Hel.LAS is a new initiative developed through the cooperation of two of the Chicago area’s most prominent Hellenic organizations in order to offer legal services to underserved members of the community.
Hellenic Bar Association
Founded in 1951, the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA) is the oldest and largest Greek bar association in the State of Illinois. Since its inception. HBA has assisted the Greek community with legal needs. With their extensive legal network and prominence within the legal community, they have long been aware that certain members of the Greek community require legal assistance but cannot afford it. Over the years, the Hellenic Bar Association has received requests for legal assistance, and has done the utmost to assist people in need.
Hellenic Foundation has provided programs and services for the seniors and youth of the community since 1953. The Foundation frequently receives inquiries regarding legal and immigration assistance from individuals with limited financial resources. It became important to identify the appropriate resources in the community to address this need, as Hellenic Foundation’s Executive Director, Peter Valessares explains:
“The inquires for legal assistance reveal that there are many in our community, particularly seniors and immigrants, that are hesitant to contact an attorney because they are embarrassed to seek assistance or they are afraid of what they do not understand. The result is that their problems become more complicated because they were not dealt with in a timely manner.”
Peter reached out to HBA Chairman, Eleni Kouimelis, to discuss possible approaches for providing the needed legal services.
“We were asking ourselves, how can we get better support for our people?”
The HBA and the Hellenic Foundation have observed that there are various legal clinics assisting and serving many ethnic communities within the city of Chicago. The conversation then became, “Could we offer something like this to our Greek community as well?”
Enter attorney Eleni Katsoulis, who serves on the Junior Board of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, a group comprised of 3000 volunteer attorneys that offer free legal services to low-income Chicagoans. She explained the CVLS model.
“CVLS was the first group in the U.S. to offer pro bono legal services. They also provide resources to young attorneys looking to gain experience by handling a variety of cases within the clinic.”
The idea of a Greek legal clinic grew and caught fire. Several Chicago attorneys — including Eleni Kouimelis; Eleni Katsoulis; Thomas Massouras; Georgia Demeros; and the Honorable Anthony Kyriakopoulos, Cook County Circuit Judge — decided it was time to create such an entity. They have joined forces with the Hellenic Foundation to create this important community resource, a much-needed place for people in the Greek community that they can turn to when in need.
The new foundation, called Hellenic Legal Assistance Services — Hel.LAS for short — will open its doors next month. The group, which plans to apply for non-profit status plus a grant, will be promoted and served by the HBA, and housed at the Hellenic Foundation offices in Chicago.
Eleni Kouimelis explained how this partnership will help the community, as well as law students and junior attorneys.
“We’ll tap into the HBA membership. We have many young attorneys who are energetic and wish to be involved in different things. It’s a great way for them to learn and be mentored. More senior attorneys are also looking forward to assisting and many are already waiting to volunteer. Plus, there will be an opportunity for law students to get some practical experience, under the guidance of supervising attorneys.”
It’s a win-win proposition for all. The clinic also allows HBA and Hellenic Foundation to fulfill their individual missions in yet another way by providing legal assistance to the Greek community and helping those most in need, to receive justice.
With the help of partners like CVLS and other such community groups, Hel.LAS can adopt existing, proven structures, which will allow them to ramp up quickly. CVLS will also provide training in procedures and best practices.
How it works
A grant will allow for the hiring of one staff person for the clinic. Hel.LAS will be open once a month at Hellenic Foundation’s offices in Chicago. Over a period of time, Hel.LAS can gauge the need for more clinic hours. Volunteer attorneys will be on hand to conduct intake and assess how to best meet the needs of the people requesting services. If applicants do not meet established income thresholds, they will be referred to attorneys that charge reasonable rates. The staff person will make appointments and field questions from clients. This will allow for determination of the legal expertise needed on a given day, determining whether the case involves foreclosure, liability, personal injury, or other areas of law. Walk-ins are welcomed to the clinic as well.
Tom Massouras reiterated the excitement of launching Hel.LAS.
“It’s long overdue. The Greek-American community will now have a place to turn for legal help, no matter what their income level. What a great way to serve the community.”