a one-year wonder; the following year, the economic crisis of 2008 further threatened the Campaign’s potential.

But the Campaign’s numbers grew even during that time.

Amidst the economic upheavals Chicago has seen in the last decade, the growth of the Investing in Justice Campaign is proof that we still believe in justice for all through thick and through thin.

As we celebrate the 10th year anniversary, we can proudly declare the Campaign as a national model, with Chicago’s legal community leading by example in the fight for equal access to justice. The Campaign has come a long way since that powerful beginning: it has raised almost $12 million in individual contributions to support legal aid over the last nine years.

One hundred percent of those dollars went to dozens of Chicago-area pro bono and legal aid organizations through CBF grants, which helped to leverage millions more for the cause from the CBF’s foundation and government partners. We have documented the incredible work of some of those organizations in our Campaign in Action series the CARPLS legal aid hotline and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing’s policy work on behalf of low-income tenants being two recent examples.

This year’s goals are to exceed the following three milestones: 5,000 individual donors; 150 participating law firms, companies, and other organizations; and $1.5 million in individual contributions.

A small group of influential and dedicated lawyers with invaluable pro bono assistance from a leading legal marketing professional created the vision for the Campaign to tackle the justice gap i.e. the growing number of people not being able to afford often critical legal help, and the shortage of pro bono and legal aid resources to meet their needs. It was the first sophisticated effort at mobilizing the legal community on a grand scale for two goals: to raise both money and awareness for pro bono and legal aid work.

The Campaign has called attention to access to justice issues that weren’t previously on many attorneys’ radars, including unsustainably low salaries for legal aid attorneys and the growing number of people who cannot access critical legal assistance. As a result, many more lawyers in the Chicago area have embraced the importance of making justice accessible for everyone.

This increased awareness has influenced donors’ giving priorities even beyond the Campaign individual contributions directly to Chicago’s pro bono and legal aid organizations have more than doubled since the launch of the Campaign.

What is access to justice? Simply, it’s ensuring that everyone has access to a fair shake in the legal system. The reality is that many people enter this complicated system unrepresented, vastly reducing their chance for success compared to when they are represented. They become victims of injustices in areas like housing, employment, or family law. Losing unfairly because of a power imbalance makes people lose faith in the system.

Chicago is home to a great network of pro bono and legal aid organizations. Its attorneys fight everyday injustices, and also fight on behalf of large, vulnerable populations. Their work restores our citizens, communities, social services, and institutions to healthier functioning.

Campaign grants support more than 30 pro bono and legal aid organizations to continue providing legal services to tens of thousands of low-income Chicagoans. From legal aid hotlines and advice desks to large impact litigation and advocacy work, these organizations provide a continuum of legal services to people who most need help but can’t afford it.

The CBF and the Campaign help pull the various pro bono and legal aid providers together as a system, so they work as an interconnected network of legal help. This allows them to collaborate, identify resources, and advance their unique strengths. This interconnectedness in turn is good for their clients, both in finding the appropriate resource and having a broader range of help available when they have different kinds of legal issues.

A Campaign grant is more than just a check for keeping the lights on. The CBF adds value to its grants by including free professional development training for legal aid attorneys, pro bono assistance for organizations, and advocacy support. The CBF’s extensive grantmaking process ensures accountability and promotes best practices, and the CBF’s close working relationship with the organizations encourages innovation and growth in a variety of ways, including emphasizing pro bono more and incorporating technology in their operations.

Through initiatives like the Investing in Justice Campaign, the Foundation is helping to transform the delivery of legal service to low income families in and around Chicago, said Al Schwartz, executive director of CARPLS, one of the supported organizations. Funding from the campaign has enabled CARPLS to build out our infrastructure giving us the capacity to expand our exceptional services to an ever-growing number of clients in need.

In addition to supporting well-established organizations, the Campaign has allowed the CBF to address emerging issues and needs through the creation of new projects. This includes the Expungement Live Call, which responded to the increase of people striving to clear their records, and the Markham Eviction Help Desk, which serves vulnerable suburban tenants fighting for housing justice. The Campaign responded to the growing demand for immigration help and the life-changing legal opportunities afforded by the DACA program when the CBF became part of a funder collaborative, which in turn leveraged local and national dollars.

We know that the use of the legal system can be a powerful force for change. The law can hand someone back the keys to their home, the child to their arms, or their very health and safety. Legal aid attorneys are transforming our broken institutions, such as prisons, the juvenile justice system, and family and child services. Legal aid makes our community a fairer and better place for everyone.

But legal aid needs support before it can answer someone else’s call.

Investing in legal aid means investing in our community, and through the Campaign, it is an investment that produces powerful returns.

By Angelika Labno, CBF Administrative & Communications Coordinator