Leaving a legacy of promoting access to justice for all

Joseph (Joe) A. Dailing passed away early the morning of June 9, leaving an incredible legacy of promoting access to justice for all. He was 78.

Joe was the founding Executive Director of Prairie State Legal Services, bringing together several single county bar association legal aid programs in McLean, Peoria, Winnebago, Kane, and Lake Counties to form Prairie State Legal Services. The original formulation expanded services to cover 11 counties and improved efficiency by consolidating administrative functions in one central office.

Under Joe’s leadership, Prairie State grew to serve 30 counties, served tens of thousands of people in need and addressed inequities in how government agencies treated people who relied upon services.

Joe led Prairie State through national attacks on funding for legal aid services which resulted in cuts of 25 to 30 percent of the organization’s funding. He was known for promoting the involvement of staff in making the decisions on reconfiguration of the organization. Upon notice of his passing many former and current staff remarked on how much they learned from him and what a privilege it was to work for him. As one former staff member who is now a judge told us: “He always believed in me more than I believed in myself.” As noted by others, Joe always communicated so clearly and had a strong vision for our firm and how to get things done. Joe simply inspired people and created a sense of a caring community within Prairie State.

Joe retired from Prairie State Legal Services in 2006, but continued his work in advocating for access to justice. He became the first Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice, an access to justice entity created by the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association. In this role he led Illinois efforts to open 98 legal self-help centers throughout the state.

Joe continued his work promoting access to justice nationally and internationally. He traveled to the Republic of Georgia to assist the country’s Department of Justice in creating a legal aid system. He also consulted nationally to help improve a number of other legal aid programs. In 2017, Joe developed and implemented a leadership training program for PSLS staff to help the organization build future leaders.

Joe was recognized in 1992 by the Winnebago County Bar Foundation with the Seeley P. Forbes Memorial Award, and by  Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, Board of Directors’ Award. In 2013 the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice awarded Joe its Lifetime Achievement Award for his work promoting access to justice. In 2014, Joe received the Illinois Bar Foundation, Leadership and Dedication to the Law Award.

Joe was active in many community improvement efforts within the City of Rockford including historic preservation and serving on a Fair Housing Commission as well as on the board of a number of organizations. He published many articles to share his expertise and perspectives. He was our beloved leader, an exuberant and caring person whom many loved and respected, and will be mourned by many.