People You Should Know in Chicago

Margaret Benson

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Howard Ankin: I’m Howard Ankin and I’m very happy to be here today with Margaret Benson in the offices of the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. Margaret, how are you today?

Margaret Benson: I’m good, how are you Howard?

Ankin: Will you tell us what is Chicago Volunteer Legal Services?

Benson: Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, or CVLS, is at its essence a legal aid program, but more importantly, it’s a pro bono legal aid program which means it’s volunteer lawyers who help low income people with their civil legal problems for free.

We have over 3,000 volunteers who are active with us, who have taken cases within the last two years. We have thousands of clients, nearly 2,000 of those every year are actual litigation over in court. We are, our volunteers take cases and help their people in court for free. So our volunteers are filling this huge need that’s out there and helping bridge the gap between being a full-time legal aid and paid legal counsel.

We do guardianship, we do also represent low income landlords who need help evicting tenants every once in a while. We do a lot of family law, we do divorces, custody, visitation. We’re the oldest of free standing pro bono legal aid organization in Illinois for sure, and maybe in the country.

Ankin: And you staff these resources by lawyers that work full-time with the organization and lawyers that volunteer?

Benson: We do. One of the famous things that the legal aid world will say is and lawyers need to know is pro bono is very cost effective but it’s not free. And lawyers who are volunteering their services need some staff support. So CVLS has a full-time staff of 19 right now, we have 11 lawyers and eight support staff.

Ankin: A way that the Chicago community can give back or help support the cause of CVLS is through your annual charity event, Race Judicata?

Benson: Yeah, it’s a 5K race/walk along the city, generally the lakefront and it’s an amazing party afterwards. It’s a party with a fun walk. Some runners like to run them better, most people like to party.

Ankin: Let’s explain to people what really what this race is all about because it’s really more than just a race, it’s really about the Chicago legal community law firms coming together, it’s a real bonding event, isn’t it?

Benson: It is so much fun for that and that was our goal when we started it 25 years ago. We wanted it to become the legal community’s running event because running is big. Lawyers love to run, they love the competition. Lawyers tend to be competitive. I bet that doesn’t surprise you.

Ankin: You’re giving out prices for those who actually win the run of the race, but there’s kind of like another tong and sheet special win, who designs the best t-shirt.

Benson: That’s right, we have a lot of entries and people just really care.

Ankin: And besides for the bragging rights though, you get a trophy, don’t you?

Benson: You do get a great trophy. It’s a big trophy and your t-shirt, you winning t-shirt is in the part of it and then there’s electroplated designs of all the prior t-shirts and you get that trophy for the wall of your office for one year.

Ankin: We talked about how somebody could be a client of CVLS. If a lawyer wanted to become more involved in your organization, how would they do that?

Benson: Again, you can call our main number but it’s probably even easier for a lawyer to go online, www.cvls.org. There is a place to register. We have a monthly orientation and we tell you all about the various ways you can volunteer. All of that information is discussed at our orientation, that’s the best way to start with us, but otherwise, just send an email and we will stir you in the right direction.

Ankin: The entire Chicago legal community really stands behind CVLS and what it stands for. Thank you, Mag.

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