What are some of the major changes you’ve seen at CARPLS at its start in 1993 to present?
Early on, the biggest changes involved the people and the delivery model. CARPLS was one of the first legal aid hotlines in the country, so there was no real blueprint to work from.
Originally, it was thought the work could be done by a part-time staff of recent law school graduates who could answer simple legal questions. As it turned out, there are very few simple legal questions and identifying a simple legal question from a more complex legal question takes a high level of skill. So, as CARPLS worked to perfect its legal triage model, we saw the need to hire more experienced, full-time staff.
The legal triage model took about 10 years to develop and the core principles of that model have not changed much over the past couple of decades. What has changed is the technology. Looking back, CARPLS was an idea that was way ahead of its time in terms of the available technology. We were very limited in the early days in what we could do in terms of scale, productivity and impact. CARPLS really began to explode as new, more accessible technology came online.
A few years ago, we were recognized by American Lawyer Magazine as the most cost-effective program yet devised to provide access to legal services to millions of Americans who can’t afford a lawyer. When that article came out, we knew we were on the right track with our mix of skill, delivery model, and technology. In the past 30 years, CARPLS has gone from a single hotline providing 8,000 legal consultations annually to residents of Cook County to an organization that now provides over 90,000 legal consultations across five separate hotlines serving connected legal aid networks throughout the state of Illinois.