Blog: Pro Bono

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

When we ask attorneys why they don’t do pro bono, a few answers routinely pop up: I am not eligible, or I don’t have time to dedicate to long cases.

Fortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court recently implemented a number of new rules designed to make it easier than ever for attorneys to engage in pro bono work. Under the new rules, out-of-state licensed attorneys, in-house counsel, and inactive attorneys can provide pro bono services in Illinois. This will allow a new group of attorneys to provide pro bono services in Illinois without having to go through an extensive and costly registration process.

The biggest change, however, is the introduction of Limited Scope Representation (LSR). LSR allows legal aid agencies like LCBH to file a limited appearance in a case to perform a discrete task for a client. This can range from appearing at one court date to argue a motion for summary judgment to negotiating a settlement to stepping up on a trial date. Once the task is completed, regardless of the outcome, the attorney can withdraw orally and the court must agree. This allows the LSR attorney to provide a critical and immediate service and not worry about breaching professional responsibility duties.

At LCBH, we are experimenting with new ways to use LSR to serve more clients and provide more volunteer opportunities to our pro bono attorneys. Using LSR, we can handle small parts of complex cases and experiment with new legal strategies.

Special Service Award

Eunice Lee
Eunice Lee with Executive Director Cheryl Lawrence

Eunice Lee has been a dedicated LCBH volunteer for over two years. She first came to LCBH to gain litigation experience and has since dedicated nearly 900 hours of her time to helping renters through serious housing problems. She hopes to take the litigation skills she has developed at LCBH and branch out into other areas of law. She works part-time as a pharmacist and would like to explore the intersection of health care and law in the future. We would like to thank Eunice for her hard work and ongoing commitment to LCBH!

Teaming Up to Fight Homelessness

John Norkus

LCBH handled over 300 eviction defense cases last year. However, that’s only a drop in the bucket of the 31,000 eviction actions that were filed in Chicago last year. What happens to the rest of those families? The majority of them appear in court pro se, without counsel.

The Chicago Bar Foundation, aware that legal aid agencies are only able to handle a small fraction of the total cases filed every year, recently launched the Justice Entrepreneurship Project (JEP). JEP serves as an incubator for recent law school graduates looking to start private law firms serving lower income clients. As part of the program, JEP fellows are partnered with legal aid agencies to develop their skills.

LCBH is fortunate to host two JEP fellows from the program’s inaugural class. Katrice Hall and John Norkus volunteer with LCBH on a part-time basis while growing their private practices. We recently sat down with John to discuss his experience with the program and how LCBH has helped him on the path to launching his own firm.

John always knew he wanted to run his own law firm, but he wasn’t sure when to launch it. Then he heard about the JEP and decided to take the plunge. John and another JEP fellow launched Norkus McCoid (www.norkusmccoid.com), a small firm focusing on consumer, family, and housing law.

The Unsung Heroes of Pro Bono

We would like to thank all of our volunteers for a record year of service. Although we live in a city with many challenges, we also live in a city with many truly generous people who contribute to improving our city for all of us. Typically we think of pro bono as volunteer attorneys or others who provide services directly to our clients, but what most people don’t see is the donations that go on behind the scenes. Non-profit agencies like LCBH raise every dollar they spend- every year. When opportunities arise to receive other kinds of goods and services, we jump at the chance! LCBH receives donations each year that fall outside of direct services and are critically important to us.

This year, especially going through a forced relocation of our office, we have many unsung heroes of pro bono to thank for their assistance. We would like to thank you for finding creative ways to contribute and make a difference! We would especially like to give a shout out of gratitude to Advanced Discovery, Tadashi Films, Taproot Foundation, Desmond and Ahern, Jenner & Block, The Mace Group, US Equities Realty, The Jacobson Group, Techno Architects, Vortex Commercial Flooring, and ACS Contracting.

2013 Friend of LCBH Award

The WCPBN team with Cheryl Lawrence, LCBH Executive Director; Anthony G. Hopp, LCBH Board President; Mark Swartz, LCBH Legal Director

West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN)
We honor WCPBN for its unique commitment to LCBH and our Pro Bono program.

2013 Law Firm of the Year Award

From Left: Anthony G. Hopp, LCBH Board President; Cheryl Lawrence, LCBH Executive Director; John R. Storino, Jenner & Block, Edward Mansell, Jenner & Block, Mark Swartz, LCBH Legal Director

Jenner & Block
The Law Firm of the Year award is presented when a firm’s pro bono contributions to LCBH or its mission are so significant that it creates an impact well into the future

2013 Volunteer of the Year Award

From left: Anthony G. Hopp, LCBH Board President; Sean Mines; Cheryl Lawrence, LCBH Executive Director

Sean Mines
We honor Sean for embodying the spirit of LCBH’s pro bono program combining compassionate with commitment.

Lacy Burpee at the help desk

This month, we decided to sit down with staff attorney Lacy Burpee, an Equal Justice Works Foreclosure Fellow to find out a little more about the work she does at the Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk at the Daley Center.

Lacy, you are an attorney as well as an Equal Justice Works Foreclosure Fellow, can you tell us where you went to law school and more about that program?
I attended DePaul University College of Law. After graduating, I was selected as one of four Equal Justice Works (EJW) Foreclosure Fellows. This fellowship is a three year position, which is funded by the Attorney General through the mortgage foreclosure settlement. The purpose of these fellowships is to provide services to people impacted by the foreclosure crisis. In my work, I primarily assist tenants who are living in apartment buildings that are going through foreclosure. I spend most of my time at the Tenants in Foreclosure Help Desk, which is located on the 14th floor of the Daley Center, where many eviction courtrooms are located.

Pro Bono Keeps Talented Lawyers on TAP

What’s better than winning a case in eviction court? Not having to go to eviction court in the first place! That’s the philosophy behind the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) at LCBH. TAP relies exclusively on volunteers to resolve landlord-tenant disputes before they escalate, with the goal of keeping tenants in their homes and out of court.

For many months, LCBH was forced to reject many TAP cases that came in because there weren’t enough resources to handle them internally. Last fall, we began a partnership with the West Cook Pro Bono Network (WCPBN), an Oak Park-based group of attorney moms and solo practitioners looking to balance their passion for pro bono with the demanding requirements of family life. Every week, one or two WCPBN members sign up to be “on call” for LCBH and handle any TAP cases that come in that week. WCPBN volunteers are able to work from home on their own schedule and our clients are able to get great pro bono representation from a team of experienced and talented volunteer attorneys.

Since October, WCPBN volunteers have handled almost 20 TAP cases for LCBH! Here are a few highlights of their work:

Couple struggle with housing issues

Do you remember how long your last lease was? A page or two? It probably wasn’t 20+ pages, the typical length of a lease for a resident of subsidized housing in Chicago.

What’s in those lengthy leases? Rules. To qualify for subsidized housing, residents must go through a rigorous background check and application process.

Once approved, residents are asked to sign paperwork agreeing to abide by a comprehensive set of rules. Any violation is grounds for eviction.

Many of the rules that these residents must abide by seem quite reasonable. There are the standard prohibitions on noise and damage. There are bans on criminal conduct, drug use, and gang activity. But other rules seem unnecessarily restrictive, especially to anyone used to the freedom of the private housing market. The following are actual rules enforced in some Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) properties: