Ilinois Bar Foundation Gives Awards To Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Consumer Rights Lawyer Jay Edelson At Annual Gala

Annual Gala

By Chris Ruys


When national consumer rights firm Edelson PC made a donation of $345,000 to the Illinois Bar Foundation (IBF) early in 2016, founding partner Jay Edelson said that the donation was part of his firm’s broader efforts to support local and national organizations which promote open access to the courts.

“It has become more difficult for ordinary people to have full and fair access to the courts,” he said. “This imbalance especially impacts disadvantaged communities. Legal aid organizations, like the IBF, are of critical importance in keeping the playing field as level as possible.”

For his generous gift, the IBF, now in its 65th year, bestowed its first ever President’s Award to Edelson at the organization’s annual gala at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Edelson PC is leading plaintiffs’ class action firm, focusing on technology, digital privacy, and consumer protection litigation. The firm has been repeatedly recognized by courts and commentators as a pioneer in the consumer technology and data privacy space. Edelson has obtained more than $1 billion in class settlements and has shaped how numerous industries approach consumer protection issues. The firm’s focus on the tech industry led the New York Times to dub Jay Edelson as “Tech’s Least Friended Man,” and the firm’s innovative thinking and unique office culture has been lauded by the legal media, earning Edelson recognition as one of “the most creative minds in the legal profession.”

At the gala, Attorney General Madigan received the Distinguished Award for Excellence for her principled leadership and integrity, putting policy before politics and focusing her work as the state’s top legal advocate on protecting the people and communities of Illinois.

Attorney General Madigan became the first woman elected to serve as the Illinois attorney general when she was elected to the position in 2002. In 2014, she was elected to her fourth term and is now the longest serving attorney general in the state of Illinois.

In her remarks, Madigan shared how personally rewarding it is to make a difference in people’s lives who have been victimized through no fault of their own. “For most people, pursuing their legal rights is daunting and prohibitively expensive,” she stated. “That’s why the efforts of the Bar Foundation, our judiciary, members of the private bar, legal aid organizations, law school clinics, and the lawyers and staff in my office are all critical. Together we are able to make pursuing justice possible for many people who have nowhere else to turn.”

Since 1951, the Illinois Bar Foundation has been working to provide access to justice for those who need it most. Each year, the IBF provides Access to Justice grants ranging in size from $5,000 to $15,000 to 20 to 30 organizations across Illinois. While grant-making is the primary focus of their work, it’s not all they do.

The Warren Lupel Lawyers Care Fund provides financial aid to lawyers and their families who’ve fallen on hard times which helps them maintain a modest but reasonable standard of living. Typically, the recipient has had a major medical or mental health crisis and depleted their savings and their health issues have prevented them from earning an income. The program is supported entirely by Illinois lawyers and law firms.

The foundation’s third initiative is the Post-Graduate Legal Fellowships program. The IBF partners with three law schools – Northern Illinois University College of Law, Loyola University Chicago School of Law and DePaul University College of Law – to place recent graduates in the schools’ legal aid clinics and share in paying the fellows’ salaries.

Its fourth program is Illinois JusticeCorps. Launched as a pilot project in Chicago in 2009 by The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF), the program was expanded in 2012 with AmeriCorps funding from the Serve Illinois Commission, and additional funding and significant in-kind support from the CBF and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice. The program initially provided assistance at the Daley Center in Chicago and courthouses in Markham and Bloomington. In June 2014, the IBF began administering the expansion into seven additional courthouses around the state. The CBF continues to partner with the IBF for the Cook County portion of the program.

“Legal Answers,” a new program of Illinois Legal Aid Online, was launched in October. Made possible through funding from the Illinois Bar Foundation, the online portal leverages pro bono attorneys and technology to deliver critical legal advice to people who cannot afford or access an attorney. The innovative website makes it easy for attorneys to volunteer and provide civil legal advice to those in need at any convenient time and place.

In the current fiscal year, the foundation will have invested almost $750,000 to enhance access to justice and to assist lawyers and their families in need, but IBF president Elizabeth Kaveny said it wasn’t enough to meet the demand. Most Illinois lawyers engage in pro bono work, she says, but stop short when it comes to helping fund legal aid organizations.

At the gala, Kaveny said how we as a society place a high price on our individual freedom. She noted that we all have countless blessings beyond our individual freedoms. “Every day in Illinois there are those whose blessings are at issue in the very court system in which we work. And every day, hundreds of our citizens step into the court system without the benefit of legal knowledge, some without the benefit of understanding the English language, and most without the benefit of legal counsel.”

She asked those in the audience to take a moment and recall one of their blessings. “If your blessing was called into question in a legal setting, what would you do? Chances are you would reach out to one of us for legal counsel. You would make sure you had access to justice.” The funds we raise tonight,” she concluded, “will make your reality a reality for others who are less fortunate.”