By: Laurie I. Mikva
In January, PILI hired its first staff member housed outside of Chicago. Elizabeth (“Beth”) Jensen, who has a long history in legal aid and public service, is PILI’s Program Director with an office in Peoria from which she oversees the statewide array of PILI sponsored pro bono activities. She recently helped organize a statewide summit, inviting leaders from all of the Circuit Pro Bono Committees along with area legal services providers and statewide legal aid organizations to share information and initiatives.
From her days as a legal aid attorney, Beth knows that there is a problem in many smaller counties where the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) grantee runs the only pro bono program in the county. Thus, a party who is unable to obtain assistance from the grantee due to a conflict is also ineligible for services from the pro bono program. A plan for a pilot project emerged from the statewide summit in which the Tenth Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee will develop a pro bono referral program apart from the LSC grantee. Besides being able to refer clients who have a conflict with the grantee, the new program might also refer those whom the grantee is unable to assist due to restrictions on LSC funds, for example undocumented workers.
In 2007, PILI created the Alumni Network to help maintain connections with the nearly 4000 Intern and Fellow Alumni, many but not all of whom practice in the Chicago area. According to Michael Bergmann, “PILI Alumni are all over Chicago and the country, all over the profession, and beyond.” PILI is working hard to connect with those Alumni and give them opportunities, wherever they are, to get involved with PILI and other pro bono activities.
In 2015, PILI joined forces with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services or CVLS to start a legal clinic, creating a pro bono opportunity for Chicago area Alumni. The Legal Prep Community Law Clinic takes place once a month at the Legal Prep Charter Academy in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. According to Brent Page, PILI’s Program Manager, it made sense to house a legal assistance clinic in the only law-focused public high school in Chicago.
PILI Alumni along with other attorneys from Chicago area law firms that have agreed to “adopt” the Clinic for a month each year provide legal advice and assistance to parents of Legal Prep Charter Academy students and other members of the community. Heidi Hockberger, a 2017 graduate from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, was one of the volunteers at the Legal Prep Community Law Clinic in June. Heidi is one of 17 current PILI Fellows from Kirkland & Ellis. She is working at CVLS where she also worked as a PILI Intern during her 3L year.
With all of her PILI Internship and Fellowship experience at CVLS working directly with clients, Heidi had no qualms about talking to a young man with a landlord/tenant problem even though her usual practice is in the areas of bankruptcy and mortgage foreclosure. Also, Heidi knew that if the Clinic determined that the client’s case had merit and decided to represent him, she had the option of handing the case off to another volunteer or keeping the case and obtaining all of the assistance she needed from PILI and CVLS. Heidi is an excellent example of the success of the PILI Internship Program in cultivating an individual commitment to public service and pro bono.
PILI will celebrate its 40th Anniversary at its annual Awards Gala on November 30, 2017. Congratulations to PILI on 40 years of providing outstanding pro bono leadership, programming and innovation. If working with PILI at the Legal Prep Community Law Clinic sounds like too good an opportunity to pass up, the Clinic is always looking for volunteers. Also, sponsorship opportunities remain available for the special Anniversary Awards Gala.