In addition to Access to Justice Grants, the Warren Lupel Lawyers Care Fund and Illinois JusticeCorps, the Illinois Bar Foundation has several dedicated funds and special projects that allow the organization to be nimble and responsive to the community’s needs.
Free Legal Answers is a virtual, walk-in legal clinic that provides a unique and flexible pro bono opportunity to Illinois lawyers. It is a secure website where low-income Illinoisans can ask a lawyer for help with a civil legal issue. Volunteer lawyers then log on to the site at any time to answer questions in the queue.
A project of the American Bar Association, Free Legal Answers was created to increase access to advice and information about non-criminal legal matters for those who cannot afford legal assistance. The Illinois Bar Foundation has been a proud supporter of Illinois Free Legal Answers since its adoption in Illinois by Illinois Legal Aid Online with sustained funding over a three-year period to launch the program. When PILI took over the program in 2019, the Illinois Bar Foundation was there to help support the transition and continues to make the program possible through special project funding.
In recognition of the challenges faced by solo and small practice attorneys at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iillinois Bar Foundation established the COVID-19 Lawyers Care Relief Fund in June 2020 as an extension of our existing Warren Lupel Lawyers Care Fund. This initiative enabled us to further our reach to even more attorneys in need throughout the state, specifically providing one-time lump sum direct payments to attorneys struggling to make ends meet as a result of this crisis. This special relief fund was made possible by cy pres awards directed to the Illinois Bar Foundation by our friends at Edelson PC and Zimmerman Law Offices as well as donations from our generous supporters.
Established by Mark and Janet Hassakis, the M. Denny Hassakis Fund focuses on improving the Illinois’ juvenile justice system, through public policy changes and support of programs helping vulnerable youth.
The ISBA’s Rural Practice Fellowship Program aims to establish new attorneys in legal practice in rural parts of the state lacking adequate access to attorneys. These “rural legal deserts” are growing and present a significant hurdle to access to justice in Illinois. In 2020, thirty-five Illinois counties had 10 or fewer attorneys in private practice, and 13 counties had 5 or fewer attorneys in private practice. As the few remaining rural attorneys retire or leave, residents of rural Illinois report increasing difficulty in securing legal services.
Since 2020, the Rural Practice Fellowship Program has helped address this problem by placing 18 associate fellows and 10 summer clerk fellows with firms in rural parts of the state. Each fellow receives a stipend to assist with relocation expenses and to augment rural salaries. The program also includes educational support for the supervising attorneys and the new lawyers, and provides resources and training to encourage the participants to increase access to justice through the provision of pro bono services.
The Children’s Assistance Fund, overseen by the ISBA Young Lawyers Division, awards grants to organizations across the state related to children and law. Initially created to assist with the opening of children’s waiting rooms in courthouses across the state, the IBF/YLD Children’s Assistance Fund has since broadened its mission.
Today, the IBF/YLD Children’s Assistance Fund annually supports the ISBA YLD Intern at the Public Interest Law Initiative. The intern provides legal services to or on behalf of children, working 400 hours during a summer internship at a PILI-participant legal aid agency. Each year the interns yield immediate tangible results for their agencies and the clients they serve through direct legal aid, while also helping to create long-term sustainability of legal services through the relationships and skills they build and through the commitment to service fostered through their PILI Internship.