Advancing Justice through Legal Social Enterprises
ADVANCE builds a “Teach for America” for legal reform that produces socially responsible lawyers committed to restoring justice and access to legal services. An experiential training program to transform how attorneys practice law in L.A., CA, ADVANCE helps millions gain unprecedented access to legal services and lawyers build satisfying careers committed to justice. We train law graduates to become socially responsible attorneys who: 1) deliver legal services through a social enterprise model; 2) make positive changes to a lawyer’s work-life balance; and 3) restore integrity, trust, and access in the justice system for all. **The Problem** The outdated practice of law is a major cause of social problems. The justice gap between low to moderate income people and legal services is widespread, and grows as courts and legal nonprofits face budget cuts. In L.A., half of its 10 million residents come to court without a lawyer. Meanwhile, new law grads remain unemployed or enter a dissatisfying profession that is reluctant to help advance legal access. Currently, legal self-help, nonprofit, and pro bono services have failed to close the justice gap. Public Counsel, Equal Justice Works, Legal Aid, and justice corps provide direct legal services to the poor but lack sustaining forms of revenue and fail to serve a large percentage of the population. Solo practice incubators train lawyers in traditional forms of law practice that ignore social enterprise values. Others, such as DOJ’s Access to Justice, are vulnerable to budget cuts and struggle to attract probono lawyers. Likewise, traditional firms only promote probono assistance and social responsibility as an aside. **ADVANCE--The Solution** Our model is the first legal training program that equips lawyers to build careers committed to closing the justice gap and approaches the legal practice as a social enterprise. Based on Harvard’s shared value concept, it dismantles the old law firm model and returns lawyers to the business of service and addressing societal needs and challenges. In the end, ADVANCE not only helps to solve the justice gap by providing access to legal services for the majority of Angelenos, it also helps provide jobs for the nearly 50% of unemployed law school graduates who want to help their community but have no means to do so. In addition, by addressing these two issues facing the legal system, ADVANCE will help alleviate the overcrowding and lack of resources facing Los Angeles court systems. **The Idea** A hybrid that places social responsibility at the core of legal services, we create a social enterprise law firm model that trains lawyers to provide affordable and innovative legal services to low and moderate income people. Consisting of a B corp law firm and training program, new law graduates will enter a 2-year, salaried position to learn how to practice law that advances social responsibility, healing and restored justice. The program includes: trainings; workshops; leadership courses; law practice management courses; mentoring and coaching; online resources; and the creation of easy-access legal “minute clinics” at locations convenient to target populations. At the end, trainees will be equipped to offer holistic legal services in restorative justice, collaborative law, conflict resolution, mediation, and civil and criminal law. Trainees will also learn how to start and manage a law firm that reconnects legal business success with social progress. Having access to legal representation should never be limited to the rich. Angelenos with low or moderate incomes, or who are unemployed, equally deserve legal representation. ADVANCE delivers justice for this population that has long been left behind. With ADVANCE, the impossible begins to become possible -- a model for justice provided to all.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
ADVANCE is still in its idea stages; however, as mentioned, we have been selected as a semi-finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship, which would fund our organization for the next two years. In addition, one of the organization's founders has seen how her work as a lawyer and social entrepreneur implementing a law firm model identical to ADVANCE's has made positive and lasting changes to low and moderate income people navigating the justice system in L.A. But her experience has been met with challenges when trying to address the needs of a large population. This led her to see potential in creating a training program so legal professionals like her can help people the law is meant to serve.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
We plan to work with private and public nonprofits, such as the CA Bar, American Bar Association, Department of Justice, Pro Bono Institute, Taproot Foundation and Public Interest Law Foundation, to garner support for our idea. In addition, we are collaborating with legal experts, scholars, and entrepreneurs across the U.S. that are committed to solving the problems ADVANCE addresses and that promote innovative legal practices such as integrative law and holistic law. Lastly, ADVANCE is a semi-finalist for the Echoing Green Fellowship, which has provided more than $31 million in start-up funding to leaders in a variety of sectors to implement bold ideas aimed at affecting social change.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
In the first year, we will train 3 new law graduates and serve 500 clients. By year 5, we plan to have 50 socially responsible lawyers graduate from our training program, with 30,000 people served annually.
We also plan to recruit 5 law experts each year for five years to staff the training program. By year 5, we plan to provide training, coaching and mentoring in 6 legal areas: bankruptcy, immigration, consumer law, family law, business law, and civil defense.
Our impact will be measured annually by:
1) # of people served;
2) # of social enterprise law firms launched by alumni of our training program;
3) % reduction of self-represented litigants in the justice system; and
4) data recording clients’ changing attitudes towards the legal system and attorneys.
In 10 years, we hope to:
1) assist 45% of the 5 million people currently going unrepresented in court;
2) create 40% of the legal jobs for new law graduates;
3) reduce by 30% the number of cases clogging the court system; and
4) increase by 50% the level of job satisfaction and work-life balance among lawyers.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
ADVANCE will serve as a vanguard for the legal profession: inspiring, training, and producing cutting-edge, socially responsible lawyers committed to closing the justice gap in Los Angeles. We help deliver affordable legal services to millions of people, and empower law graduates to become social entrepreneurs and practice law centered in restoring justice.
We focus on three groups affected by the justice system: 1) recent law school graduates; 2) low and moderate income people; and 3) local court systems.
In 10 years, we hope to build a revolution in law that:
1) assists 5 million people currently going unrepresented in court;
2) creates a majority of legal jobs for new law graduates;
3) reduces the number of cases clogging the court system;
4) increases the level of job satisfaction and work-life balance among lawyers.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Looking back at our measurables, in 2050, we hope that every woman and man in Los Angeles will have a lawyer, no matter their social or economic backgrounds. Access to justice will no longer be a luxury. 100% of the 5 million people currently going unrepresented in court will have legal representation, provided to them by new law graduates who will be equipped and able to serve their community. The court systems will no longer face overcrowding and case overload issues. And lawyers will return to the role they were meant to serve -- stewards of justice.