Stand by Someone Who Needs You, In a Way Only You Can

This year’s Pro Bono Week theme, “Celebrating the Power of Pro Bono,” invites us to think about what that power looks like in real life to someone who is facing a serious legal issue but unable to afford the legal help they need. As I often do, I am turning to music for my inspiration, echoing the choice of theme song for our Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon earlier this year.

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What Do We Mean When We Say “Access to Justice”?

Access to justice—or equal access to justice, as it often is stated*— is the promised land we all are seeking. But what is it? And what is necessary to achieve it?

After I proposed a banned words list for access to justice earlier this year, several people commented that we should add another phrase to the list: “access to justice!” That was not meant as snark, but as genuine concern that the phrase has grown too amorphous and inconsistent to be meaningful. And that presents a big problem for all of us who care about these issues.

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Our Profession’s Losing Battle Against the Market

By any definition, we have a failure in the market for legal services for everyday people today, and a growing one at that. We have more lawyers than ever before at the same time as record numbers of people who need or would benefit from legal help are not getting it. Yet when faced with proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct to address this market failure, the default response of our profession is to fight to maintain a losing status quo—perhaps making some technical changes but avoiding the larger issues.

Lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes, when what we really need is a new regulatory approach that does not force lawyers to compete in the market with one hand tied behind their backs.

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A Fool for a Client?—How to Avoid Playing the Fool

Part 4 of a 4-part series

Having identified the core roles lawyers play that are most important for someone facing a legal problem and what that means for our profession, today’s series finale looks at things from the perspective of the person facing a legal problem.

How can we best help people facing legal issues assess when they realistically can do things on their own, when they need a lawyer, and how much lawyer they need to achieve a just—yet cost-effective—outcome for their case?

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A Fool for a Client?—A New Agenda for Our Profession

Part 3 of a 4-part series

In my last post, I identified the ways that lawyers will continue to have an integral (though evolving) role in ensuring access to justice. Our profession has the urgent responsibility to better focus on those core functions to make our services more efficient, accessible, and affordable.

So how do we do that? Along with the continuous improvement and adaptation that will be an integral part of any individual law practice, the bar, the courts and law schools need to adapt their roles as well.

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A Fool for a Client?—Where Lawyers Matter Most

Part 2 of a 4-part series

What is it we do as lawyers that is essential? Startling advances in technology now enable people to do so many things on their own that previously required the help of others. But to achieve true access to justice, lawyers still play several indispensable roles that cannot be delegated to a technological solution.

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A Banned Words List for Access to Justice

Over the past couple of weeks, I have heard a heavier than usual dose of words and phrases that are common in the access to justice world but really need to go. As a result, this month I am taking a break from pontificating about the future to advocate for the start of a banned words list for our legal profession. Think of it like spring cleaning now that we are finally seeing spring around here.

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A Fool for a Client?

Part 1 of a 4-part series

“A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Most of us have heard that old adage, and while we’ve thankfully come a long way from those days when the assumption was the lawyer would be a “him,” we’ve also reached a point where advances in technology and the growing gap in access to free and affordable legal services require us to revisit the underlying premise.

When do we really need a lawyer to get a just result? Or put another way, when are we fools to try to go it alone (assuming we even have a choice)? Not to be overdramatic, but there is not a more critical question today for access to justice and the future of our profession.

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Top Ten Reasons the Billable Hour Needs to Go

The billable hour continues to be a significant and self-inflicted barrier to access to justice. Whatever its merits may be in the corporate market, for low and moderate-income individuals and small businesses the billable hour makes legal services less affordable and accessible because it lacks transparency and certainty and misaligns incentives for efficiency, innovation, and value.

Albert Einstein said “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.” Here are my top 10 reasons the billable hour is a problem for access to justice.

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A Bittersweet End, A Solid Model for the Future

In the ongoing budget saga for the Cook County government, one of the unfortunate casualties has been the Circuit Court Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, which officially ended in December when its funding was not renewed.

While there is no doubt the current budget challenges facing the County in the aftermath of its recent “soda tax” debacle are real, eliminating this successful program is a shortsighted move that will end up costing the County much more than it would to fund the program at its prior 2017 level. As we continue to evaluate whether there are other potential County funding options to restart the program, looking back on what made the program most effective over the past 7+ years offers a good model for developing effective court-based programs going forward.

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