Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the Law Firm Leadership Circle?
The Law Firm Leadership Circle and accompanying statement of principles are intended to embody best practices for firms on pro bono, giving and related issues involving access to justice. The Leadership Circle’s Statement of Principles underscores both the integral role that Chicago’s law firms have in ensuring equal access to our justice system and the critical importance of solid leadership from the top management of the firms.

Law Firms contribute to a variety of good causes, so why is the Law Firm Leadership Circle limited to Access to Justice issues?
Just as corporations in other sectors of business focus their charitable efforts on issues uniquely important to them (e.g., Kraft on helping fight hunger, Abbott on fighting deadly diseases that plague the poor, Microsoft on making technology available to underserved communities, etc.), the Leadership Circle reflects the unique importance of equal access to justice to the legal community. While we all are asked to support a number of worthy causes throughout the year, the justice system is our “home turf” as lawyers, and law firms have the responsibility and power to make a real difference in our community.

Why is the Law Firm Leadership Circle needed?
A dedicated group of pro bono and legal aid attorneys in Chicago provide vital legal services to many thousands of the most vulnerable residents in our community. However, due to a long-term underinvestment in our pro bono and legal aid system, tens of thousands of less fortunate individuals continue to lack access to legal assistance that is often critical to their safety and independence. Hundreds of thousands more are forced to try to solve often complex legal problems on their own.

As lawyers and guardians of the justice system, the huge gap in access to justice in our community today is simply unacceptable. The Law Firm Leadership Circle underscores the commitment of Chicago’s law firms to reverse this trend.

Why is The Chicago Bar Foundation the umbrella organization for the Law Firm Leadership Circle?
As the charitable arm of The Chicago Bar Association, The Chicago Bar Foundation rallies the legal community around a cause that is uniquely important to lawyers and legal professionals: ensuring that everyone in the Chicago area has access to the justice system, particularly the low-income and disadvantaged Chicagoans who most need the protections of the civil legal system.

With the support of more than 150 law firms and corporations and thousands of individual donors, the CBF plays a distinct and vital role in the community by taking a system-wide approach to tackling this issue. Through grants, advocacy and other leadership, we:

  • Advance the work of our community’s bro bono and legal aid organizations;
  • Enable dedicated lawyers to pursue careers in legal aid and help pro bono attorneys most effectively supplement their efforts; and
  • Make the courts and legal system more user-friendly and accessible for all.

The Law Firm Leadership Circle’s Statement of Principles embodies The Chicago Bar Foundation’s comprehensive approach to addressing the justice gap in our community

Is the Law Firm Leadership Circle just for large law firms?
No. The Law Firm Leadership Circle and accompanying Statement of Principles are specifically designed for firms of all sizes. The core pledges in the Statement of Principles are flexible standards that are designed for firms of any size.

Our firm also has offices in other parts of the country and world. Does this Statement of Principles apply to those offices too?
The Statement of Principles only applies to the firm’s Chicago office. Regardless of where a firm is based or where else the firm may have offices, the firm’s Chicago office is an important part of our City’s legal community and shares the same interest in ensuring a strong pro bono and legal aid system here. We believe this statement of principles is consistent with best practices elsewhere in the country and could be adopted in other offices at the firm’s option. But the Statement of Principles was designed so that it can easily be implemented here in Chicago even if a different standard is adopted for other offices of the firm.

How were the individual commitments in the Statement of Principles chosen as the guiding principles for the Law Firm Leadership Circle?
The Statement of Principles, developed by the CBF’s Managing Partners Advisory Committee, recognize that fulfilling our special professional responsibility to ensure equal access to our justice system requires contributions of time and money as well as a strategic use of the influence we have in our community as lawyers and law firms. We believe this may be the first time that a truly comprehensive statement of principles has been developed to recognize the unique role that law firms play in ensuring access to justice. However, each of the individual commitments in the Statement of Principles embodies best practices on these issues that previously have been acknowledged either in Chicago or other parts of the country

Our firm already has signed a statement of principles for pro bono work. Why isn’t our commitment to pro bono enough?
A firm’s commitment to pro bono work by its lawyers is clearly one of its most important contributions to ensuring equal access to justice. But it would be virtually impossible for any firm to have an effective pro bono program without partnering with one or more of the many outstanding legal aid organizations serving the Chicago area, and there are many ways that law firms can and should support the critical work of these organizations. This Statement of Principles builds on the commitment that many law firms and corporations previously made through the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) “Statement of Principles Regarding Pro Bono Legal Services” adopted in 2002. PILI and the CBF are now partners in the Pro Bono Initiative (PBI).

Why is support for legal aid agencies necessary for good law firm pro bono programs?
Firms need good legal aid organizations as partners in order to ensure effective pro bono programs, and investing in their work by providing the firm’s financial backing and other support is a necessary complement to good internal pro bono policies. Legal aid organizations provide the necessary “infrastructure” to support pro bono work for area lawyers and law firms (i.e., pro bono programs with solid screening, referral, training and support functions for volunteers). Legal aid programs also provide critical legal assistance to the most vulnerable members of our community in matters where pro bono is not a practical solution.

