Like most places in our country, the legal bar in Chicago is unable to provide sufficient free legal assistance to satisfy the growing demand by those in need. The irony is that Chicago and its suburbs are replete with attorneys who want to provide pro bono legal services, but who lack a workable model to do so. This is especially true of attorneys who have decided to take time off of work to raise their children. Out of the client’s need and the attorneys’ desire, an idea was born—the Pro Bono Network, a nonprofit based in Oak Park, Illinois, with the mission to bring more legal services to those in need by marshaling the talents of lawyers who have left full-time careers.
The Pro Bono Network partners with existing legal aid agencies to expand or adapt pro bono programs that will fit within the time constraints of stay-at-home parents. To that end, any project the Network adopts must satisfy several essential criteria: The agency must provide early morning training in Oak Park; hours must be flexible; matters should have short time frames; attorneys must be allowed to work in pairs to ensure back up when the inevitable sick-child situation arises; and the agency must provide malpractice insurance. Once a project is vetted, the Network first runs it as a pilot program, with a handful of volunteers participating to make sure it meets our criteria in practice.