Spotlight on Pro Bono: Make Pro Bono Part of Your 2021 World
Susan L. Zielke, Managing Attorney, Eastern Regional Office, Land of Lincoln Legal Aid
In a new year, we make resolutions. In our work, we set SMART goals. For our life, we choose focus words. Make pro bono one of those overarching themes for 2021.
Heartland Alliance reports that in Illinois in 2019, 1.4 million individuals were living at 100% of the federal poverty level (11.5% of the population) and an additional 1.9 million were living between 100 and 199% of the federal poverty level (15% of the population). This was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Columbia University’s report, “Monthly Poverty Rates in the United States During COVID-19” found the monthly poverty rate increased from 15% to 16.7% from February to September 2020, even after taking the CARES Act’s income transfers into account. Increases in monthly poverty rates have been particularly acute for Black and Hispanic people, as well as for children.
Now is the time to use your legal skills to help these families. We know the necessities have become difficult for families living on the margins to maintain. While the eviction moratorium helps, eventually it will end, and many households will need help navigating the legal process of eviction. Families continue to experience domestic violence and other issues that need the courts’ involvement to resolve. Debt is rising and will need to be addressed—likely through small claims and other debt-related cases. Individuals need help in sealing or expunging their past criminal records so they are no longer barred from good jobs and housing due to mistakes in their past.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f) defines pro bono broadly. There are many ways to be involved. Contact your local legal aid office to volunteer to take pro bono cases. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation grant recipients—a variety of agencies who provide legal aid—are a great place to start if you are looking for an agency. In downstate Illinois, contact Prairie State Legal Services and Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. Get involved with virtual legal advice, or community- or court-based help desks through the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). Volunteer to assist veterans through the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN), who can connect you with a local agency or PILI. Stay connected with the ISBA’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee through its pro bono opportunities page. You will find pro bono messages from a variety of ISBA members, including ISBA President Dennis Orsey. Make pro bono part of your 2021 world!