Posted Oct 1, 2009 9:00 PM CST
By Barbara Rose
Demand for free legal help surges during hard times, but at one unusual legal clinic in Chicago the demand is always great.
The Kane Legal Clinic was founded three years ago to provide pro bono services to the blind. Operated by the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, the clinic is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country.
“I don’t think, even in the blind community, people are aware how great a need there is,” says Nicholas T. Pomaro, the clinic’s director. “Seventy percent of capable blind people are unemployed. They can’t afford to hire an attorney.”
“You gotta walk a mile in someone’s shoes to know what it’s like,” he adds.
By that standard Pomaro, 71, is certainly qualified. Blinded at the age of 6 by a blood clot that affected his optic nerve, Pomaro was a Cook County Circuit Court judge for 29 years before he retired in 2005 to launch the clinic.
Pomaro and a part-time paralegal have helped hundreds of people with legal matters, including discrimination issues, criminal defense and personal injury. Most problems can be resolved by a phone call or two. When they can’t, he opens a case file. His files have more than doubled since the clinic opened.
The clinic soon will move into larger quarters. But Pomaro has bigger dreams, including satellite offices in Chicago’s suburbs. “There’s a lot of blind attorneys who need work,” he says. “I can’t be everywhere.”