CHICAGO — The Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services, a Chicago legal aid organization, is one group in the legal industry that’s actually benefiting from the economic downturn.
The organization has seen a surge in interest from lawyers who are unemployed and want to volunteer. CARPLS attracted more than 100 applications during a single week last month after it advertised for licensed lawyer volunteers to handle hotline calls in a new program that starts this month. The lawyers will field calls from a rising number of low-income Chicago area residents grappling with legal issues amid the tough economic times, the organization said.
CARPLS ultimately trained 50 of the lawyers for the new program and put 10 on a standby list in case any of the others drop out of the program. The lawyers agreed to take the calls during weekly four-hour shifts, with the organization supplying support staff and malpractice insurance. It was a bittersweet experience because the organization is gratified to have a lot more lawyer volunteers, but disappointed that so many are out of work, said Al Schwartz, who is executive director of the group.
The program lured the volunteers partly with the opportunity to network with the organization’s board members. The volunteer lawyers received a list of the CARPLS board members and associate board members, including attorneys who work for McDonald’s Corp., Winston & Strawn, Sidley Austin and Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, among others, and were invited to send their résumés to the members.
“We’re providing an introduction and helping to showcase the good work that these folks are doing,” Schwartz said.
Bruce Braun, an attorney at Winston & Strawn who is on the CARPLS board, said he hasn’t received any résumés from the volunteer lawyers yet, but expects he will. In addition to helping the needy, the program helps the lawyers keep their legal skills sharp, he said.