The mission of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.is to promote and protect civil rights, particularly the rights of poor, minority, and disadvantaged people in order to facilitate their participation in the social, economic, and political systems of our nation. We pursue impact litigation that combats discrimination on a macro level, leverage volunteers to respond to individual cases of discrimination, and provide training to the private Bar to assist them in practicing law for the public good. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee does far more than defend individuals’ civil rights. We defend the civil rights of groups of people whose rights are most likely to be threatened, while also teaching others to be allies to our cause.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee was established in 1969 as a public interest consortium of Chicago law firms to provide pro bono legal services in significant civil rights cases. From nineteen firms in 1969, it has grown to over 50 firms today. The majority of our services are performed in Cook County, but our influence in some projects is felt throughout the Midwest. Each year, over 18,000 hours of professional legal services, with an estimated value of approximately $8.5 million, is donated from our pool of over 1,000 volunteer lawyers.
The National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed in 1963 at the request of President Kennedy, with the initial purpose of providing legal representation to Black people and civil rights workers in the South for whom lawyers were otherwise unavailable.
The Kerner Commission’s 1968 report, concluding that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal,” made a series of recommendations to promote racial integration and large-scale improvement in the quality of life of African-Americans. Meanwhile, by 1969, inner-city riots in Chicago and other northern urban centers showed that frustration over racial discrimination was prevalent throughout the nation, and required specific, local attention.
In response, local committees of lawyers were formed in 14 large cities to help combat, through volunteer action, the problems of urban poverty and racial discrimination. In 1969, a group of local attorneys established the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to provide quality legal counsel to those clients whose civil rights cases and projects would benefit the community at large. The first board of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee believed that "the poor and the black can become full and equal participants in our economic and political systems only when they achieve the power to deal on equal terms with public and private institutions. An essential element of that power is access to expert legal resources."
Since 1976, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee has operated as a separate, self-supporting, tax-exempt organization, although it continues to coordinate its activities with the National Lawyers' Committee and other local Lawyers' Committees throughout the country.
The Chicago Lawyers' Committee will continue to build on the success of its established civil rights and economic justice matters, which include: hate crime prevention; employment discrimination litigation; affordable housing, fair housing and fair mortgage lending advocacy and litigation; and economic development activity in Chicago. In addition to its existing project work, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee recently established advisory committees for several projects that historically the organization has played a lead role in which address issues that adversely impact minority and low-income communities. They include: quality, affordable healthcare for all, equality in education opportunities and the disruption of the pipeline between low-performing schools and prison, criminal justice reform, voting rights, and eradicating environmental disparities.
Our first Board believed, and our current Board and staff continue to affirm, that disenfranchised groups can become full and equal participants in our economic and political systems only when they achieve the power to deal on equal terms with public and private institutions. An essential element of that power is access to expert legal resources. Membership in the Chicago Lawyers' Committee allows law firms to focus their pro bono resources where they will accomplish the most good, and where they will have a lasting impact. As the Committee expands to meet the challenges of the unfinished civil rights agenda, we reach out to our friends in the legal, corporate, non-profit and foundation communities, encouraging even greater participation and support.