In February 1951, a group of Greek attorneys founded the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA), the largest and oldest Greek American bar association in Illinois. Most of the early members were born in Greece, came to this country as young immigrants and were educated in colleges and law schools in Chicago, while in most cases, working their way through school. As time passed, more first-generation Greek American lawyers became members as they were products of an ethnic culture that mandated learning and education. Today, the Hellenic Bar Association consists of multi-generational Greek Americans and Philhellenes.
It is of significance to note that long before our national awareness of civil rights, the founders of the HBA included in their original charter the following:
The purposes of this organization are: to promote friendly relations among its members and the members of the Bar generally, the Courts, and the public; to cultivate respect and esteem of the public for the legal profession, and to do all things necessary and proper for the advancement and improvement of the law and the administration of justice; to be consistently on the alert in protecting the interests of the general public against legislation inimical to its welfare; to oppose anti-social and discriminatory legislation; to champion the cause of American traditions and ideals; to diligently strive for the betterment and the welfare of the people of the United States; to advocate and uphold the ideal of equal rights of all mankind; to oppose any and all attempts by the persons within or without to overthrow our form of government by force.
While the impetus for forming the HBA was primarily for professional and social reasons, it quickly emerged as a force for electing Greek American lawyers to the judiciary. In 1952, just one year after its formation, member James Chelos became the first elected Greek American judge in Cook County, Illinois. Since then, dozens of distinguished members have been elected or appointed to the judiciary.
Originally, most members were solo and small firm practitioners. Today, the membership of the HBA is diverse and comprised of members in all strata of the law, including government, judiciary, corporations, small firms, regional firms and international firms.
From its humble beginnings as a professional and social organization, the HBA has evolved into an active bar association that advances and supports its members. The HBA hosts numerous events throughout the year that provide its members with legal education seminars, social events and community service projects.
In 2001, the HBA formed its charitable arm, the Hellenic Bar Association Foundation (HBAF) whose mission is to support legal education for students of Hellenic descent and provide access to legal services to those who otherwise would be denied such access. Through the HBAF, members organize an Annual Law Day Essay Program and award scholarships to law students of Hellenic descent at its annual Scholarship Ball.
In 2016, the HBAF formed Hel.LAS, its pro bono legal clinic, which to date has provided legal assistance to more than 300 families of Hellenic descent in the Chicagoland area.
The HBA has become one of the premier bar associations in the Chicago legal community.