What Makes a Good Charity?

The eminent Peter Drucker famously said, There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all. Mistaking efficiency for effectiveness is a danger for any organization, and particularly so for nonprofits. Yet that is exactly what most of the entities that give advice about what makes a good charity tend to do, often compounding their error by utilizing misleading standards for determining efficiency. There is a better way.

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The Day After€¦

History was going to be made one way or another in last night’s Presidential election, and a lot will be written today and in the coming weeks about what it all means now that we know the outcome. While I’ll leave it others to opine on the larger consequences of last night’s verdict,* there is one question of particular import for those of us in the legal community: what does it mean for access to justice?

The answer to that question largely remains to be written, and as always has been true, our legal community will have a big say in what the answer will be. While we don’t yet know to what degree a President Trump will prioritize access to justice in his Administration, there is a lot that we do know, and some fundamental facts are just as true this morning and going forward as they were before the election.

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Pro Bono and the Power of Proximity

Last year at this time I kicked off the Bobservations series with what then seemed like a great idea to me: seven pro bono related posts in one week, one post for each day of Pro Bono Week 2015. I ultimately succeeded in that quest, but may have been the only person who actually read all of them. So I am not going to try that again this year. Instead, I want to focus on one of the key pro bono themes I referenced in last year’s series the power of proximity as it sets a great tone for this year’s CBA/CBF Pro Bono Week and its theme of Caring, One Person at a Time.

Proximity in this context is drawn from the great Bryan Stevenson and refers to the importance of getting closer to the problems that low-income and disadvantaged people experience in the justice system. While there of course are many other reasons that pro bono plays a critical role in our profession and in our communities, proximity is the most underrated and arguably the most powerful benefit of pro bono for all concerned.

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The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

The legendary Yogi Berra was the source of so many great quotes that they became the source for a whole book, and his quote about the future is a very fitting title for my concluding post in the legal future series I kicked off back in January.

When it comes to the legal profession and access to justice, the future surely does look a lot different than it would have even a few years ago, and that is largely a good thing. While many of us face new professional challenges today that were not present ten years ago, we all have promising opportunities that could fundamentally change access to justice for the better while making for a happier, healthier and more effective legal profession for many years to come.

Another sports legend, Wayne Gretzky, offers us great advice as we look out towards that future: skate to where the puck is going, not where the puck has been.

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And the #1 Reason People Don’t Have a Lawyer When They Need One Is€¦

With children and young people everywhere getting ready to head back to school, I thought I’d start today’s post with a short pop quiz:

Name the #1 reason why people don’t use lawyers when they encounter a legal issue:

A.     Believe it wouldn’t make any difference

B.     Too expensive/can’t afford it

C.     Don’t recognize a need for legal advice

D.    Don’t know how or where to find one

E.     Determined to handle it on their own

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People Have the Power

Monday was the CBA and CBF’s 18th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon, where about 700 attendees helped us honor seven unsung heroes of our profession who make us all proud to be part of Chicago’s legal community. This was the third year that we started the Luncheon with a song to help set a theme for the day, and this year’s song was Patti Smith’s classic, People Have the Power. The song is a particularly fitting tribute to the exemplary pro bono and public service work we celebrate at the Luncheon and highlights two important themes in the ongoing quest to ensure the justice system is truly fair and accessible for everyone.

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Which Way Is the Camera on Our Phone Facing?

A picture can paint a thousand words. And sometimes a good metaphor or analogy can have an even greater impact. I witnessed a great example of that a few weeks ago when Lisa Foster, the Director of the Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice, took out her smart phone and used it as a metaphor for the justice system as the frame for some really thought-provoking remarks.

Ms. Foster demonstrated how she could use the camera on her phone to point it one way and take a selfie, or turn it the other direction and take a picture of the people in front of her. In the justice system, she keenly noted, we take selfies. That is, we look at the system from the perspective of the lawyers, judges and court personnel who are inside of it, not from the perspective of the people who rely on the system for access to justice.

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25 Years a Lawyer

A few weeks ago the congratulations emails started to arrive in my inbox because this month marks my 25th anniversary as a lawyer. The emails weren’t coming from anyone I know, but from people trying to sell me mementos of the occasion.

While I have been very fortunate in my legal career and remain proud to be a lawyer today, I won’t be buying any of that stuff. As anniversaries often are though, it was a time to take stock of what has happened over the time since I took the plunge, and it specifically got me thinking about the trajectory of access to justice since those heady days when I got sworn in. So I thought I’d take a brief break from pontificating about the future of our cause to look back at where we’ve been and what we can learn from that going forward.

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The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working Anymore

This title phrase in some form or another has been used in a variety of contexts over the years as a call to action when longstanding business models fail to keep pace with changing times. I don’t know whether anyone has specifically called out our legal profession using that phrase, but it is only a matter of time. The fact is that a majority of people who need legal help believe that our services as lawyers are unaffordable and aren’t even coming to us when they encounter legal problems, and those are growing trends.

While there are a variety of causes for these unfortunate trends, three fundamental problems are our profession’s overall failure to recognize and leverage advances in technology, fully utilize new practice models, and improve our business processes. I say overall failure because there are some notable exceptions on all three of these fronts of lawyers who are showing the rest of us that it not only can be done, it can be done very successfully. Unfortunately, they remain the exceptions, and as a result increasing numbers of people are turning to others outside of our profession to solve their legal problems.

We can do something about this, and it starts with being open to doing things differently. In my last post, I talked about the importance of rethinking our pricing in the consumer and small business markets as a necessary first step towards delivering our services as efficiently and affordably as possible.

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The Billable Hour: Putting it Out to Pasture to Improve Access to Justice

While it’s been years in the making, with some notable exceptions our profession has managed over time to price the proverbial regular guy out of the market for legal services. It has reached the point that many lawyers will tell you only half-jokingly that even they could not afford their own services if they were to encounter a serious legal problem.

In part, this sad state of affairs is a reflection that in too many cases, our services as lawyers really have become too expensive for low and moderate income people who need them. It also is a reflection though that the market for legal services is largely opaque when it comes to pricing: people who might be able to afford the legal help they need often don’t even try to get a lawyer because they have no idea what it might cost.

These are problems largely of our own making, and the billable hour is a common denominator.

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