Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Keys to the Ritz

One of my favorite quotations about access to justice, often attributed to a Justice Sturgess, goes like this:

“Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel.”

A group of Chicago lawyers, working through the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation, are getting ready to pass out lots of keys to the Ritz Hotel in the courtrooms of the First Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The CBA and the CBF, in partnership with the Circuit Court, the Judges of the First Municipal District, and CBF grantees CARPLS and the Chicago Legal Clinic, have formed a new Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel Program to provide pro bono counsel to indigent litigants who face mandatory arbitrations or jury trials in the First Municipal District. Today I was privileged to address a group of about 70 lawyers who have volunteered to be the charter members of that Panel.

Four law firms have answered the call to provide lawyers for the Municipal Court Pro Bono Panel pilot program: Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP, Segal, McCambridge, Singer & Mahoney, Winston & Strawn LLP, and my own firm, Jenner & Block LLP. Our thanks to those four firms for supporting this program, to the willing associates from those firms who have volunteered to represent Municipal Court litigants, and to the partners from those firms who have agreed to provide supervision and guidance to their associates.

Our thanks also to CARPLS for supporting our training and agreeing to screen cases for pro bono placement, to the Chicago Legal Clinic for supporting our training and providing volunteer support, to Megan McClung and Scott Henry, both former CBA YLS Chairs, for putting in lots of legwork to get the program organized, and, especially, to former YLS Chair Judge Thomas Donnelly for bringing the need for pro bono representation in Municipal Court to the CBA/CBF’s attention and for conceiving the idea for the Pro Bono Panel.

Thanks to this wonderful group of lawyers, access to justice is about to become a reality for many, many litigants in the First Municipal District.