Chinn: Moral Imperative or Moral Dilemma?

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iba-chinn-scottThere is an interwoven fabric of reasons why I love lawyers. We serve people and the community (even when we don’t get paid). We are among the best problem solvers in situations big and small. And we can be objective analyzers of duty, responsibility and social norms and values even when we are in our roles as advocates.

With those thoughts in mind, I have been considering for many months the work of lawyers in assisting other lawyers. For example, as I’ve written about in this column before, a task force of the bar headed by Kathleen Hart and Rebecca Geyer has been working on outreach to lawyers who may benefit from mentoring, networking and skills training in the brave new economic world for legal services. But beyond that, some lawyers around the country have become involved in organized efforts to assist lawyers, their families, law students and other members of the legal system in times of need.

As one powerful example, the Louisiana State Bar Association sponsors a program known as SOLACE (which stands for “Support of Lawyers/Legal Personnel - All Concern Encouraged”). Here is an excerpt from the program description from the LSBA’s website:

“The sole purpose of the program is to allow the legal community to reach out in meaningful and compassionate ways to judges, lawyers, court personnel, paralegals, legal secretaries and their families who experience deaths or other catastrophic illnesses, sickness or injury. The way the program works is simple, but the effects can be significant. Notify one of the Program Coordinators when you learn of a tragedy occurring to someone in your local legal community. Through working with you and close friends of the family, the coordinator will then determine what would be the most appropriate expression of support and concern. That can range from simply sending the family a card signed by local and state leaders to providing the family with meals, needed support, assistance with grocery shopping or child care, or other similar services.”

The program is remarkably simple. It is a listserv. All persons on the listserv get a very short email from the program administrator describing the opportunity to assist. Here’s an example of one email that I’ve paraphrased for the sake of brevity:

“Third year law student needs our assistance. Her mother was diagnosed with a rare type of lung cancer, and has run out of sick leave and been terminated from her job. She is unable to afford health insurance or to pay medical bills directly, which is preventing her from being treated at an established cancer care center that has expert knowledge about this rare form of cancer. This is not a request for funds–but does anyone know a program or service that would permit this woman to be provided care?”

The SOLACE program administrator in Louisiana is Jay Zainey, a federal district judge in New Orleans. He manages the email traffic himself. I have been on the listserv since I met Judge Zainey in New Orleans this past February. I have been able to observe and have come to admire the efficiency, zeal and apparent efficacy of his work on this program.

It turns out that seemingly miraculous things happen all the time because of emails being sent on the SOLACE listserv. Needy patients get seen by doctors they wouldn’t have otherwise seen; plane flights from central Africa bring very sick people home; legal assistance is rendered to families when a lawyer-provider falls ill or passes away. You name it, and it has probably been the subject of a SOLACE request, except raising funds, which SOLACE (smartly) does not do.

Lawyers are powerful and resourceful people. They can get things like this done. That’s the magic of the listserv. But I have been wondering whether there are certain moral dilemmas created–however unintentionally–by the listserv. Maybe not so much in the plane flight: if some rich person or company loses one additional business meeting by using the plane to fly a sick person to safety, there’s no reason to get hung up about that. But what if the patient that gets seen that wouldn’t have otherwise, takes the place of another uninsured patient on the bubble–one whose friends and family members are not part of a powerful network of lawyers. Should I/you/we worry about that? Maybe it doesn’t happen that way. And if that, or similar things, are in fact natural consequences of such a program, does the good that is done outweigh the problem? Should we be self-conscious that the program only applies to members of the legal community and their families? Or does that make sense–that various interest and demographic groups are in best position to efficiency and effectively help their peers?

As for the IndyBar, we have the HEAL committee. HEAL stands for Helping Enrich Attorneys’ Lives. It is not a SOLACE program. Mainly, HEAL reaches out to those in need in a quiet and ad hoc way. Ellen Townsend is chairing the committee and working on the question of whether it should become something more. Should that something more be a SOLACE program sponsored by the IndyBar? Is it a moral imperative that we powerful people continue to find ways like this to help our brothers and sisters in the legal community? Or does it cause you a twinge of concern? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks.•


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.