History

The mission of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. is to protect and promote civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. 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 49 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.