MacArthur Foundation Grant Recognizes Great Potential of Justice Entrepreneurs ProjectMay 19, 2015
CBF Report April/May 2015
New grant will support innovative solutions for making essential legal help more affordable and accessible
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently awarded the CBF’s Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) a two-year, $400,000 grant. The JEP is an incubator for newer lawyers to start innovative, socially conscious law practices in the Chicago area that provide affordable services to low and moderate income people, a vastly underserved client base. JEP lawyers build sustainable and flexible practices by leveraging technology, offering fixed fees and a la carte services, and maximizing collaboration with clients.
For too many low and moderate income people in our communities, legal services are not realistically accessible or affordable in times of need, said MacArthur Program Officer Jeff Ubois. The partners and supporters the Chicago Bar Foundation has brought together and the early successes of the lawyers in the JEP program offer great potential to develop replicable, market-based models that can help to address more fully this gap in Chicago and across the country.
The JEP is a cutting-edge response to a growing and very troublesome failure of the consumer market for legal services, said Terri Mascherin, a partner at Jenner & Block LLP and Chair of the JEP Steering Committee. It marries proven principles from the business and tech startup fields with the latest innovations in legal practice to develop sustainable new models for delivering affordable legal services to low and moderate income people in need.
The CBF contributed more than $250,000 in seed funding along with substantial staffing support to launch the JEP. An impressive array of partner organizations also make the program possible through pro bono and in-kind support worth hundreds of thousands more. Highlights of that in-kind support include the latest law practice management technology, individualized business development coaching from one of the premier consulting firms in that field, and a series of trainings from some of the top experts in the legal field.
The grant was awarded through MacArthur’s Discovery Grants program, which funds exceptionally creative or innovative projects with high potential impact, but which do not fit into the Foundation’s existing programs and strategies.
Thanks to a diverse network of topnotch partners and the dedicated and entrepreneurial participating lawyers, the JEP already is making an impact in meeting real community needs and establishing promising new models, said Jesse Ruiz, a Partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and President of the CBF Board of Directors. The grant from MacArthur will enable the CBF to complete the critical pilot phase of the program over the next two years, maximizing the impact and replicability of the JEP’s successful practice models throughout the country, while setting the program on the path to long-term sustainability here in Chicago.