Illinois Judges Association

Pro Bono Spotlight - November 2021

Over the next year, through its Pro Bono Committee, the Illinois Judges Association will be drawing greater attention to the need for, and importance of, pro bono legal services.  This committee is being led by Justice Thomas Kilbride (Ret.) and Judge Julie Katz, and will focus on how sitting judges can support pro bono and how retired judges can provide pro bono legal services to those in need across Illinois. As part of that effort, the IJA will spotlight an IJA member each month who is supporting pro bono or providing pro bono legal assistance.

Our November spotlight is on Judge Lori Lefstein (Ret.) After graduating from the University of Illinois, she attended the University of North Carolina where she received her law degree. Following law school, she served in the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s office for two year. After working there, she was in private practice for twelve years. As a private practitioner, she handled civil litigation matters. 

Her career as a jurist began in Rock Island County Circuit Court in July of 1997. She retired in January of 2019. Her assignments included domestic relations, orders of protection, probate and general civil matters. She also served as Presiding Judge of the Civil division from 2001 to 2014.  Two years ago, she began to serve as an in-house volunteer attorney for Prairie State Legal Services in Rock Island. She has drafted wills, powers of attorney and divorce petitions. Currently she also assists with eviction cases.  She recently handled a guardianship for a young disabled adult. 

Her service doesn’t stop there.  After completing mediation training, she began serving as a volunteer mediator in Rock Island County Circuit Court’s mandatory eviction mediation program.  Her volunteer efforts also extend to her community where she serves on the Rock Island County NAACP’s legal redress committee.  

As a judge, Judge Lefstein saw many self-represented litigants every day in court who did not understand court procedures. They needed representation and there was so much unmet need that it motivated her to volunteer after she retired from the bench. Her spirit of volunteerism is boundless. It has been a rewarding experience for her, and the clients are appreciative. It also keeps her busy and involved with the legal community.

In her capacity as a Prairie State volunteer attorney, she is provided malpractice insurance by the agency.  She explained to me that you don’t need to have an active law license to do pro bono work through a legal services organization. The following ARDC link describes the process under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(k) for registering to do pro bono work as a retired attorney or judge: 

It was a pleasure to interview Judge Lefstein.  Hopefully we can all follow her lead.