LTF Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Initiatives
The legal aid system in Illinois serves a diverse population, and the organizations that provide legal aid services recognize the benefits of diversity and inclusion within their respective boards of directors and staffs. These benefits include better and more representative decision-making; the ability to engage with diverse communities and potential clients more effectively; and increased attention to issues of fairness and equity in the provision of services.
As part of its strategic plan for 2019 – 2021, and via subsequent board initiatives, the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois has sponsored initiatives and made investments to help individual legal aid programs – and the legal aid system in our state – advance this critical work.
Illinois Legal Aid Diversity & Inclusion Working Group: In 2019, LTF convened a 17-member Diversity & Inclusion Working Group, consisting mostly of legal aid staff members from a wide variety of roles (front-line staff attorneys, program managers, administrators, and executive directors), as well as attorneys in private practice and academia. The group held a series of discussions focused on challenges and opportunities related to increasing diversity and inclusion in legal aid, ultimately producing a report that formed the basis for many of the LTF initiatives and investments noted below.
Illinois Legal Aid Diversity Survey: In 2021, the Lawyers Trust Fund collaborated with the consulting firm Nextions and the Illinois Legal Aid Diversity & Inclusion Working Group to create the first comprehensive demographic survey of the staffs and boards of directors of Illinois legal aid programs. LTF is committed to continuing to track this data each year, in order to help measure progress toward creating a legal aid system that is more reflective of the community it serves.
Kilbride Internships: In order to increase opportunities for diverse law students to explore careers in the legal aid field, the Lawyers Trust Fund committed to funding four summer internships per year for a period of five years. The internships are named in honor of former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, who began his career as a legal aid lawyer, served as the Supreme Court liaison to the LTF board of directors for 20 years, and was a tireless (and successful) advocate for improving access to justice. The 20 Kilbride Internships will be administered by the Public Interest Law Initiative.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Matching Grants: On October 1, 2021, the Lawyers Trust Fund’s board of directors approved $278,875 in matching grants to 20 legal aid organizations. The grants, with a maximum award of $15,000 each, will be used to help each organization address specific needs and challenges it has identified related to diversity, equity, and inclusion – including issues related to internal assessments, staff training, board recruitment, leadership development, equitable policies and procedures, and many others. A list of the DEI Matching grants can be found here.
Training for Legal Aid Leaders on Issues of Racial Justice & Equity: The Lawyers Trust Fund has joined with other legal funders and law firms to sponsor a multi-session training course on issues of racial justice and equity for the staff leadership of every legal aid program in Illinois. The training will be conducted by Shriver Center’s Racial Justice Institute in the spring of 2022.