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Community Law Project

Mission & Staff

The Community Law Project helps to build, strengthen, and support community-based organizations that are focused on economic development in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods and that offer the delivery of social services to residents of these areas. We bring hope to impoverished neighborhoods by supporting small businesses and home ownership. Working with volunteers from Chicago’s top law firms, the Community Law Project's expert legal staff provides nonprofit leaders and small businesses owners the knowledge to sustain the quality of their programs, improve outcomes, and spur economic development. We recognize that structural racism is a major contributor toward economic injustice; we work to eradicate racism and end poverty in our city and coordinate our activities in close working relationship with our community partners.

Our strategies include:

  • Providing transactional legal assistance to create, build the capacity of, stabilize, and foster growth of nonprofit organizations focused on economic development and social services in low-income communities.

  • Providing legal assistance to help low and moderate-income entrepreneurs grow and strengthen their small businesses, which in turn strengthens low-income communities, improves their financial stability, and brings in much-needed goods and services.

  • Representing first-time low-income home buyers, to help them avoid unscrupulous lenders and realtors, understand mortgage documents and homeowner responsibilities, and obtain long-term financial stability.

  • Providing legal support to coalitions of non-profit organizations in negotiations with developers to secure benefits for surrounding communities. Community benefits agreements (CBAs) may include commitments to build affordable housing, hire local residents and pay livable wages, among other investments important to Chicago neighborhoods and their residents.

  • Implementing community lawyering through all our programs—that is, working with our clients and communities at the grassroots level, attending community meetings, providing strategic feedback and advice to coalitions, helping to coordinate community input, and to negotiate or mediate constructively among multiple community stakeholders, when development threatens to displace  residents.

Key Project Staff
Angela Dear, Paralegal and Program Associate
Clifford Helm, Program Counsel
Erica Spangler Raz, Senior Counsel and Director of Pro Bono Works

Upcoming Events

Recent News

Our Services


Our Services

We provide legal support to community-based nonprofits, small businesses and social enterprises.


The Community Law Project provides free legal services to eligible nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that are working to improve low-income communities. Our clients are economic development organizations, affordable housing developers, social service agencies, job training and development organizations, community education programs, community health clinics, legal services organizations, transitional and supportive housing programs, and technical assistance providers. We offer these nonprofit legal services:

  • Negotiating a contract

  • Hiring or firing an employee

  • Working with an independent contractor

  • Exempt or nonexempt employees - who gets overtime?

  • Nonprofit structure and formation

  • Protecting the name and logo of the nonprofit

  • Program participant waiver for photos, liability, etc.

  • Protecting work created by the nonprofit

  • Can’t make it work; closing the doors

  • Ownership of work created by an employee or contractor

  • Real estate construction contracts

  • Questions about tax exemptions: income, real estate and sales tax exemptions

  • Nonprofit revenue creation, new income sources and structures

  • Decision-making on a nonprofit board; process, problems, bylaws

  • Work with another nonprofit -merger, acquisition, joint venture, employee sharing

  • Zoning

  • Buying or selling real estate

  • Getting a loan

  • Negotiating lease terms

You can submit an application if your organization needs assistance, check out our resource page for nonprofit legal alerts and webinars, or schedule a free consultation with our Employer Hotline. We also offer five workshops in an Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training for founders of nonprofit startups through our Bootcamp program .

Small Business

PLEASE NOTE- We are temporarily pausing the processing of small business applications for pro bono legal assistance from August 1st until Fall 2019. If you are an entrepreneur, please refer your legal questions to the Chicago Small Business Center’s Solution Station or check out our Small Business Resources page.

The Community Law Project provides legal support to entrepreneurs and social enterprises who are starting or have their own small businesses as a strategy to create financial independence. Since most entrepreneurs operate on a shoestring budget, obtaining legal advice is often unaffordable. We offer these small business legal services:

  • Review or draft employee handbook

  • Business structure and formation

  • Waive your liability

  • Protecting the name and logo of the business

  • Protecting work created by the business

  • Can’t make it work; closing the doors

  • Ownership of work created by an employee or contractor

  • Real estate construction contracts

  • Zoning

  • Buying or selling real estate

  • Getting a loan

  • Negotiating lease terms

  • Negotiating a contract

  • Hiring or firing an employee

  • Working with an independent contractor

  • Exempt or nonexempt employees - who gets overtime?

