By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Eight years ago, attorney Perry Browder with the Alton-based law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy was approached by Belleville attorneys Ann Hatch and Russell Scott. They wanted Browder to join the board of directors of the Illinois Bar Foundation.
Browder told them, “I don’t even know what the Bar Foundation is.” But, he said, they educated him about what they do, made a believer out of him, and now he’s the foundation’s president.
The Illinois Bar Foundation, Browder said, is the charitable wing of the Illinois State Bar Association and does work throughout the state. Its initial objective was to provide aid to deserving members of the Illinois Bar who, because of age or infirmity, could no longer provide for their own care or support. Since then, the foundation has expanded its scope to ensure access to the justice system for those with limited means and it has adopted the following organizational objectives: to enhance the availability of legal aid to those of limited means; encourage pro-bono legal work; educate Illinois residents regarding their rights and responsibilities under the law; and extend assistance to colleagues in need of support.
Browder said that the foundation seeks to help poor people that have a hard time getting legal representation and getting their issues resolved in the court system by providing financial assistance to legal aid organizations. It supports the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and Prairie States Legal Services in Southwestern Illinois and many others throughout the state.
“That’s what sets the Illinois Bar Foundation apart,” Browder said. “It’s probably the only state-wide organization that helps the various legal aid organizations in cities and counties throughout the state. That makes it unique.”
These organizations assist low income people with a variety of legal issues ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to divorces to expungement of criminal records.
“An expungement of an old criminal conviction is kind of like an annulment for a marriage,” Browder said. “The court will get rid of it completely. We’ve done a lot of those for veterans who have some old, small crime on their records. These are not violent or weapons related felonies but they can pop up and hurt people when applying for jobs.”
Another foundation program is the Illinois JusticeCorps in which specially trained students and recent graduates serve as guides to make the courts more welcoming and less intimidating for people without lawyers. The IBF also provides legal fellowships that support students at the various law schools in the state.
“Another thing that the IBF does is provide financial assistance to lawyers who are on hard times,” Browder said. “I know everybody thinks lawyers are wealthy and driving fancy cars. But there are some lawyers whose practices don’t do well or they have health or addiction issues and the foundation helps them and their families get through hard times. The Simmons firm has been involved with the foundation probably since its founding,” Browder added. “We have been more and more involved over time and we feel like we’ve been a nice voice from southern Illinois with the Bar Foundation.
During FY2017, the Illinois Bar Foundation provided financial assistance to 29 legal aid organizations throughout the state. Greg Shevlin of the Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew, Brauer and Shevlin in Belleville is also an IBF board member.
“The foundation board is full of some really great people who really care about getting access to civil justice for people who can’t afford it,” Shevlin said. “Our board is very active. We have lively discussions about most issues at each meeting. I’ve been in organizations before where you show up and you go through a quick agenda and everybody goes home. But this is not one of those. This is a really good group of people who do some great work for people in need throughout the state.”