Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) was created in March 2001 following a statewide study that looked at the technology needs of legal aid groups. Since then, they have become a national model for how legal aid groups can use technology to bridge the gap between their services and the people who need them.
What isn't as widely known is the role that the founder of LegalServer, IV Ashton, had in making the organization a reality. One night over drinks, Ashton and Robert Glaves, the Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, used a crayon and a paper tablecloth to sketch out a plan that became the blueprint for the group.
The story was told in a Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article. The article, about the three original financial backers of the ILAO receiving "Early Adopter Awards" at the groups recent annual gala, appears in full text below.
Group honors its first funders
May 4, 2012
By Bethany Krajelis
Law Bulletin staff writer
Illinois Legal Aid Online came out of a statewide study, but it turned into a reality with the financial help of three groups and a blueprint drawn on a paper tablecloth. Nearly 12 years later, the group serves as a one-stop, legal-resource shop and a national model for how legal aid groups can use technology to bridge the gap between their services and the people who need them.
On Thursday, the group honored its first three funders — IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois and the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) — with an "Early Adopter Award" at its second annual fundraising gala, "Innovation from our Foundation to the Future."
"They were visionaries for their time and their leadership is why we are here," said Lisa A. Colpoys, the group's executive director. These three groups were "way ahead of their time" when they started to explore the idea of using the Internet to reach the poor, said Todd H. Flaming, a founding partner at KrausFlaming LLC and a member of the online legal group's board of directors.
Before he introduced the award recipients at the event, Flaming reminded the nearly 300 attendants that when the group first formed in 2001, the Internet was a baby and the concepts behind the iPhone and Facebook were years away from inception.
After watching Illinois Legal Aid Online grow over the past decade, Robert A. Glaves, executive director of the CBF; Ruth Ann Schmitt, executive director of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois; and IIT Chicago-Kent law professor Ronald W. Staudt said they couldn't be happier with what the group's accomplished and where it's headed.
The group runs several websites and a mobile application that provide free legal resources 24/7. It recently launched a Spanish-language version of its website and plans to follow suit soon with a mobile app. It serves as a hub for lawyers looking for multimedia training and pro bono opportunities. It also handles the 80-plus self-help legal centers in courthouses throughout the state.
"This is the best state online legal aid website in the nation, by far," Staudt said. "The content is deep, it's rich in tools and has a great staff."
While the online legal aid group made a name for itself, Leonard Jay Schrager, professor emeritus at The John Marshall Law School, said he needed be convinced the start-up costs were worth it. Schrager served as CBF president in 2000, when he said Glaves suggested the foundation fork over $50,000 a year for three years to get the group up and running. "That was a lot of money. I thought he was crazy," Schrager said. "He said 'I'm not crazy' and we had a big, long discussion about it. One of the best things I've ever done was realize I was wrong."
He said he credits Glaves for convincing him to get the foundation on board. Glaves, however, said Schrager deserves recognition for going forward with it.
"The idea seems obvious now— use the Internet to increase access — but at the time we did this, it was a huge risk," Glaves said. "The Internet was still new and people didn't really believe poor people would be able to access the Internet."
Although a statewide study on the technology needs of legal aid groups spurred the idea for the group, Glaves said he didn't know how it would work so he asked Harry E. Ashton IV for some help. Ashton, who goes by IV, just returned from working on technology issues overseas for IIT Chicago-Kent. He now runs PS Technologies Inc., which provides case management software for legal aid groups.
The two men went out for drinks to discuss logistics and left with a plan. Ashton drew it all out that night with a crayon on a paper tablecloth, which he folded up and put in his pocket before leaving. Seeing how the online legal aid group evolved from his crayon drawing to an organization that continues to be innovative in its offerings, Ashton said, can only be described as "awesome."