You can schedule a free consultation with our Employer Hotline or check out our resource page for legal alerts, webinars, and other materials.  We also offer small business clinics in Chicago neighborhoods, as well as free walk-in consultations at the Solution Station at City Hall every Wednesday – find our upcoming events in our calendar. As your business grows, the Community Law Project is available to continue to assist you with legal matters.

Equitable Development and Community Benefits

We provide legal support to coalitions of nonprofit organizations in negotiations with developers to secure enforceable community benefits, including Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs). Community benefits may include commitments to build affordable housing, hire local residents and pay livable wages, among other investments important to Chicago neighborhoods and their residents. We are not a member of any coalition that we work with and do not get a vote, nor do we identify specific benefits to be included in CBAs and do not negotiate with the developer without organizational leadership present. Coalitions do not need to have a formal internal agreement in place to apply for our assistance.  If there are multiple organizations or coalitions working separately on negotiations regarding the same development in their community, we may not be able to represent both of them.  We offer the following services:

  • Attend negotiation with developer in supportive role

  • Draft CBA or other contract language and related documents

  • Draft Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests

  • Legislative/policy research

  • Legal research (e.g. liabilities and duties of various parties involved)

  • Strategize on legislative advocacy with City, County and/or State officials

  • Identify opportunities for input and leverage in land use process in order to encourage transparency and accountability

  • Assistance with establishing a new non-profit entity, if needed

  • Provide advice on legalities of community development strategies, such as community land trusts

  • Assist with determining and drafting internal coalition governance documents

  • Provide sample contract language that is legally enforceable, including typical requests made to developers

  • Determine legal feasibility and priority of specific requests identified by the coalition or organizations

  • Strategize with coalition/organizations before negotiation with developer

  • Determine appropriate dollar amounts to attach to each benefit requested, as well as other deliverables, including timeframes and deadlines, and remedies in event of breach of contract provisions

  • Determine appropriate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms


Employer Hotline


Employer Hotline

If you manage any employees at a small business or a nonprofit, employment law questions are inevitable. Must you offer benefits? How do you hire an independent contractor? What about unemployment insurance?

Attorneys from the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP are available for free 30-minute phone consultations with eligible nonprofit and small business employers on employment law issues. To determine eligibility and request an appointment, fill out the form below and we will provide you with the date, time, and contact information for the phone consultation.

If you have questions about the Employer Hotline, please contact Erica Spangler Raz.

Entity Type *
Select all that apply
Contact Name *
Contact Name
Contact Phone Number *
Contact Phone Number

Nonprofit Resources

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Resources for Nonprofits


A Guide for Nonprofit Organizations - General Charitable Organization Compliance
A Guide for Nonprofit Organizations - Employment Issues
A Guide to Being a Fiscal Sponsor: Is it a Good Fit for Your Organization?
Annual Reporting Requirements
Bankruptcy Issues: A Guide for Nonprofit Organizations
Bylaws Fact Sheet for Illinois Nonprofits
Chicago Land Use: A Guide for Communities
—> Chapter 1: Zoning Basics
—> Chapter 2: Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
Dissolution of Illinois Not for Profit Corporations: A Guide
Fiscal Sponsorship FAQ
Is NPO the Way to Go?
Legal Structures for Social Enterprises
Steps to Dissolve and Illinois Not for Profit Corporation
Tax Issues for Exempt Organizations - A Primer
The City of Chicago's Nonprofit Lobbying Guide
Understanding Not For Profit Board Composition
*Not finding what you need? Try our archived resources page

Legal Alerts

Director Conflicts of Interest
Fiduciary Duties of Nonprofit Directors
Independent Contractor/Employee Relationships
Lobbying Restrictions for 501(c) (3) Charities
Political Activity of Nonprofit Organizations
Trademark or Not to Trademark
Unrelated Business Income Tax


2018 Nonprofit Board of Directors Training Series
Nonprofit Board Responsibilities
Nonprofit Board Fiduciary Duties
Nonprofit Director and Officer Responsibilities
Nonprofit Board Conflicts of Interest
Nonprofit Board and Executive Director Relations
Nonprofit Board Recruitment and Orientation

Engaging Boards in Setting an Organization’s Strategic Direction
How to Get Pro Bono Legal Services for Your New Nonprofit

Other Organizations

Alliance for Justice has information on lobbying activities and 501(c)(3) organizations.

Arts & Business Council aids the Chicago nonprofit arts and culture community by enlisting business sector volunteers to provide arts organizations with assessment, training, consulting and board services that strengthen their management and marketing capacity.

BoardSource works to build effective boards of directors.