How were the minimum thresholds for core law firm financial support determined?
There are a number of standards that have been adopted for support of legal aid organizations in other cities. The minimum firm support amount ($300 per attorney) is based on the Philadelphia Bar Association’s successful “Raising the Bar” Campaign. In Philadelphia, 133 firms signed onto this Campaign last year, with many giving at higher levels–see www.philadelphiabar.org for more information. Other cities have adopted higher standards. For example, in San Francisco, a percentage of firm revenues is being used as the target for giving, while in New York a special campaign through the Legal Aid Society sets the minimum standard for law firms at $600 per attorney.

Rather than adopt these higher amounts as a minimum threshold for the Leadership Circle, the Statement of Principles have adopted the Gold ($600 per attorney) and Platinum ($1,000 per attorney) standards as aspirational targets for law firms in the Leadership Circle.

Why don’t we get credit for other kinds of law firm giving and community service?
While we recognize that lawyers and law firms support a variety of charitable initiatives, as a profession lawyers have a special responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to our justice system. The Leadership Circle and Statement of Principles focus on access to justice issues for that fundamental reason.

Why don’t firms get credit for financial contributions of individual attorneys, especially partners?
The preamble to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct underscores that both individual lawyers and law firms have a responsibility to help ensure access to justice. The Chicago Bar Association already has adopted a resolution for individual lawyers (see www.chicagobarfoundation.org for more information). The Leadership Circle and Statement of Principles are specifically targeted towards law firms.

It is widely recognized today that having a good pro bono program is good business for a law firm and an essential part of the firm’s long-term success. The firm’s pro bono program generates important benefits for the firm in recruiting, training and retaining the best and brightest young lawyers and can yield significant marketing and public relations benefits for the firm as well. As noted above, the firm’s financial support for local legal aid organizations is an integral part of the firm’s pro bono program, as these organizations provide the infrastructure and support that are critical to successful law firm pro bono programs.

Why are the firm’s matching contributions to the CBF Investing in Justice Campaign treated separately?
The CBF’s annual Investing in Justice Campaign is a communitywide fundraising campaign through which thousands of individual lawyers at Chicago law firms and corporations come together to build the capacity of our pro bono and legal aid system. 100% of the proceeds from the Campaign go directly for CBF grants that advance this purpose.

Because the Campaign is geared towards individual lawyers and is intended to raise funds above and beyond what law firms already are giving to the cause, firm matching contributions for the Campaign are treated separately from the firm’s core contributions to our community’s legal aid organizations and to the CBF. Matching contributions underscore the firm’s commitment to the Campaign and are a proven incentive for increasing individual giving; even a partial match from the firm has been shown to increase individual contributions, and that impact increases as the amount of the match increases.

What about other contributions to The Chicago Bar Foundation?
Other contributions to the CBF for the annual CBA/CBF Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon and other CBF events can be counted as core contributions for purposes of the Statement of Principles. These contributions support the CBF’s broader efforts to ensure access to justice, which along with grants include championing pro bono work and related access to justice initiatives in the legal community; advocating for sufficient government funding for legal aid and promoting broader community support; helping dedicated attorneys pursue careers in legal aid; working with the courts to make the justice system more user-friendly and accessible; and advancing best practices in the legal aid community on issues like management, governance and coordination with other providers. More information on the CBF’s comprehensive access to justice efforts is available at www.chicagobarfoundation.org.

How does the CBF determine the organizations that can be considered as qualifying donations for the Statement of Principles?
The organizations on the list all have been carefully vetted by the CBF through its organizational support grant process, an objective and thorough screening process that confirms these organizations are good investments in our legal aid system. This list will be periodically updated, and more information on the CBF’s grant process is available at www.chicagobarfoundation.org. As discussed further in the background materials for the Statement of Principles, contributions to other organizations that promote access to justice for vulnerable Chicagoans can be considered in determining whether a firm meets the Gold or Platinum standards for the Leadership Circle.

How will a firm’s participation be tracked going forward?
Firms will confidentially report to the CBF at a designated time each year on the firm’s progress with the Statement of Principles in the previous year. That report should include a statement that the firm remains committed to each of the standards in the Statement of Principles along with a summary of the firm’s financial contributions for that year. The CBF has prepared a user-friendly spreadsheet for a firm to track its qualifying financial contributions.

Will the firm’s reporting of financial contributions be made public?
No. All individual reporting by participating law firms will remain confidential. The only information that will be publicly reported will be whether a firm meets the criteria for the Leadership Circle, and if so, whether the firm meets the Gold or Platinum standards.

Will you track the firm’s pro bono hours too?
We are only asking for a good-faith commitment to the aspirational targets included in the pro bono portion of these standards. We recognize that other entities (e.g., Pro Bono Institute, American Lawyer) may ask for this information, but the CBF will not ask firms to report on their actual pro bono hours.

What kind of recognition will firms receive for being members of the Law Firm Leadership Circle?
In addition to recognition at CBF events, in CBA and CBF publications and on the CBF website, we anticipate members of the Law Firm Leadership Circle will be recognized in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Chicago Lawyer and Crain’s Chicago Business. There may additional recognition in American Lawyer, the National Law Journal, the Chicago Tribune and/or the Chicago Sun-Times. Members also will receive featured recognition at the annual Pro Bono Initiative event in June.

Who do we contact if we have questions?
You can contact Bob Deignan, Chair of the CBF Managing Partners Committee, at (312) 861-2860 or robert.e.deignan@bakernet.com, or Bob Glaves, Executive Director of the CBF, at (312) 554-1205 or bglaves@chicagobar.org.