The American legal system is complex for anyone. But for someone who is unable to hire an attorney, our legal system is downright intimidating. For the last 50 years, LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago) has provided free legal services in non-criminal matters to people living in poverty in metropolitan Chicago. At LAF, we make equal justice a reality for over 40,000 of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Learn more about LAF's impact in this video:
At LAF we work together to provide high quality civil legal services to people living in poverty and other vulnerable groups. Through advocacy, education, collaboration, and litigation, we empower individuals, protect fundamental rights, strengthen communities, create opportunities, and achieve justice. In carrying out our mission, we treat everyone with compassion and respect.
How We Help
LAF’s work starts by making the legal system accessible to clients and concludes with a resolution that changes their lives and gets them back on track. With more than 100 full-time attorneys and staff providing our clients with comprehensive legal services, our advocacy results in such successes as gaining custody of a child, obtaining an order of protection against an abusive spouse, preventing an unfair eviction, or getting justice for a victim of consumer fraud.
As advocates for people living in poverty, LAF witnesses how structural racism thwarts the health and stability of low-income communities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Free legal aid can and should be a tool to fight racism in all its forms. LAF joins with legal aid organizations across the country to speak out and work against racial injustice, including racially-biased policing, and affirms that Black Lives Matter. LAF supports the joint statement from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and the Shriver Center: “We Stand for Racial Justice.”
Why Our Work Matters
In a single year, LAF has:
- Helped more than 1,600 families whose homes were in foreclosure
- Kept 6,400 people from homelessness by preventing unfair evictions or saving subsidized housing vouchers.
- Assisted over 9,000 women and children to begin new lives free from abuse, thanks to the orders of protection, child custody, child support, divorces and other supports we obtained for them.
The History of LAF
"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 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, and to legal aid lawyers who built the LAF many rely on today. We have weathered many changes – including names and locations, funding feasts and famines, and we are proud to celebrate LAF’s 50th Anniversary this year.
In 1966, the Office of Economic Opportunity awarded two grants to two Chicago legal aid organizations which were later merged to form the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, now known simply as LAF. 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 and transferred the OEO’s legal services programs to LSC. The Legal Services Corporation remains LAF’s partner to this day.
LAF was originally organized with a downtown office in the Loop, which housed its administrative staff and specialty law projects, and neighborhood storefronts in Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, Uptown, Pilsen, Wicker Park, and Grand Boulevard, where attorneys served clients with diverse legal needs. In 2000, LAF expanded its service area to include all of Cook County, and added offices in Evanston and Harvey.
A decade later, many of those offices had merged or closed. Some were located in depopulated or gentrifying areas. After long discussion, LAF decided to consolidate all of its offices into one central location in the Chicago Loop, where clients can still reach us relatively easily. LAF reorganized its staff into Practice Groups, focusing on Housing, Consumer, Children and Families, Public Benefits, and Immigrants and Workers’ Rights issues. Under this format, case handlers could develop deeper expertise in their practice areas and collaborate more readily to help people with multiple legal problems. LAF also created a Community Engagement Unit to help maintain its community ties and assist with education and outreach. The Practice Groups and CEU are supported by the Client Screening unit, LAF’s primary portal for clients seeking legal services. The people in CSU screen clients, and provide advice, brief services, and referrals to LAF’s Practice Groups and partner organizations in the community.
The last half century has seen LAF grow and change in many ways, but the core of our work, providing high quality civil legal services for low-income and disadvantaged people, and lifting them out of poverty, has remained the same. You – the legal community, foundations, and generous individual supporters – ensure that LAF has been around so long, and you lay the foundation for our next 50 years!
You Can Make a Difference
To ensure that the most vulnerable people in Cook County have an advocate in their corner, LAF relies on private donations. You can support LAF with a tax-deductible contribution, and help us break the cycle of poverty for the clients we serve.