Charity Channel hosts online discussion groups and articles.

Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV) provides video training, equipment, facilities and channel time for Chicago residents and nonprofit groups.

Chicago Community Loan Fund provides low-cost, flexible financing and hands-on technical assistance to community development organizations for affordable housing, economic/commercial development, and community facility space.

Forefront gives workshops and resources for grants and grantwriting.

Executive Service Corps provides volunteer consultants to advise and strengthen nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the greater Chicago area in areas of governance, management and operations, leadership development, and organizational transformation.

Idealist – articles, workshops and other resources for nonprofits.

Illinois Secretary of State, Business Services – Online filing center for nonprofits and small businesses, and search to see whether an organization is in good standing (up to date on all filings and fees, etc.).

Internal Revenue Service – Tax information for Charities gives info about the “life-cycle” of a nonprofit organization, as well as IRS guidance and updates.

Illinois Attorney General, Building Better Charities maintains a database of all registered charities in Illinois – can search to see your organization’s registration status, and provides links to Filing Requirements, Registration and Annual Report Forms, Forming a Charitable Organization, etc.

SCORE Chicago serves nonprofits by providing free business/operations counseling, management consulting, and low-cost workshops.

Social Enterprise Alliance spreads knowledge and builds capacity regarding social enterprise, builds social enterprise communities and networks, gathers and disseminates information regarding the impact of social enterprise, and advocates and promotes supportive public policy for social enterprise.

Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training

Bootcamp for Founders of Nonprofit Startups

The Community Law Project offers the Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training program for nonprofit founders who are interested in or are in the process of forming a new nonprofit organization. Program participants will earn a “Certificate of Training” after completing the day long bootcamp, geared towards emerging nonprofit organizations. We will waive the application fee for eligible nonprofits who submit pro bono legal assistance applications after completing the program.

Bootcamp is held at the offices of Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights (100 N. LaSalle St, Suite 600). Space is limited, and advance registration is required. Please  note the cancellation policy before registering.

Friday September 20, 2019

Nonprofit Board Basics – Learn roles and responsibilities for board directors and officers, fiduciary duties, the founder’s role, and the importance of recruiting a diverse board of directors.

8:30 AM - 10:00 AM

Funding a New Nonprofit – receive an introduction to grant prospecting (including further resources on grant writing), funder perspectives on new nonprofits and fiscally sponsored groups.

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Business Planning for a New Nonprofit – A solid business plan is critical to the success of your organization and will make filing for 501(c)(3) status less difficult. Attend this workshop to learn the components and the writing process.

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Developing a Budget for a New Nonprofit – Learn the basics of creating a budget for new nonprofit organizations including how to use and prepare each type of budget, the best ways to develop reliable estimates of revenue and expenses, and the true cost of hiring employees.

1:30 PM - 2:30 PM

Legal Steps to Create a 501(c)(3) Charitable Organization – Gain in-depth knowledge about the legal requirements and various filings for creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax exempt organization.

3:00 PM - 4:45 PM

The Fine Print

Participants must attend all five workshops to obtain the certificate. The certificate of training is awarded to an individual (not the organization), and attendance at the workshops is not transferable to other co-founders for the certificate of training. For example, a founder may register for the series, but send another co-founder to one of the workshops (24 hour advance notice to Community Law Project required for all attendee substitutions due to building visitor registration requirements).

To waive the Community Law Project application fee, the certificate of training recipient must be listed as the primary or secondary contact for the organization. Only one application fee will be waived per recipient, and the filing fees deposit is still required for new nonprofits per the application. The organization must meet our eligibility guidelines:

1. The organization is a not for profit tax exempt organization or an organization seeking assistance to obtain recognition of tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service.

2. The organization is not in need of legal representation for a dispute, litigation or matters that might reasonably lead to litigation.

3. The organization is engaged in activities that serve low-income populations or communities. Most client organizations are involved in the following activities:

• job training, development, placement, retention and/or entrepreneurship
• loan funds, community lending programs or a community credit union
• child care, after school programs
• civil rights, human rights
• community education and awareness, health clinics, domestic violence
• social services including food pantries, clothing and/or furniture distribution
• arts and cultural organizations
• real estate development (commercial, retail and affordable housing)
• transitional housing, supportive housing, group homes, shelters
• technical assistance providers

The Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training is neither a professional certification, nor an assessment-based certificate program. For questions about the program, please contact us at

Cancellation Policy

The Community Law Project reserves the right to cancel or re-schedule any workshop for which registrants will receive a full refund. If you cannot attend a workshop or program you have registered, you may contact us or call 312-939-3638 to request a refund according to the provisions below.

