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BMO’s barrier-breaking pro bono work with the records expungement clinic

February 2, 2021 | Culture, Purpose

Breaking down barriers and fighting the effects of systemic racism in the communities where we live and work can start with expunging convictions standing in the way of access to better opportunities.

Recently, 10 lawyers from our Legal & Regulatory Compliance (LRC) group volunteered at Legal Aid Chicago’s record expungement clinic as part of Financial Institution Pro Bono Day. The efforts are an extension of the pro bono work the team does year-round and helped 40 cases pursue relief in expungement of cases or filing to seal them.

“At Legal Aid Chicago, we could not meet the needs of the clients needing criminal records relief without the use of volunteers. By spending a few hours of time preparing petitions and connecting with clients, these volunteers unlocked access to jobs, housing and education for our clients. We could not do this without them.”

– Melissa O. Picciola, Director of Volunteer Services, Legal Aid Chicago

What barriers exist for people with criminal records?

In Illinois, millions of people are eligible for criminal records relief, but many are not aware they’re eligible or are stuck on the wait list for legal services. The issue also affects communities disproportionally, with Black people making up 13.8 per cent of Illinois’ adult population, but 28.9 per cent of the population with a criminal record.

While people are waiting for access to legal services, their criminal record will continue to severely limit one’s access to employment, education, housing, civic engagement and public assistance – things many of us take for granted every day.

“The work we do in clinics like this expungement clinic is way outside of my comfort zone. However, if it’s intimidating for me as someone who has been a lawyer for nearly 20 years, I think about how overwhelming this can be for someone whose only experiences with our justice system may have been defending themselves in the criminal court system. If I can help to turn that experience around and open doors, that’s well worth me getting uncomfortable for a few hours.”

– Theresa Duckett, Associate General Counsel

BMO is a signatory in the CPBO Corporate Pro Bono Challenge, and is committed to making pro bono a year-round priority in LRC. Other ongoing pro bono initiatives where BMO provides free legal services in the U.S. include:

  • Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
  • National Immigrant Justice Center
  • Equip for Equality
  • The Veterans Consortium
  • Election Protection
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Free Legal Answers

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