CBA Record November-December 2021
ago accurately analogized it to alphabet soup. The problem is, we do this without thinking about who is on the receiving end, and far more often than we realize, they don’t know what we are referring to. I am guilty of this too. My suggestion is the next time we are about to casually toss out an acronym or abbreviation, think about the audience. Are we sure they know what you are referring to when you use it? When in doubt, don’t do it! Legal Services, or Legal Services Organization Every lawyer and many other professionals and entities provide legal services as part of their work. But many in our community still use this term to describe legal aid. We should not be surprised that most of our profession and the rest of the world has no idea what we are talking about when we do that. When we are talking about legal aid, we should just say legal aid. Justice Gap This term, generally used to describe the gap between legal needs in the community and available services, poses problems on two fronts. First, it is not used consistently even among those who might understand what we are talking about. Some use it to describe the unmet need for legal aid among low-income and disadvantaged people, while others use it to describe the shortage of affordable services for the middle class, and still others mean all of the above. The second and bigger issue is that the term is largely meaningless to people out- side the core access to justice community. Instead of using this term that is unlikely to be understood by our target audience, it would be better to describe more specifically the gap we are referring
to ( e.g. , the large gap between available legal aid and the need in the community). Low Bono This one comes up less often these days, but it is still used by many as shorthand for a lawyer, firm, or program that provides services below what “the market” would normally charge. Two big problems with this one. First, if you are the potential client, low bono is a meaningless phrase at best. And second, once it is understood, would you want a service that was described that way? The better way of describing it for all concerned, depending on what you are referring to, is: (1) affordable and flexible service options; or (2) sliding-scale pricing based on income or ability to pay. Access to Justice While I’m not prepared to add it just yet, I think we’ve reached a point where we need to consider whether the phrase “access to justice” itself should land on this list. As with most of the examples above, not everyone uses the phrase to mean the same thing, and often with wide variances ( e.g. , just low-income vs. all in need; basic pro- cedural access vs. what is necessary to get a fair hearing; targeted groups of need or the entire community). I question whether we have a common enough definition for this term to be meaningful outside of our own circles without further explanation. I tried to come up with a universal defi- nition for access to justice a few years ago, and it is an issue I plan to revisit soon. My shorthand suggestion is: “A person facing a legal issue has timely and affordable access to the level of legal help they need to get a fair outcome on the merits of their legal issue and can walk away believing they got a fair outcome in the process.” Whether you like my definition or prefer something else, it would do us all
good to agree on a common definition. Most of us, the Chicago Bar Foundation included, consider access to justice one of our ultimate goals—and as the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, all roads will lead you there. Why It Matters When we’re talking to others in the “club,” these language issues may not seem so important. But if we want to reach the goal of a justice system that is truly fair and accessible for all, our club has to get a whole lot bigger. Clarity in what we are saying and respect for the people we are saying it to are great places to start!
Bob Glaves has served as the Executive Direc- tor of The Chicago Bar Foundation since Octo- ber 1999.
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Pro Bono Information and Opportunities There’s a pro bono opportunity that’s right for everyone. Search an online database of pro bono opportunities by subject matter, client type, and time commitment at cbf.joinpaladin. com/chicago-bar-foundation. Not sure where to start? The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Support Program can also help you identify and connect with pro bono opportunities that match your schedule, interests, and goals. To learn more, contact the CBF at 312-554-1204 or email@example.com.
Sheila Nielsen, MSW, JD firstname.lastname@example.org
CBA RECORD 15
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