The Community Law Project will retain an administrative fee of a minimum of 30 percent of the cost of the workshop. This fee increases closer to the workshop date. Additionally, a workshop registration will not be transferable to any future workshops should you not attend. This allows us to plan for event capacity and keep costs affordable.  Please take this into account before you sign up for a workshop.

  • 70 percent refund for cancellations received at least seven-days prior to the first day of the workshop in a series, or the day of the workshop, whichever is earlier.

  • 50 percent refund for cancellations received at least three-days prior to the first day of the workshop in a series, or the day of the workshop, whichever is earlier.

  • No refunds will be issued for cancellations received within 72-hours of the first day of the workshop in a series, or the day of the workshop, whichever is earlier. No refunds will be issued for “no shows”.

The Community Law Project reserves the right to modify cancellation policies as necessary. Any such changes will be clearly stated on registration and program materials to which they apply.

Small Business Resources

Resources for Small Business

Please note: We are temporarily pausing the processing of small business applications for pro bono legal assistance from August 1, 2019 until Fall 2019. If you are an entrepreneur, please refer your legal questions to the Chicago Small Business Center’s Solution Station or check out our Small Business Resources page.


A Guide to Starting Your Business
Changing the Name of Your Illinois Business
Where should I incorporate my small business or form my LLC?

Legal Alerts

Independent Contractor/Employee Relationships
Can We Use It? Using Photos of Others in Your Promotional Materials
Chicago Ordinance Requiring Paid Sick Leave
I-9 Overview for Employers
Special Zoning in the City of Chicago
Trademark or Not to Trademark

Other Organizations

Accion Chicago is a nonprofit that helps communities grow by investing in people who build businesses and generate jobs in their neighborhoods. We provide customized capital solutions and one-on-one coaching to underserved entrepreneurs in Illinois and Northwest Indiana.

Bethel New Life  operates the Entrepreneurship Training Program (ETP), at no charge, to provide training and support to individuals who live in and start their businesses in designated communities primarily on the West Side of the city of Chicago.

ChiBizHub connects a large network of primarily nonprofit service providers offering a wide variety of business-building services for small businesses. 

City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection provides resources and information for businesses operating in the city.

SCORE Chicago serves small businesses by providing free business counseling, management consulting, and low cost workshops.

Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) delivers business services and financial assistance to empower women towards entrepreneurship and economic self-sufficiency.

Apply for Help

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Our Application Process

Before applying for help, you may want to check out our resource pages for nonprofits and small businesses. Please note: Our applications for small business help are temporarily paused. You might also find help through our Employer Hotline or our Bootcamp program for founders of nonprofit startups.

There are multiple steps in the application and attorney selection process, so it may take several weeks for your case to be assigned to an attorney.  Here are the typical steps in the Community Law Project application process:

  1. After you submit your complete application (meaning a signed application with the application fee paid), a staff attorney will review the application to determine if your organization meets our eligibility criteria.

  2. After review, the staff attorney will contact you within 7-10 business days and inform you if additional information is needed or if the file is ready to be placed.

  3. If the file is complete, we will find a volunteer attorney with the appropriate skills to work with your group. This process may take a few days to a few weeks; if the file is incomplete, you will need to supply the additional information before we attempt to place it with a volunteer.

  4. Once an attorney has volunteered, we will send him or her your legal assistance application materials.

  5. The volunteer attorney then reviews the file and submits it to the law firm’s conflicts and pro bono committees for approval. Unfortunately, the Community Law Project does not control this part of the process. It may take several weeks.

  6. Once the firm has given the lawyer the go-ahead to represent you, we will call you to schedule the Initial Client Meeting.

  7. The Initial Client Meeting will likely take place at the volunteer lawyer’s office in downtown Chicago. A Community Law Project staff attorney will attend the meeting along with a representative(s) from your organization. If you have questions before the initial client meeting, you should feel free to contact us.


To apply for help with an existing or established nonprofit, or to get help with a Community Benefits Agreement,  complete this form.

To apply for help with a new nonprofit seeking to be exempt for income taxes (501c3, 501c4, or 501c6 status), complete this form. Take a look at our suggested budget form.

To apply for help with a social enterprise, complete this form.

Our applications for small business help are temporarily paused. Please refer questions to the Chicago Small Business Center’s Solution Station, or check out our Small Business Resources page.

All applications should be completed and sent to

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