History and Mission
Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services was one of the first organizations in the nation to provide legal services for the poor. Since 1886 it has been a pioneer in providing “justice for all,” regardless of ability to pay.
The mission of the Legal Aid Society is to protect and strengthen families by providing equal access to justice for our most vulnerable citizens, including those who are impoverished, the elderly and victims of domestic violence.
Providing equal access to legal representation – even if a client can’t afford it – was a radical idea in 1886 when the Legal Aid Bureau was formed.
Then known as the Protective Agency for Women and Children, it was one of the nation’s first organizations devoted to the poor’s legal needs, staffed with one paid worker and a team of women volunteers.
As society’s needs grew so did LAS. In 1905 it expanded its reach by merging with the Bureau of Justice and became known as the Legal Aid Society. This new organization focused on civil cases for men and women, handling almost 3,000 cases in its first year.
Then in 1919, LAS joined forces with Metropolitan Family Services (then known as United Charities) and was renamed the Legal Aid Bureau. The Chicago Bar Association helped finance its services, launching a tradition of financial support and volunteer service from the legal profession.
Once the Legal Aid Bureau joined United Charities, a unique relationship between social work and legal work was formed under one administration. That approach continues today, as we recognize that legal problems often stem from deeper family and emotional issues.
Throughout its history the Legal Aid Society has fought for reforms such as:
- Creating the first law school clinic program at the Northwestern School of Law with Jane Addams and United Charities
- Helping pass the first child protection laws in Illinois
- Helping found the Chicago Municipal Court system
- Establishing the Mandel Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School
- Helping draft and pass the Illinois Domestic Violence Act
Today, Legal Aid Bureau is reclaiming it’s name as the Legal Aid Society. Legal Aid Society currently remains the most used, most recognized name for free legal services across the country. Our name now will better identify our services within the industry. As an old name made new again, the “Legal Aid Society” takes us back to our roots and offers renewed clarity as we continue our very important mission of providing equal access to justice.
We continue our commitment to securing access to equal justice by providing legal representation and assistance on domestic violence, family law, consumer and housing issues, elder abuse and financial exploitation. We also present “Know Your Rights” workshops for community residents on consumer, housing, elder law and domestic violence issues.
In addition, we work with Metropolitan’s Public Policy expert, local and state bar associations, domestic violence service providers and local court administrators to advocate for better laws and a system that is more responsive to its clients and to low-income families in general.