Illinois Legal Aid Online's mission is to increase access to justice for lower-income and vulnerable Illinois residents through the innovative use of technology to assist and educate the public and to train and support legal aid providers and pro bono attorneys.
Our Point of View
The legal system is complex, expensive, and designed to be navigated by trained attorneys. Many people can't afford a lawyer, but they still must engage in the legal system to solve critical problems like domestic violence, divorce, and foreclosure. Illinois Legal Aid Online uses technology to lower barriers to the law so that people can understand their legal options, make informed decisions, and when necessary represent themselves in court.
What ILAO Does
- Helps even the playing field for people who can't afford a lawyer
- Simplifies a complex legal system
- Leverages technology to infinitely scale the number of people who can be served
- We are never closed
- Allows people to find legal answers anonymously
- Is a neutral, unbiased party
- Was the first independent organization in the country solely focused on using technology to make legal information freely accessible
- Makes the legal aid system in Illinois more efficient and effective
- Makes it easier for lawyers to find and do pro bono
How Do We Do It?
- Legal information is presented in easy to understand plain language. You don't need to be an attorney to read and understand our information.
- We meet people where they are so they can most easily address their legal issue. People learn differently, so information is provided in a variety of ways, including video, text, foreign languages, and in interactive formats.
- We direct people to the most appropriate legal resources for their problem and location. If someone qualifies for legal aid, they can immediately apply with a click. If they do not qualify, they are quickly referred to self help resources and other suitable options.
- We guide people through the process of representing themselves and provide the tools they need to do it.
As a Result, People Who Use ILAO
- Resolve their legal problems
- Learn the choices that they have to address their legal concern
- Feel relief that they have the information they need
- Feel confident in making decisions
- Go to court more informed and better able to represent themselves
- Gain closure, which sometimes includes understanding that they don't have a case that can be solved in the legal system
ILAO's five-year strategic plan sets out six big goals that are driven by our mission and vision for the future.
1. Simplify legal processes for the underserved
We will change the legal processes and procedures in Illinois so that it will be easier for self-represented persons to achieve results for the most common legal problems they encounter. This goal capitalizes on two of ILAO's founding principles, serving as a process simplifier and as a collaborator in the legal system.
2. Serve as the central nervous system for legal services in Illinois
We will reduce the time it takes applicants to secure services and direct them to the best provider to meet their legal needs so that they secure optimum results. This will relieve pressure in the delivery of legal aid services, both for individuals seeking service and the legal aid providers themselves. This goal will require collaboration with legal services providers and community partners to assist individuals in receiving appropriate legal aid.
3. Be a national leader in using technology to deliver legal services to the underserved We will continue to be first to market with new products and innovations to deliver legal services, and will be looked to nationally as the model for best practices in using technology to deliver legal services. We will conduct continuous evaluation and improvement of our current programs.
4. The ILAO Board exemplifies nonprofit best practices in its governance, leadership, and strategic roles
The ILAO Board of Directors will be optimally organized to support the organization and its strategic goals, adhering to nationally recognized best practices for nonprofit board performance. Board members will understand and fulfill their roles and be actively engaged in effective governance and leadership.
5. Define and measure success
We will identify and analyze data in order to confirm that we help people solve their legal problems and navigate the legal system. We will adjust or change our programs to ensure greatest impact and efficiency. We will increase the number of legal professionals using our resources.
6. The Board diversifies and grows ILAO's funding base in order to achieve our strategic goals, embrace new opportunities, and meet increasing demand.
ILAO will have the financial, human, and capital resources needed to reach its strategic goals. The Board will grow ILAO revenue to $2,000,000 over five years, with $800,000 coming from corporate, law firm, and individual sources.
Illinois Legal Aid Online was formed in March 2001 by 12 partner organizations as a unique and unprecedented statewide collaboration of legal services providers, funding entities, the private bar, and law schools. Substantial initial funding was donated by the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, The Chicago Bar Foundation, and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, where ILAO was housed for its first four years. In March 2005, the organization was incorporated as an independent nonprofit.
The founding partners were instrumental in the formation and growth of the organization and provided early leadership, motivation, and vision. ILAO made its online debut in July 2001 by launching three websites, one for each community it served: lower-income people seeking legal help, legal aid lawyers, and pro bono legal professionals. In 2010, a Spanish-language site was deployed to serve Illinois' growing hispanic community.
ILAO's websites have undergone several iterations and have evolved significantly over the years, with new features and services being added regularly. In August 2016, ILAO unveiled this state-of-the art website to replace the 5 sites and 2 mobile apps it previously hosted. Over 3 million people are expected to visit Illinois Legal Aid Online in 2016.
Recognition and Awards
ILAO has been nationally recognized as a leader in using technology to deliver legal services, and has won several awards over the years:
- Technology Leadership Award, presented by Accenture and Lumity (2006)
- Louis Brown Award for Legal Access (Meritorious Recognition), presented by the American Bar Association (2010)
- Paul H. Chapman Award (for significant contribution to the improvement of justice in America), presented by The Foundation for Improvement of Justice (2010)
- Public Interest Partner Award - IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (2011)
- Connection Award - LivePerson Software (2012)
- Pro Bono Partnership Award - John Deere Global Legal Services Group (2012)
- Technology Innovations Award - Law Technology News (2013)
To celebrate ILAO's 15th anniversary, Governor Rauner proclaimed March 8, 2016 as "Illinois Legal Aid Online Day" in the state of Illinois.
Support for ILAO comes the following: