Illinois Judges Association

Pro Bono Spotlight - August 2022

Justice Tom Kilbride began his legal career as an attorney with Prairie State Legal Services, which paved the way for his long-standing commitment to pro bono work.  He later built a successful private practice in Rock Island and regularly volunteered his time as a pro bono attorney, representing various individuals and charitable organizations. 

As Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Justice Kilbride was the driving force in the establishment of the Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, which is dedicated to “promote, facilitate, and enhance equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies for all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.”

            In 2021, the Chicago Bar Foundation established The Justice Thomas L. Kilbride Public Service Award.  The award honors attorneys and judges who have achieved excellence in their work through dedication of a significant portion of their legal careers to volunteer work in the public sector and the increase of access to justice, making the court system fairer and more accessible to litigants.

            In a recent conversation with Justice Kilbride, we discussed his continued interest in pro bono work.  He remarked that it is in the best interests of trial court judges, and the court system as a whole, that litigants be represented by attorneys.  “It is difficult for a trial court judge to manage parties who do not understand procedure and do not know the law.  Justice is denied if people are not properly represented.”  Justice Kilbride also pointed out that there are not enough legal aid attorneys to handle the many individuals who need representation, and that pro bono services are vital to help reduce the unmet need.  Engaging in pro bono services also helps to facilitate cases to conclusion.

            Justice Kilbride’s continued support of pro bono work reflects his enduring advocacy for and commitment to access to justice for all individuals who encounter the court system.