Access to justice needed more than ever

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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So many things have changed in our lives in the last six months. You probably have experienced unprecedented changes in your personal, family, community, school, and work lives this year. The COVID-19 pandemic and continuing incidents of racial injustice have impacted our lives in many ways.

Low-income people have felt the impact in the extreme, forced to face the pandemic and persistent injustices without resources to navigate or overcome their challenges. The access to justice gap between those who can afford to hire an attorney and those who cannot has grown larger and more dangerous. Increasing numbers of people are losing their housing, health care, jobs, education, benefits, and even lives, and do not have access to critical legal assistance.

According to the Aspen Institute, over one million Illinois residents and 40 million people nationwide are at risk of being evicted when the current moratorium expires. Unemployment and government benefit claims have skyrocketed, with frequent denials or delays. Medically vulnerable seniors are having difficulty obtaining critical advance directives. Victims of domestic violence are having trouble getting the protective orders they need for themselves and their children. The existence of sometimes decades-old criminal records is preventing people from securing new jobs or obtaining new housing. And Black, Brown, and Latinx communities are impacted with all of these issues at a much higher rate, while also experiencing systemic racial injustices in our legal and economic systems.

Since 2011, Pro Bono Network has provided more than 24,000 hours of free legal services to low-income persons who otherwise would not have access to critical legal assistance. This year, PBN staff, volunteers, and partner agencies have stepped up in whole new ways, and are creating methods to serve clients in need remotely and safely, using new technologies and adapting current projects. We have started new programs to address pandemic-related legal needs and racial inequities, including many of those mentioned above.

If you are an attorney who would like to help us seek justice for vulnerable people in Cook and DuPage counties, we have training sessions scheduled and opportunities available to get you started. We provide support, backup, and insurance. You provide your time and energy. Together, we can change someone's life. We have virtual trainings starting in late September. For more information you can visit volunteer.attorney or email info@pro-bono-network.org for more information.

Linda Rio

Executive director, Pro Bono Network

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