Late in 1972, the pastor of LaSalle Street Church, Bill Leslie, challenged Chuck Hogren, a private attorney in his congregation, to open a legal aid clinic in the Cabrini Green Housing Projects. Chuck responded that if Bill could find the funding, he would do it for a year. Two weeks later, Bill had a check for two years funding from Tyndale House Publishers in hand.
For 24 years, Chuck served as CGLA's founding executive director, living out the values that continue to set the direction of the work of CGLA today: tireless advocacy, personal involvement in the lives of each client, humility and commitment to community.
At its start, CGLA operated as a general purpose law firm for Cabrini Green residents. Chuck and the early CGLA staff represented clients across a broad range of issues while advocating for tenants’ rights and alternatives to gangs for youth. In 1996, the Chicago Housing Authority started to tear down Cabrini Green buildings and relocate residents to the south and west sides of Chicago. At that time, CGLA responded by expanding our geographic requirements to the whole city of Chicago, and, following the recommendation of a Chicago Community Trust funded study, we specialized in three, under-served areas of law: housing, family, and criminal defense.
In 2003, in response to the increasing use of criminal records to deny employment after September 11, 2001, we launched our Criminal Records Program, helping qualifying individuals to expunge or seal their arrest or conviction records.
In 2005, following an intensive policy effort to expand the definition of who is eligible for expungement and sealing, CGLA was invited by the city and the Chicago Bar Foundation to open an Expungement Help Desk at the Daley Center, which serves more than 4,000 individuals annually.
In 2006, in response to the ever-growing need for legal services and our commitment to serving our clients’ whole needs, CGLA launched our Client Support Services Program. Through this program, we integrate professional legal and social services to enhance our legal outcomes and expand our impact beyond crisis support.
In 2014, CGLA launched the implantation of an ambitious new strategic plan. This plan takes on the challenge of planning CGLA’s future for the coming years. Since 1973 CGLA has been serving clients that are at risk due to encounters with the criminal justice system. With the opening of our Expungement Help Desks at The Daley Center and the Markham Courthouse, we have provided second chances to more than 28,000 individuals with criminal records.
During these years, CGLA has had the unique opportunity to learn about and serve a specific population. This intense learning now positions CGLA to become much more intentional about filling the gap of legal representation for individuals with a criminal record. In the next five years, CGLA will move forward with the work of creating access to justice, opportunity and second chances for a part of our community in great need, and we will do this work with renewed focus and resolve.