Prairie State Legal Services Awarded $517,000 to Boost Pro Bono Services

October 6, 2023

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced on Sept. 20 that it is awarding two Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants of $198,599 and $318,650 to Prairie State Legal Services (PSLS).

PSLS is one of 17 legal aid organizations receiving a grant. In total, LSC is awarding $5 million to support efforts to expand and improve pro bono legal services for low-income Americans.

In the face of a vast justice gap—where low-income people do not receive sufficient legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems—pro bono services are one of the approaches that LSC advances to address the disparities in access to justice. Expanding pro bono and other volunteer services gives legal aid providers increased bandwidth to assist low-income Americans in civil issue areas like housing, family, employment and income maintenance, consumer debt, and natural disaster recovery.

The $198,599 grant will support PSLS’ efforts to increase access to criminal records relief for low-income clients who experience barriers to employment, housing and financial stability due to a past criminal record. The project will engage law firm attorneys, corporate legal departments and non-attorney volunteers through specific volunteer opportunities at all stages of the criminal records relief process under the mentorship and guidance of PSLS staff.

The $318,650 grant will allow PSLS to increase the number of clients receiving high-quality legal assistance by streamlining intake and case acceptance processes for pro bono clients across its diverse 36-county service area. PSLS, guided by a consultant, will integrate PSLS’ Pro Bono Unit with its centralized intake system, expedite intake by triaging cases early on, and create new workflows to efficiently move a client from first phone contact to a pro bono attorney with minimal wait time. This grant continues the work of a Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant that PSLS received in 2019.

“LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund supports grantees’ tireless efforts to expand access to legal services,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “Pro bono volunteers are an invaluable resource for the millions of low-income Americans in need of legal aid.”

LSC is awarding these grants from its Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) included in its FY 2023 congressional appropriation. Since the inception of PBIF in 2014, LSC has awarded 139 grants totaling more than $40 million. Each organization’s project involves creating solutions to persistent challenges in pro bono delivery systems or exploring new ways to implement pro bono services to reach low-income Americans with legal needs. The funds are directed to grantee projects that are replicable and scalable, and which focus on critical, unmet need.

Senator Dick Durbin, Representative Bill Foster (IL-11), Representative Robin Kelly (IL-2), Representative Eric Sorensen (IL-17), and Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) congratulated PSLS on receiving the grant for pro bono services. 

“Pro Bono Innovation Grants recognize the unsung heroes in legal services who tirelessly work to bridge the justice gap,” said Sen. Durbin. “This federal funding paves the way for innovative solutions that address the persistent challenges in our pro bono delivery system, ensuring that the goals of justice and fairness remain steadfastly within our reach.” 

“I applaud these awards for Prairie State Legal Services, which will allow them to enhance and expand pro-bono legal assistance for the most vulnerable people in the far suburbs who often have nowhere else to turn for help,” said Rep. Foster. “The right to competent legal assistance is a core American value, and Prairie State Legal Services works to ensure that a person’s financial situation doesn’t prevent them from accessing quality legal resources and representation. I also appreciate the bipartisan support in Congress for the Legal Services Corporation that makes this work possible.” 

“I am grateful that the Legal Services Corporation has recognized the important impact that Prairie State Legal Services has on our community. This grant funding will provide opportunities for so many people and uplift our entire community. I look forward to supporting efforts to expand economic opportunity in Congress and promoting continued investment in these vital resources,” said Rep. Kelly. 

"Being a good neighbor means making sure the most vulnerable in our communities are able to have their basic needs met and their rights protected under the law," said Rep. Sorensen. "I applaud Prairie State Legal Services for securing this federal grant funding and for advancing their mission to make Central and Northwestern Illinois a more equitable place to live for all families.” 

“For people in our community who have experienced our criminal justice system, having access to quality legal services is essential.” said Rep. Underwood. “It can mean the difference between quality job opportunities on reentry, or facing countless obstacles. It can mean the difference between having affordable health care coverage, or having to bear the high costs of health care alone. Too often, access to quality legal services is a matter of justice, or complete injustice. This grant will improve access to necessary legal services for our community.”