Online Staff Report
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (D) announced the expansion of her Virtual Legal Clinic to northern Illinois Dec. 17. The clinic connects survivors of domestic violence in rural counties with lawyers for a free legal consultation using webcams and high-speed Internet technology.
Survivors at domestic violence shelters in Freeport, Rochelle and Rockford can now connect with attorneys across Illinois who specialize in family law for a single, free consultation. Legal topics for consultation include child custody and visitation, marriage and divorce, elder abuse, immigration and property issues.
“As survivors begin rebuilding their lives, they oftentimes need expert advice to help them navigate the complex legal system,” said Simon, a former prosecutor who helped found the domestic violence clinic at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. “Through the clinic, we are connecting survivors in the state’s most under-served areas with the tools they need to begin their recoveries.”
The clinics will expand to HOPE in Rochelle, Remedies Renewing Lives in Rockford and Voices in Freeport. The expansion means approximately 4,000 survivors across 16 counties can access free legal consultations.
Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Vickie Smith said: “I feel this is one of the most proactive projects we have been engaged in to support domestic violence survivors. An hour with an attorney to sort out possible legal needs is invaluable for creating safety plans. Partnering with Lt. Gov. Simon and her staff has really enabled us to expand our idea of helping survivors access legal assistance.”
In Illinois, nearly 40 percent of women will experience domestic violence by an intimate partner. However, there are 47 counties in Illinois with no attorneys practicing family law. An additional 33 counties have five or fewer attorneys practicing family law. The clinic helps survivors consult with volunteer attorneys about issues including divorce, child custody, debt and bankruptcy.
The Virtual Legal Clinic was developed by Simon, chairman of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, in partnership with the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The first clinic was launched in 2011 at the Center for the Prevention of Abuse in Peoria, which then expanded to the center’s Pekin location in 2012. The Crisis Center Foundation in Jacksonville, Ill., also joined in 2012, and the Cairo Women’s Shelter joined the Virtual Legal Clinic this summer.
Posted Dec. 17, 2013