By: Laurie I. Mikva
The Public Interest Law Initiative, or PILI, may be best known as an internship program that places law students at Chicago area public interest organizations for the summer. Indeed, that was the humble origins of the program. However, as the organization celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, PILI has emerged as a major player in sponsoring and promoting pro bono activities throughout Illinois.
PILI now runs a school year Internship Program in addition to the summer program, and Interns are placed at agencies outside Chicago. PILI also created a Graduate Fellowship Program in which incoming associates are paid by their law firms to work in public interest positions over the summer while they study for the bar exam; the Fellows are placed throughout Illinois and a few even work in other states.
According to Michael Bergmann, the Executive Director of PILI, there is a high call from public service agencies for Interns. Although PILI resources do not permit it to meet the entire demand, it continues to focus efforts on expanding its Internship and Fellowship Programs. In 1977, PILI’s first year, it placed twelve Interns at four Chicago agencies. This year, PILI placed 56 Interns and 70 Fellows at organizations throughout the state. The original summer stipend was $1,000; the stipend this year is $5,500 with plans to increase it another $500 over the next two years.
In 1999, PILI launched the Pro Bono Initiative to encourage firms and corporations to engage in pro bono. As part of this program, PILI has developed an array of written materials and other resources to help law firms, companies, agencies, individual attorneys and law students who want to develop, expand or improve pro bono programs and engage in pro bono activities. PILI regularly hosts roundtables and forums bringing together attorneys from law firms, corporations, law schools, and legal services agencies to discuss ideas and innovations.
PILI has been a guiding force in statewide pro bono efforts such as amending the Illinois Supreme Court Rules to require attorneys to report pro bono hours and financial contributions to legal services organizations as part of the annual attorney registration process.
In 2011, PILI established Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committees in six judicial circuits around the state. This year, it added the Eighteenth Circuit which is DuPage County. The Committees are made up of local judges, bar leaders, attorneys and representatives from the local legal services programs. The different Committees sponsor a variety of pro bono activities in their respective circuits. In the Third and Tenth Circuits, for example, the Committees established help desks at the courthouses staffed by volunteer attorneys. The Tenth and Eleventh Circuits instituted quarterly advice clinics where volunteer attorneys advise individuals on a host of legal issues.
Some of the Committees provide CLE programs free of charge to area attorneys in exchange for taking a pro bono case. Several Committees have hosted one-day summits providing assistance with discrete legal tasks including advance directives, guardianships and expungement. Ahead of the summits, the Committees provide training to area attorneys enabling them to provide the legal assistance. At a recent expungement summit in the Tenth Circuit, approximately 40 attorneys, trained by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, assisted more than 200 people to expunge their criminal records.
Come back tomorrow for Spotlight on PILI: Part 2!