Legal Aid in Cook County

Dec 16, 2010
  • Description

Cook County's pro bono and legal aid delivery system is designed to help low-income and disadvantaged Chicagoans obtain the protections of our civil legal system and is an integral piece of both our justice system and our community's safety net. Each day, over 30 organizations help thousands of low-income people resolve serious issues that threaten their safety and independence, including issues such as domestic violence, mortgage foreclosure and obtaining public benefits wrongfully denied. In the past 7 years, the pro bono and legal aid system serving Cook County has grown significantly. Thanks to increases in funding, improvements in efficiency and continued innovation, Cook County's pro bono and legal aid organizations are serving more than twice as many people as seven years ago, reaching almost 180,000 people in 2009. Funding from various sources -- particularly the legal community and foundations has increased during this time, though government's share of overall funding for legal aid has not kept pace. The advances made by the pro bono and legal aid system, however, are still not adequate to respond to the needs of the number of low-income people in Chicago and Cook County suburbs, which has grown during the same period. In 2009, over 25% of the County's residents were at or close to the poverty level, with the numbers of low-income people growing both in the city of Chicago and the suburbs of Cook County. Even prior to the economic downturn, pro bono and legal aid providers struggled to meet the legal needs of this population. In 2010, pro bono and legal aid organizations report that demand for their services is soaring at the same time revenue from all sources is flat or declining. While great progress has been made, much work remains. A broad base of stakeholders -- led by the legal community and also including foundations, corporations and other dedicated individuals and entities -- must continue to support the work of our community's pro bono and legal aid system. For our community to have a system that can serve everyone in need, however, government at all levels must significantly step up its support as part of its fundamental responsibility to ensure equal access to justice. Pro bono and legal aid organizations help keep families and the communities in which they live stable. Without their help, thousands of low-income people are left to solve complex legal problems on their own, which may result in loss of their home, personal safety or economic stability. Our nation's promise of equal justice for all cannot succeed without a secure and well-funded pro bono and legal aid system. This report provides an update on the state of this system, including the current demand for services, how services are being provided and where funding comes from for this work. The Chicago Community Trust provided major funding support for the report in partnership with The Chicago Bar Foundation. Data for the report were provided by legal aid organizations and independent sources. Analysis of the data were provided by Rob Paral & Associates as well as staff of The Chicago Bar Foundation. We hope that this report will inform and energize all stakeholders to build on the progress of recent years and bring us closer to a justice system that is truly accessible to everyone in our community.