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What About a For-Profit Pro Bono Corporation?

Reading about yet another set of same old, same old pro bono  programs (the one-day clinics, the Street Law seminars and counsel to nonprofits) this time sponsored by corporate law departments (Law.com, 9/18/06), I got to wondering whether there isn't a more effective way for private corporations and law firms to meet the needs of the poor. Not surprisingly, to find truly innovative solutions, I had to reach outside the legal profession to find a potential model: a for-profit charity to meet underserved legal population along the lines of the one recently created by Google  (NY Times, 9/13/06) for philanthropic endeavors such as the development of an ultra-fuel-efficient car. (For more information on the legalities and tax issues related to for-profit charities, visit the source for the Google story, University of Chicago Law Professors Blog. ) According to the NY Times article on Google's choice of a for-profit charity:

Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, believe for-profit status will greatly increase their philanthropy’s range and flexibility. It could, for example, form a company to sell the converted cars, finance that company in partnership with venture capitalists, and even hire a lobbyist to pressure Congress to pass legislation granting a tax credit to consumers who buy the cars.

Could large law firms and corporations mimic Google's plan? Perhaps they could set up for-profit charities that could develop sophisticated but user-friendly tools to allow clients who can't pay for lawyers to handle cases pro se. Or these firms could develop these tools and provide them at low cost to small firms to allow them to  represent small clients more efficiently and at less cost. Perhaps there's even some way that these firms could set up a huge legal clinic, where clients could go for cheap advice but would pay midlevel rates. I realize that as a service, law is different from designing a product like a fuel-efficient car. But maybe if lawyers have a profit motive to go after the population of clients who can't pay for lawyers and find a way to serve them and make money, we'll reach the goal of access to justice more quickly.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 18, 2006 at 05:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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