How did CARPLS get started?
CARPLS came to be through the determination and innovative thinking of Ruth Ann Schmitt and the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. They revolutionized legal aid delivery in Illinois by ensuring that every lawyer had a computer. Using technology to actually deliver services was the next step in that journey.
What year did you join CARPLS at the helm, and why did you decide to do so?
I joined CARPLS as its second employee in 1993 and was promoted to Executive Director in 1997. I had just completed my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in management and policy.
The leadership opportunities CARPLS afforded me changed my life for the better.
Share a favorite story from your time with CARPLS.
I remember everyone standing around current CARPLS Executive Director Al Schwartz’s cubicle as he took the very first hotline call.
What do you see as CARPLS’ role in increasing access to justice?
CARPLS is an equalizer and thoughtful innovator. CARPLS gives access to the legal system for people not traditionally served by other legal aid programs. They also approach their work scientifically – they evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and make changes based on that information. They build technological tools that allow them to provide services effectively and efficiently, but the human touch remains to make the services impactful.
What is something you learned at CARPLS that has stuck with you?
Having the right team in place is pivotal to innovation, progress and happiness. It allows the organization to take advantage of opportunities you may otherwise miss.
How have you seen technology impact the scope of CARPLS’ work and in legal aid more broadly?
I am tickled pink that the technology has finally caught up with the original vision of CARPLS. CARPLS’ partnership with the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation’s
IL Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN)
has demonstrated this well. Calls move seamlessly, and the information gathered serves as a true continuing legal needs study. A community of legal aid partners has been created which allows each one to serve at their highest and most impactful level.
What are your impressions looking at CARPLS now on its 25th anniversary?
I always knew it was the little engine that could. They have taken the original vision and run with it. They have expanded services, staffing models, volunteer programs and their donor base to become a full-fledged legal aid player.
What are you most proud of from your time with CARPLS?
I learned early in my career at CARPLS that a crisis is also an opportunity. This was especially true when CARPLS stepped in to take all the phone calls of another legal aid organization when they were on strike in the late 1990’s. There was still doubt in the community about our nontraditional approach to legal service delivery. CARPLS managed the call volume, didn’t destroy the phone system and earned the respect of the legal aid community.
How has CARPLS made a difference?
CARPLS inspired the legal aid hotline movement across the country. CARPLS proved that legal information and advice can be delivered effectively over the telephone, eliminating the need for clients to take a day off work and pay for child care and transportation to seek legal help.
What would you like to see happen in the next 25 years through CARPLS’ work and in the legal aid community in general?
I love the community and data sharing that is happening in the IEJF
project. I would love to see this grow to include all of legal aid – organizations, populations and case types. The portal CARPLS has developed for the veteran's program enables a full view of services and the ability to tell the client story in a new and meaningful way.