Q&A with Leslie Corbett

Leslie Corbett was at CARPLS from the beginning and served as Executive Director of CARPLS (Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services) from 1997-2003. During her tenure at CARPLS, she served as an officer and founding member of the Illinois Technology Center for Law and the Public Interest (now Illinois Legal Aid Online). She is currently Executive Director of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation.

You worked at CARPLS almost from the beginning so you can speak to CARPLS’ growth from a unique perspective. What are some of the main accomplishments/ highlights you’ve seen over our history? 

As an alum, I am thrilled that the technology has finally advanced to meet the original vision. Sometimes in my dreams, I can still hear the answering machine messages, feel the rain dripping on my desk and and the sigh of relief from being freed from the less-than dependable elevator of our first office. I remember our Board Treasurer announcing with pride that we shook out the couch cushions to make payroll. I remember our first fundraisers featuring homemade videos directed by our Board President with acting provided by staff and esteemed members of the ISBA.

It’s a whole new CARPLS world! An office with a dynamite view of the city, top notch technology and fundraisers at the Four Seasons! 

CARPLS continues to be a technology leader in the service delivery space. From dos-based Matter Manager to web-based CLASS (the precursor to Legal Server) to Sales Force, the journey has been an adventure! The mastery of Knowledge Managment allowed CARPLS to take on new opportunities – including statewide programs like the Illinois Legal Aid Network and New Leaf Illinois. 

CARPLS’ innovative work with Sales Force and chat bots has both increased and strengthened their service delivery.

This dedication to client services was on full display during the pandemic. CARPLS did not skip a beat when the world shut down. They pivoted immediately to remote work and were the main source of legal information and advice as courts and offices shut down. They jumped in to help coordinate service delivery for the Early Resolution Project of Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt and serve as the technology coordinator for Eviction Help Illinois. CARPLS’ unique skill set is a vital component to ensuring access to legal aid services.

What was it like to work at CARPLS?

In the early years, it was all about trial and error. CARPLS was the first standalone legal aid hotline in the country. We didn’t have a road map and sometimes it felt like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what ideas would stick. This entrepreneurial spirit enabled innovation and creativity, which I think are still hallmarks of CARPLS today. Building a program from the ground up was hard work but also a lot of fun. The people involved back in 1993 – Board, staff and funders – are still some of my best friends and favorite people. It was a family, and a great place to grow up.

What have been your goals in working with CARPLS as a funder on many projects?

As a funder, I have been impressed by CARPLS ability to evaluate its work and pivot as the result of that feedback to improve the services offered.  I am also happy to see that the organization has addressed the need to reinforce its administrative professional staff. The addition of finance, fundraising and communications infrastructure is critical to serving the mission well.

What do you hope for CARPLS’ next 30 years?

I hope CARPLS remains nimble so that they continue to deliver quality legal services that address community-identified needs in whatever new-fangled way that people are communicating over the next 30 years. Delivering legal services over the phone was labeled McLaw when CARPLS started 30 years ago. Who would have dreamed that services via text and chat bot would be so readily accepted by the client community? I also hope that CARPLS continues to deepen its community presence so that they are meeting people where they are.

Watch Leslie Corbett in our Branches of Justice gala video: