Grants

Your generous support makes it possible for the CBF grants program to invest in the entire pro bono and legal aid system and make an impact that none of us could on our own.

We Help Thousands With Pro Bono and Legal Aid Services In the Chicago Area

CBF grants total over $7 million each year, supporting dozens of pro bono and legal aid organizations serving the Chicago area and a number of innovative projects that are making a longer term impact. Each day, thousands of people in need receive help as a result of the CBF’s grants, including domestic violence survivors, people at risk of losing their homes, seniors who are the victim of consumer fraud, and many other low-income and disadvantaged people in the Chicago area.

The demand for legal aid services in our community is great. There are now about 1.2 million low-income Cook County residents—about 1 in 4 in the Chicago area—who are eligible for legal aid. Fewer than half of the people in need of legal help will be able to get it due to a shortage of pro bono and legal aid resources.

How CBF Grants Work

In the 70 years since its founding, the CBF has awarded over $50 million in grants to support pro bono, legal aid and related initiatives, and more than $45 million since 1999. Over that time, the CBF has honed its grantmaking focus around access to justice and expanded its grantmaking partnerships with other foundations, the courts, and government entities. More than 5,200 individual donors, more than 200 law firms, corporations and other law-related organizations, and the CBF’s many dedicated partners have enabled the CBF to increase our annual grants more than tenfold over the past 20 years.

Support dozens of outstanding pro bono and legal aid organizations serving our community.

Underwrite court-based help desks and pro bono projects that make the justice system more user-friendly and accessible.

Make it possible for pro bono attorneys to most effectively make a difference.

Help dedicated attorneys pursue legal aid careers.

Grant Types

Organizational Support grants fund effective, well-managed organizations that are working to improve access to justice for low-income and disadvantaged people in Cook County. In particular, the CBF considers the overall systemic impact the organization has; the areas of law and communities served by the organization; and the number of people impacted by the organization’s work. The CBF supports these grantees beyond the initial financial award.  Grantee leadership meets semi-monthly to collaborate with each other and tackle common obstacles. The CBF funds Chicago Bar Foundation Association memberships that include an unlimited continuing legal education (CLE) subscription. These grantees are also invited to attend special trainings coordinated by the CBF. See below for the full list of the CBF’s Organizational Support Grantees linking to their websites.

Read more about the CBF’s organizational support grants >

Special Project grants support innovative court-based projects that help make the legal system more fair, accessible, and efficient.  These projects have a broad impact on the courts and justice system and align with the CBF’s overall priorities, including making the courts more user-friendly and accessible to people without lawyers and supporting pro bono.

  • Municipal Court Advice DeskA joint project with the Circuit Court of Cook County, the CBF, and CARPLS, CLC complements the work of CARPLS at this Desk by providing extended representation to low-income patrons of the Desk referred by CARPLS with more complex cases pending in the 1st Municipal Division, including eviction and consumer cases.
  • Minor Guardianship Assistance Desk – A joint project with the Circuit Court of Cook County, the CBF, and CVLS, this Desk offers assistance to persons representing themselves in seeking guardianship of a minor.
  • The Judge William J. Hibbler Memorial Pro Se Assistance Desk – A partnership between the Federal District Court, Legal Aid Chicago, the CBF, and a group of dedicated pro bono attorneys, this Desk provides people without lawyers in Federal Court with legal information, advice and limited legal assistance.
  • Bankruptcy Assistance Desk – With a corps of pro bono attorneys, this Desk provides legal information, advice, and brief legal assistance to people without lawyers in Bankruptcy Court. This Desk is a partnership between the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Illinois, Legal Aid Chicago, and the CBF.
  • City of Chicago Administrative Hearings Advice Desk – This Desk is a joint project with the City of Chicago, the CBF and CARPLS that provides free legal assistance to low-income people with cases pending before the City’s Department of Administrative Hearings, including building code violation cases, vehicle impound cases, and other municipal matters.
  • Federal Court Settlement Assistance Project – Through this Project, pro bono attorneys represent self-represented people in settlement conferences in federal cases.

In addition to the Investing in Justice Campaign, the CBF receives a special grant from The Chicago Community Trust’s Chicago Area Fund for Legal Assistance; funds from Cook County, the U.S. District Court, the Bankruptcy Help Desk Foundation, and the City of Chicago to support court-based advice desks and pro bono projects; and other funds to support its Special Project Grants.

The CBF is a lead partner in the groundbreaking Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt (CCLAHD) program, an innovative public/private partnership between Cook County, the Circuit Court of Cook County, the City of Chicago, and many other government, legal, and community partners. In 2022, the CBF administered approximately $5 million in grants to support this partnership. CCLAHD partners include:

  • CARPLS
  • Center for Conflict Resolution
  • Center for Disability & Elder Law
  • Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
  • Greater Chicago Legal Clinic
  • Law Center for Better Housing
  • Legal Aid Chicago
  • Legal Aid Society 

In addition to the above partners, the CBF also supports more than two dozen community outreach grantees. 

To learn more about the CCLAHD program visit here >

The CBF provides YPB-YLS grants to fund projects that educate vulnerable youth about their legal rights and responsibilities or otherwise provide or promote legal or civic-related education, including diversity initiatives. These projects also provide volunteer opportunities for the CBA’s Young Lawyers Section (YLS) and the CBF’s Young Professionals Board (YPB) members.  Current grantees include: The Edward J. Lewis Chicago Lawyers in the Classroom Program, the Mikva Challenge, the Just the Beginning Foundation, Legal Prep Charter Academy, and Center for Disability and Elder Law. These grants are closed to new applicants.  

The CBF also provides small discretionary grants on a rolling basis to support valued organizations that do not yet qualify for an organizational support grant, legal adjacent non-profits, and specific one-time endeavors, such as a merger or the launch of a new project. The CBF is developing a process to allow organizations to apply for discretionary grants on a rolling basis.

Organizational Support Grantees Supported by the CBF

To see a full list of the grants the CBF awarded in 2022/2023 click here.
The CBF is developing a process to allow organizations to apply for discretionary grants on a rolling basis. The other categories are currently closed to new applicants.

Have questions? Please, contact Melanie MacBride at mmacbride@chicagobarfoundation.org.

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