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Clinics provide free legal advice to thousands of domestic violence survivors


CHICAGO, IL – Hundreds of domestic violence survivors in underserved communities could receive free legal advice thanks to a $100,000 grant presented by Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon and funded by Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine project.

The grant to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) will grow the Virtual Legal Clinic, an online legal service system piloted by Simon’s office and ICADV to aid women and children in rural areas that lack family law attorneys. The award comes as state funding for critical services face cuts.

“Through the generosity of Verizon, individuals in need can get access to critical legal advice,” said Simon. “Too many survivors, especially those in rural communities, have no access to a lawyer. The Virtual Legal Clinic aims to provide survivors not only with free legal consultations but also to better prepare them to proceed in court without an attorney when necessary.”

Through the Internet and webcam, domestic violence survivors are able to consult with attorneys who provide services on a pro bono basis. Many survivors are faced with questions about divorce, child custody and visitation, and other critical legal issues. In rural and underserved Illinois communities, where there are few, if any, attorneys practicing family law or who have experience with legal matters related to domestic violence, the Virtual Legal Clinic is a lifeline to information.

“This is the single largest grant HopeLine has given in the state,” said Brian Pascoe, region president, Verizon Wireless. “We expect it to make an impact very quickly. This should enable the Coalition to expand this innovative service to survivors of domestic violence.”

The Virtual Legal Clinic was developed by Simon, chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, in partnership with the ICADV. Since its launch in December 2011, the Virtual Legal Clinic has expanded to 16 mostly rural counties, reaching survivors across the state in Cairo, Freeport, Jacksonville, Rochelle, Rockford, Peoria and Pekin.

“Support from Verizon is absolutely critical to our ability to continue to serve our communities,” said Vickie Smith, executive director, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “While we work together to end domestic violence through education and community programs, we also need to provide a voice to survivors so they can achieve independence and self-sufficiency.”

As of May 2014, the Virtual Legal Clinic is serving 16 counties at agencies reaching more than 6,300 survivors of domestic violence. By 2015, the organization projects growth into 40 counties, potentially serving more than 15,000 survivors of domestic violence.

Simon serves as the chairperson of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council and is working to improve services in rural communities. Prior to being Lt. Governor, she prosecuted domestic violence crimes as a Jackson County assistant state’s attorney and helped found a domestic violence legal clinic at Southern Illinois University’s school of law.

More information about the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Virtual Legal Clinic can be found at http://www.ilcadv.org/.

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