The History of Legal Aid Chicago

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.

Those were the words of President Lyndon B. Johnson more than 50 years ago in a speech that kicked off the War on Poverty, which in turn gave birth to the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. (OEO). The OEO recognized that free civil legal services was an essential component to winning the war on poverty and in 1966 awarded two grants to two Chicago legal aid organizations which were later merged to form the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, now known as Legal Aid Chicago. In 1974, finding that “a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances,” Congress established the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and transferred the OEO’s legal services programs to LSC. LSC remains a significant funding partner to Legal Aid Chicago.

Legal Aid Chicago’s original location was in a downtown office in the Loop, which housed its administrative staff and specialty law projects. For many years, Legal Aid Chicago also hosted satellite offices in the communities of Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, Uptown, Pilsen, Wicker Park, and Grand Boulevard. Throughout the years, services expanded to include all of Cook County with additional offices in Evanston and Harvey. Eventually, Legal Aid Chicago decided to maintain its reach, but consolidate its offices into one centralized location in the Chicago Loop.

At the same time, Legal Aid Chicago organized its staff into practice groups that focus on Housing, Consumer, Children and Families, Public Benefits, and Immigrants and Workers’ Rights issues. Under this format, case handlers develop deeper expertise in their practice areas and collaborate more readily to help people with multiple legal problems.

Legal Aid Chicago also created a Community Engagement Unit (CEU) to help maintain its community ties and assist with education and outreach. The Practice Groups and CEU are supported by the organization’s Client Screening Unit (CSU), Legal Aid Chicago’s primary portal for clients seeking legal services. The CSU team screen clients, provide advice, offer brief services, and referrals to Legal Aid Chicago’s Practice Groups and to partner organizations throughout the community.

We have weathered many changes – including names and locations, funding feasts and famines. The last half century has seen Legal Aid Chicago grow and change in many ways, but the core of the work, providing high quality civil legal services for low-income and disadvantaged people, and lifting them out of poverty, has remained the same.

You Can Make a Difference

You – the legal community, foundations, and generous individual supporters – have built Legal Aid Chicago. Because of you, hundreds of  thousands of families have received the justice they deserve.To ensure that the most vulnerable people in Cook County have an advocate in their corner, Legal Aid Chicago relies on private donations. You can support Legal Aid Chicago with a tax-deductible contribution, and help us break the cycle of poverty for the clients we serve.

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