Spotlight on Pro Bono: Southern Illinois Celebrates Pro Bono
By Sarah J. Taylor
On November 12, 2019, Southern Illinois University School of Law hosted the area’s first event designed to recognize the pro bono work of local lawyers and mediators. The inaugural Celebrate Pro Bono reception was co-sponsored by SIU School of Law, Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc., Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), the Jackson and Williamson County Bar Associations, and local law firms Reed, Heller, and Reed, Attorneys at Law, of Murphysboro and Barrett, Twomey, Broom, Hughes and Hoke, LLP, of Carbondale.
The reception was attended by 34 lawyers, judges, law students, and others, and celebrated the outstanding pro bono work being performed by the southern Illinois legal community. Attendees were also provide with information about opportunities for attorneys, law students, mediators, and other legal professionals to provide pro bono legal and mediation assistance to low-income individuals and families in the area.
The Celebrate Pro Bono reception opened with a presentation by the Honorable Michael A. Fiello, associate judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Illinois. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Fiello was a staff attorney and managing attorney for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid for his entire legal career. He spoke eloquently about the need for attorneys and mediators to accept pro bono cases in order to supplement legal aid programs in their efforts to help low-income individuals obtain access to justice. Judge Fiello reminded attendees of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules’ preamble, which states that attorneys have a responsibility to do pro bono work for those who cannot afford lawyers. He said that legal aid attorneys are only able to assist a small fraction of the many people in Illinois with civil legal problems, and that pro bono attorneys provide a vital service in helping to meet that need.
Interim Dean Cindy Buys spoke about SIU School of Law’s pro bono requirement. Dean Buys stated that SIU law students are required to complete 35 hours of pro bono work prior to graduation. The work must be law related, uncompensated, supervised by an attorney or faculty member, and not for academic credit. She recognized students who had achieved the highest number of pro bono hours in the past few years. More information about SIU Law School’s pro bono requirement can be found here: https://law.siu.edu/academics/field-experiences/pro-bono/
Missy Greathouse, executive director of Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc. (DRI), which administers the First Judicial Circuit's Pro Bono Family Mediation Program and other programs, stated that DRI was celebrating its tenth year of providing pro bono and sliding scale mediations in Illinois. She thanked the many volunteer mediators who had provided pro bono mediation services on behalf of DRI. She also acknowledged DRI’s founding and subsequent board of directors members for their commitment to DRI’s mission. Finally, she encouraged those in attendance to consider volunteering for DRI, which was in need of mediators and other kinds of volunteers. More information about DRI’s programming can be found here: http://www.dri-inc.org/home.html
Michael Bergmann, PILI’s executive director, spoke about the ways in which pro bono can help people, family, and communities in need in Illinois. He noted that PILI, a statewide organization, had just started to have programming in southern Illinois and thanked the local attorneys who had volunteered for PILI’s pro bono referral program serving veterans through the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN). Bergmann explained that PILI administers several pro bono programs throughout Illinois, working collaboratively with local bar associations, legal aid agencies, and other groups to complement the services already provided and to fill gaps in existing services. He noted that, among other programs, PILI now administers Illinois Free Legal Answers, a virtual pro bono opportunity for attorneys throughout Illinois. More information about all of PILI’s Pro Bono Opportunities can be found here: http://pili.org/pro-bono/opportunities/
The final speaker was Diane Goffinet, managing attorney for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid’s southern regional office, which provides free civil legal aid to families and individuals in need in 23 counties in southern Illinois. Goffinet explained that legal aid agencies nationally are only able to serve approximately 18 percent of the legal needs of the low income people of our country, and that pro bono and private bar involvement attorneys help Land of Lincoln bridge that gap and serve a portion of the 82 percent that it would normally turn away. She thanked the many attorneys in southern Illinois who have participated in Land of Lincoln’s pro bono and private bar involvement programs, and noted that Land of Lincoln has volunteer opportunities for attorneys, law students, paralegals, undergraduate students, retired lawyers, and others. Finally, Goffinet presented the 2019 Land of Lincoln Joseph R. Bartylak Pro Bono Award for the southern region to Carbondale attorney, Eugenia Hunter. Goffinet thanked Hunter for providing many hours of pro bono services to Land of Lincoln clients and for her longstanding dedication to pro bono. This award honors a volunteer attorney in each of Land of Lincoln’s five regions who has directly achieved outstanding results for Land of Lincoln clients or who has supported Land of Lincoln staff in their delivery of high quality legal services. More information about volunteering for Land of Lincoln can be here: https://lincolnlegal.org/volunteer-opportunities/
The Celebrate Pro Bono reception was well-received and the general consensus was that it should become an annual event. Future goals for the event include exploring ways to recognize the pro bono assistance provided by lawyers and mediators that is unconnected with legal aid agencies and ways of increase the participation of law students and other legal professionals, such as paralegals and legal secretaries, in future events.
Special thanks to the members of the pro bono committee that organized this year’s reception: Michael Bergmann, Elizabeth Boe, Diane Goffinet, Missy Greathouse, Michael Ruiz, and Sarah Taylor. If you are interested in helping to plan the 2020 Celebrate Pro Bono Reception, please email Sarah Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.