The Pro Bono & Community Service Initiative, joined by the Center for Public Interest Law, the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, the Asian Pacific-American Law Student Association, and the Public Interest Law Association, closed out Pro Bono Week in November with a lunchtime panel discussion on the benefits of pro bono work. Panelists included representatives from the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS), LAF and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) –- all organizations that assist low-income clients in the Chicago area.
The panelists presented unique perspectives on pro bono work and discussed how each of their organizations provides services in a slightly different manner. Phil Mohr (JD '91), deputy director of CVLS, began the discussion with insight into the various ways legal aid organizations are organized. CVLS, for example, largely relies on volunteer attorneys to represent clients, as they only have seven or so staff attorneys in the office. Mara Block, the pro bono project staff attorney from LAF, explained that LAF is a large office that serves its clients mostly through staff attorneys. Samira Nazem, staff attorney and pro bono coordinator at LCBH, explained that LCBH focuses solely on housing and engages in broader advocacy and lobbying than other legal aid organizations because they do not rely on traditional legal aid grants for funding.
In addition to explaining the ins and outs of a legal aid organization, the panel speakers emphasized the need for pro bono attorneys and law students to sustain their legal aid efforts. Grace Newgard, staff attorney and director of the pro bono program at the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, relayed a few shocking statistics about Chicago and the increasing access to justice problem. Despite the dedication of these legal aid attorneys and their organizations, the number of low-income Chicago residents in need of affordable legal services far outweighs the availability of said services. The panel was unanimous in saying that volunteers, both attorneys and law students, were an integral part of bridging this gap and aiding in increased access to justice for all individuals.
Each of the organizations represented at the panel encouraged law students of all class levels to volunteer, apply for internships, and/or coordinate externships and talked about how pro bono can help law students hone their legal skills while helping others in need.