ABA and CBA pro bono directors discuss access to justice issues

Cheryl Zalenski, director of the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, and Kelly Tautges, director of Pro Bono & Court Advocacy at the Chicago Bar Foundation, discussed federal and state efforts to increase Access to Justice initiatives with law students at DePaul University College of Law in late October. 

Over one million residents in Illinois live under the poverty level and cannot pay for legal assistance, but there are only approximately 300 attorneys who provide legal aid pro bono service in Illinois. The Access to Justice movement strives to connect all interested parties in coordinated efforts to bring legal aid to those communities in need of legal representation. 

Zalenski described the national Access to Justice efforts, such as encouraging legal communities to form Access to Justice Commissions and undertake certain model rule amendments. There are approximately 30 Access to Justice Commissions across the nation. The priorities vary at each commission. Examples of projects include standardizing legal forms across counties and affecting policy changes to allow retired attorneys to volunteer their free time doing pro bono work.

According to Tautges, the Access to Justice Commission in Illinois, established last year, has formed nine separate committees to increase and facilitate access to justice efforts in the state. Some of their efforts include working with the Illinois Supreme Court to allow law students to obtain their 711 license after earning half, rather than two-thirds, of their law school credits, effectively allowing students to start serving clients in need sooner.  The Illinois Commission recently sponsored a conference to highlight growth in court based pro bono programs. 

The panel discussion was hosted by the Pro Bono Community Service Initiative and the Center for Public Interest Law, and co-sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, Outlaws, and the Journal for Women and Gender Law.