Program provides legal consultation to domestic violence survivors
CARBONDALE - May 24, 2013. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced the expansion of her virtual legal clinic program to The Cairo Women's Shelter today. The program connects survivors of domestic violence with lawyers for a free legal consultation using webcams and high-speed Internet technology.
Simon's virtual legal clinic program connects domestic violence survivors at local shelters in underserved areas with attorneys across Illinois that 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.
"The virtual legal clinics are a confidential, effective way to help domestic violence survivors ensure their safety and the safety of their families," said Simon, a former prosecutor and founder of the domestic violence clinic at Southern Illinois University School of Law. "The legal system can seem overwhelming, but this service helps survivors take the next step toward safety and stability."
The Cairo Women's Shelter serves Alexander, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties and sees approximately 400 survivors every year. This is the third center in Illinois to use the virtual legal clinic program, joining centers in Peoria and Jacksonville.
"We're thrilled to be part of the virtual legal clinic and to offer this free legal consultation to our clients," said Jeannine Woods, executive director of the Cairo Women's Shelter. "This will help survivors understand the important legal rights they have."
Nationally, one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, and 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 virtual legal clinics are a bridge between a survivor being in an immediate crisis and beginning to make a plan to move forward in a safe way," said Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV). "Through the virtual legal clinic, we have found that just one hour of time with a licensed attorney can significantly increase a victim's understanding and clarity of their rights and responsibilities resolving legal issues."
The project was developed by Simon's staff, in consultation with the ICADV, with plans to continue expansion to northern Illinois this fall.
"At the time of the consultation, my first client was involved in a legal battle and was fearful because she didn't understand what was happening," said Sandra Quello Chiz, an attorney who consults with clients from her Manteno office. "Not only did I explain to my client what was happening legally, but I was able to point her in the direction of other resources, too. The virtual legal clinic is the best idea I've heard in a long time, and I wish we could expand it faster."