CDEL tries hand at online fundraising

By Jack Silverstein
Law Bulletin staff writer

Have you ever tried to smile using only your upper lip? It's difficult even if you press your lower lip against your teeth.

For one man gaining legal assistance at the Center for Disability and Elder Law due to his quadriplegia, an upper lip smile is the most he can do.

"My favorite success story was an individual, a young man who at the age of 10 years old suddenly developed a virus and became paralyzed from the tongue down," said Susan M. Keegan, executive director at CDEL.

When the man turned 21 last year, his insurance company canceled his 24-hour in-house care, which included maintenance of his ventilator and feeding tubes.

With help from Mark D. DeBofsky of DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC., CDEL used the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act to get the insurance company to reinstate the man's coverage, which was part of his father's employee benefits.

"What was really good about this is that his pediatrician said he wouldn't survive without 24-hour nursing care," Keegan said. "That is my favorite case, because we used the federal law, not sympathy."

The man was one of 2,148 who received assistance in 2013 from CDEL, a 30-year-old organization that provides pro bono legal work to the elderly and disabled.

The group is raising $2,500 in an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to pay for marketing that will help recruit 100 additional volunteer attorneys. It is CDEL's first online fundraising campaign.

The organization employs four attorneys and works with about 300 volunteers.

The campaign ends Sept. 22. As of Tuesday, CDEL has raised $1,038, 42 percent of its goal.

Winston & Strawn LLP will match all donations up to $2,500.

"If everybody in the city of Chicago gave a dollar to CDEL, it would have a tremendous impact on their finances without any particular burden being placed on any one individual," said Gregory A. McConnell, pro bono counsel at Winston.

CDEL's 2013 tax return showed that it made "just over $500,000 in income," Keegan said. The group provided nearly $3 million in legal services last year.

Along with several private foundation grants, CDEL receives $100,000 from the Illinois attorney general's office, about $30,000 from the city of Chicago, $22,500 from The Chicago Bar Foundation and $10,000 from the Illinois Bar Foundation.

About twice a month, CDEL sends a list of cases to its volunteer attorneys. The most recent mailing was eight cases in matters of family law, wills and probate, real estate and money collection.

Keegan estimates CDEL refers 15 to 18 cases per month. It prioritizes so-called emergency cases, instances in which "our clients are one step away from being homeless."

In the event that a volunteer attorney cannot take a case, "We never say, 'You're out of luck,'" Keegan said.

"They often call us back and say 'We went to this other place and they didn't take my case.' And we end up taking them anyway."

To donate, visit cdelaw.org or indiegogo.com/projects/balance-the-scales-of-justice.