Attorneys at Simmons Hanly Conroy represent clients from all over the United States in various types of cases. In late 2007, the firm made a decision to find a way to give something back to the local community where the main office is located in Madison County, Illinois. After speaking with several judges on the local bench, a program was started within the firm that would allow the attorneys to be appointed pro bono, or free of charge, as Guardians Ad Litem in cases where the assigned judge deemed it necessary.
Guardians Ad Litem (GALs) are appointed to represent the interest of people who are the subject of litigation but are not otherwise represented by an attorney or capable of representing themselves. In most cases, GALs are appointed to represent the best interest of children involved in custody or visitation cases, although there are also situations in which GALs are appointed to represent the best interest of disabled adults in cases concerning their medical treatment or financial affairs.
To launch this pro bono program, Simmons Hanly Conroy hosted a training that was co-sponsored by the Illinois State Bar Association; more than fifty local attorneys attended the training, including twenty-five Simmons Hanly Conroy attorneys. Since then, Simmons Hanly Conroy attorneys have been appointed in more than thirty cases.
Many of these appointments are done pursuant to Supreme Court rule. For example, I was recently appointed GAL for an elderly woman who was the subject of a guardianship action. She suffered from Alzheimer’s and had been in a long-term care facility for many years. Her son had been handling her affairs throughout that time. Unfortunately, her son passed away unexpectedly. She had an adult daughter who was willing and able to step into the son’s shoes and act as guardian for the mother, but she had not been able to complete the necessary legal paperwork because she did not have the money to hire an attorney.
In addition to hiring an attorney, Supreme Court rule requires that a GAL be appointed in every case where someone is seeking guardianship of a disabled adult, so the family would have to pay GAL fees in a normal situation. This family was simply not in a financial position to do that. A family friend who is an attorney volunteered to prepare the necessary paperwork, and the Court appointed Simmons Hanly Conroy to act as GAL free of charge.
I met with the disabled adult, who is a lovely woman. She is very well-adjusted to her current care situation, but very obviously not in touch with reality. Her nursing staff told me that her daughter who had applied for guardianship visited her mother regularly. It was easy for me to make a recommendation to the Court that the daughter be appointed guardian.
With very little effort on my part, we were able to make this family’s life so much easier. Attorneys are in a unique situation to provide these kinds of services to people in the community—we should all try to do it more often.