Law Firm Support Sought for Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program

pro bono panel programThe legal system can be a scary place full of unknowns for a pro se litigant trying to maneuver through a case. Add in a jury demand and attorney representation for the adverse party and the intimidation from the unknowns can be overwhelming. Enter the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program to help.

When Megan McClung isn’t instructing future lawyers in Trial Advocacy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, or Illinois lawyers in the Chicago Bar Association’s educational programing, you will likely find her managing the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program and assisting with its training of attorneys and staff.

What Is The Program?

The Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program provides pro bono representation to low-income litigants in the Municipal Court Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Municipal Court cases involve civil claims of $30,000 or less, including small claims cases, such as consumer debt claims, breach of contract claims, and car accident claims for damages. If the case includes a jury demand filing and the opposing party is represented by counsel, the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program will attempt to provide a pro bono attorney for the pro se litigant. Additionally, the Program may become involved in cases where no jury demand has been filed if the Chicago Legal Clinic has determined that trial counsel is likely needed for the pro se litigant in an upcoming bench trial.

The Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program is a partnership between the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Chicago Bar Association, CARPLS, the Chicago Legal Clinic and several Chicago area law firms with the goal of providing assistance to low-income litigants, improve the administration of justice, and provide the opportunity for volunteer attorneys to gain trial and other litigation experience through pro bono service. Approximately 20 Chicago area law firms assist the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program from either the beginning of the litigation or when trial court judges refer cases to the program.

How Does The Program Work?

Early referrals to attorneys assisting litigants with pro bono representation allows their cases to benefit from a more productive discovery process and progression through mandatory arbitration before any trial setting. Other instances may occur when a pro se party is assisted with an attorney from the Program at the pre-trial and trial stages. Regardless, more pro bono legal assistance is needed from Chicagoland attorneys.

For many pro se parties, the Municipal Court Advice Desk at the Daley Center, run by CARPLS, is the springboard to their access to justice. The Desk is the primary entry point for CARPLS to screen cases. Where a jury demand has been filed, a litigant is pro se, and the party meets the income eligibility requirements, the person is referred to the Program. The Desk is operated by staff attorneys, volunteer attorneys, interns, and law students under direct supervision of the attorneys. Referrals are made when direct legal representation is required and available. A party’s meritorious claims or defenses are examined by a staff attorney and referred to a CBA Liaison for follow-up case assignment with the help of a law firm’s designated contact person.

According to the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Desk provides over 7,000 individual consultations and services to about 5,500 people annually. Approximately 150 cases each year are referred to Chicago Legal Clinic for extended representation, along with approximately 30-40 each year to the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program for potential jury trial representation. The Municipal Court Advice Desk is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is located at CL16, Richard J. Daley Center.

How To Become Involved?

McClung explained how she sees the program as win-win-win. “Thanks to the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program, many low-income litigants are getting the access to justice assistance they need to navigate the legal system, while the judicial efficiency and quality improves at the further benefit to attorneys getting useful trial and other litigation experience through pro bono service.”

McClung explained how some attorneys greatly appreciated the opportunity to explore cases that were not within their normal practice area, such as consumer debt claims and personal injury cases. And the need for more pro bono assistance remains, McClung stated:

The demand continues for more pro bono assistance from more law firm participants. We want to ensure every case referred to the program gets the pro bono help we offer. We look forward to more Chicago law firms recognizing this need and stepping up to the challenge.

Service is an integral part of professionalism. To get involve, read about the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program and email Megan McClung.


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Mark C. Palmer
As Chief Counsel, Mark leads professionalism programming through the statewide mentoring program, collaborating with stakeholders from Galena to Cairo. Mark also supports the development and delivery of educational programming to lawyers and in law schools. When not in the office, you will likely find Mark and his wife busy raising their twin daughters, enjoying his passion of traveling and eating around the world, and training for his next half marathon.
Mark C. Palmer

2 thoughts on “Law Firm Support Sought for Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program

  1. Hopefully your program will provide a model for other U.S. court systems and attorney services. Here in _ _ _ _ , I experienced a situation where I acquired representation in a child support issue. (I should make it clear that I wanted to and always did pay child support.) On the day of the hearing we drove to the court house and my attorney told me to wait in the car. I did. When he returned he told me that the hearing was scheduled for yesterday and that a decision had been made without our attendance. I was a bit upset but had no power to continue litigation..The following day I called his office to further discuss the situation. I was told that he was not there. I asked where he was and when I could expect him. The receptionist replied: Howard is working at his other employment location working for the state of _ _ _ _ ! End of story. I moved to Alaska and worked withe the AK Attorney General’s office where he reviewed my receipts and payment documents. He worked out a reasonable payment amount and schedule. Hopefully, attorneys in your organization will take a fair minded approach which is exemplary.

    1. Your example is one of so many needs across the U.S. for pro bono assistance by attorneys to help litigants who might otherwise go unrepresented. Thank you for sharing it.

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