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Apr 12, 2013

Court lifts in-house pro bono restriction


SPRINGFIELD — An initiative intended to bolster free legal services in Illinois opens the door for hundreds of corporate attorneys to provide pro bono work for underprivileged clients... Matthew Thomas Dattilo, general counsel for Mac One Midway LLC and an ACC member who pushed for the change, also praised the decision.

SPRINGFIELD — An initiative intended to bolster free legal services in Illinois opens the door for hundreds of corporate attorneys to provide pro bono work for underprivileged clients.

Until Monday, attorneys who worked for corporations and did not have an Illinois law license were prohibited from doing pro bono work.

Lifting that restriction and allowing such in-house counsel to provide free legal aid, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride said, could make the state a leader in such services.

"That's a pretty good characterization," Kilbride said. "It's both to expand the pool and just to make it a lot easier for the house counsel corporate lawyers to get involved."

Illinois is the third state to implement such a rule, after Virginia and Colorado. There are currently 371 corporate attorneys in the state who do not have an Illinois-specific law license.

Statewide, licensed attorneys provided about 1.1 million hours of pro bono work last year to people of limited means, according to the high court.

The rule change was made Monday and takes effect immediately.

The Supreme Court's Access to Justice Commission, created last year, worked with members of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) to push for the rule change.

"This is a big one, certainly a big win," said Ronald E. Potempa, associate general counsel for Infor Global Solutions and the advocacy chair for the Chicago chapter of the ACC.

Matthew Thomas Dattilo, general counsel for Mac One Midway LLC and an ACC member who pushed for the change, also praised the decision.

"The change that they have wisely made not only puts Illinois at the forefront of pro bono practice," he said, "but also opens the doors of justice to that many more citizens by allowing the first-class lawyers already representing the best companies in this state to extend their services."

As for further access to justice-related rule changes, Kilbride said there were no other proposals directly before the court.

He did say that tweaks to expand the Rule 711 license that allows law school students to provide services — pro bono and otherwise — could be on the horizon.

"The Access to Justice Commission is taking a look at that rule," Kilbride said. "That's in the works."

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