April 2020Volume 6Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

A Look Into PILI’s Legal Prep Community Law Clinic

Each year, tens of thousands of Illinoisans have a legal problem but are not able to afford a lawyer to help them. Many of these problems are serious and need to be solved in order to keep a family housed, fed, healthy and safe. At the Public Interest Law Initiative, or PILI, we work with lawyers, law schools, and the courts to increase pro bono legal services across Illinois. Those who volunteer their time and talent—pro bono lawyers and legal professionals—provide invaluable service to someone for free when they otherwise could not afford a lawyer. 

A few years ago, PILI heard about a new legal-themed charter high school, Legal Prep Charter Academy, opening in the West Garfield Park area of Chicago. PILI was especially attracted to Legal Prep Charter Academy’s goal of introducing the law and the possibility of a legal career to high school students from diverse backgrounds. PILI thought this would be a perfect site for a legal clinic. Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, or CVLS, hosts legal clinics in the evenings and weekends at community organizations and churches, where people come to talk with a volunteer lawyer about their legal problem. CVLS helps train and support volunteers at the clinic.

In 2015, PILI partnered with CVLS and Legal Prep to launch the Legal Prep Community Law Clinic. The neighborhood clinic runs once a month. Although we mostly see clients from the Garfield Park neighborhood, some clients travel longer distances for the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. PILI helps find volunteers for the clinic, Legal Prep staff helps spread the word about the clinic and with logistics on the evening of the clinic, and CVLS sends clients to the clinic and helps support lawyers after the clinic. Typically, a Chicago law firm “adopts” a clinic each month and sends volunteers to that clinic.

Each month, approximately five volunteer lawyers meet with five clients to address a range of legal issues. One client may want to talk to a lawyer about adopting a child, another client may have problems with their apartment not being safe, and another may have questions regarding an inheritance. Some clients may just need advice or help filling out paperwork that night, but others may have a case that could last a year or more. We interview all the clients, try to answer any questions they have that night, and then see if they may need additional long-term support from a volunteer lawyer going forward. Interviews usually take between 30 minutes to an hour. 
Through this community-based legal clinic, volunteers help support the families of Legal Prep students as well as neighbors in the Garfield Park area. There are a lot of people who need but are not able to find legal assistance and this clinic is one way to help fill that need.

To learn more about PILI and its volunteer opportunities, visit www.pili.org or contact Brent Page at bpage@pili.org.

Brent Page (bpage@pili.org) is the senior managing attorney at the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), responsible for the overall planning, organizing, implementation, and evaluation for PILI’s programs statewide. Such responsibility includes the task of specifically managing PILI’s Law Student Internship Program, Graduate Fellowship Program, and Alumni Network. Outside of work, Brent is an active volunteer with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS) and serves on the board of directors for the Bleeding Disorder Alliance Illinois. Brent received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a juris doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law. 

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