DePaul’s Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, Center for Public Interest Law, and Pro Bono & Community Service Initiative joined forces with Illinois Legal Aid Online to host a Legal Answers pro bono clinic in family and housing law. The clinic took place on Friday, February 24th at DePaul College of Law.
Fifteen pro bono attorneys, many of who are DePaul alumni, and twenty five law student volunteers participated in the virtual legal advice clinic. They worked in small groups to research and respond to family and housing law questions on the Legal Answers website (il.freelegalanswers.org). Legal Answers is an American Bar Association sponsored web program where lower income Illinois residents can ask an attorney for help with a legal issue. Legal Answers uses technology to increase access to legal help while making pro bono easy for attorneys. By the end of the clinic, the attorney/student teams answered forty-six family law and seven housing law questions.
The attorneys enjoyed working with students, helping them figure out how to answer complex family and housing law questions in a manner that is understandable and accurate. According to Michelle Cass, alumna and associate at Rinella & Rinella, Ltd.: “The pro bono clinic offered an excellent opportunity for practitioners and students alike to connect with and assist families in need of legal advice. Students rose to the challenge and conveyed professionalism and poise while addressing the access to justice gap that continues to be a rising call to action for the family-law community.”
The students found the hands-on experience invaluable. First-year law student and Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Fellow, Hannah Thayer, explained that the clinic was incredibly worthwhile: “The pro-bono event was extremely beneficial because I was able to work hands-on with a practicing attorney in a field that I am interested in to answer real-life questions. It gave me the opportunity to learn about specific statutes and requirements while also applying skills that are taught in 1L classes. This experience allowed me to gain more knowledge of and interest in family law, while also helping others in a time of confusion and need.” First-year law student Sal De Los Angeles agreed: “The Legal Answers Pro Bono Clinic was incredible. I think what made it so valuable to me as a student, was the opportunity to work and be mentored by a practicing attorney. I would definitely do it again.”
DePaul College of Law is the first law school in Illinois to offer this type of clinic and hopes to host additional clinics in the future. It was the perfect blend of pro bono, mentoring, and legal tech to address access to justice issues.