Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Saturday, February 21, 2015

#WeekendReads: Highlights from #CommunityWealth Generation Beyond the V/Alley #socent #impinv #sharingeconomy #law #msulawsm

Every Monday the that I curate updates and as my schedule permits I chip away at reviewing the articles during the week. Below are some of the articles that stand out as significant conversations about social enterprise, impact investing, the sharing economy and the law.

  • Worker Cooperatives and the commons - three good reads and a video
    • Own the Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-Op at a Time (video). This video not only profiles worker-owners who have successfully built worker-owned cooperatives, it also breaks down the process of developing a cooperative into discrete steps. Granted, at 22 minutes, it's not as substantive as a session with a lawyer who has cooperative formation expertise BUT it is a VERY good start for organizations contemplating this structure to review the video and start thinking through the governance structure that makes sense for the talents and goals of the members, the products they will produce and the consumer market they will serve.
    • New York City Invests in Worker Co-ops — and Equitable Growth. I generally prefer to highlight efforts elsewhere, but in light of the high costs for living and for business in New York City, I am inspired by the city's decision to invest "$1.2 million this year in developing worker-owned businesses in low-income communities and communities of color. It's the largest investment in such businesses ever made by a city government in the United States."
    • Apparently Mondragon Cooperative, based in Spain, has a tumblr. I don't really get tumblr, but the more I learn about Mondragon, the more I believe that their model merits very close scrutiny and broad implementation.
    • The New Greek Government Endorses Commons-Based, Peer Production Solutions. Greece and Syriza's efforts to retool the Greek economy into a commons-based, bottom-up, peer-production model with transparent national governance should be interesting to track. The focus on implementing these efforts first in education and small business development, rather than rushing to nationalize everything may well place Greece on better footing to make a more effective transition. And the focus on transparent governance should help mitigate corruption.
  • Efforts to improve the data analysis for the "social good"
    • Calculating the Social Cost of Policymaking - Maryland's former governor and potential presidential hopeful, Martin O'Malley, oversaw a cost effectiveness analysis of state fleet vehicles and included net present value plus (NPV+), "a new way to include social and environmental impacts into the overall cost of something. The concept is an expansion of the more common NPV analysis that calculates the lifetime value of a purchase in present terms by incorporating upfront costs with potential savings and expenses down the road, all while accounting for inflation. The "plus" adds tangential factors like the cost of environmental degradation and benefits like ecological resiliency."
  • Green energy and energy cooperatives
    • How and Why Utilities Make Solar Look Expensive. This is an interesting critique of Tucson Electric Power's apparent effort to dismiss solar power investment despite Tucson's abundance of solar energy. It's a bit snarky and the author takes the utility to task for "exaggerating [solar power's] cost" by inflating the cost by 45%. If, despite the snark, the analysis is accurate, then this is something Tucson residents (like my mom) need to challenge.
    • Community-Owned Energy: How Nebraska Became the Only State to Bring Everyone Power From a Public Grid. "In the United States, there is one state, and only one state, where every single resident and business receives electricity from a community-owned institution rather than a for-profit corporation. ... In Nebraska, 121 publicly owned utilities, ten cooperatives, and 30 public power districts provide electricity to a population of around 1.8 million people." Though the bulk of the energy is generated from coal and nuclear, the community has voted to increase investment in renewables (especially wind turbines) fairly consistently since 2003. Way to go Huskers!
  • With Lent now in full swing, I was also pleased to see that shared "What Catholic Social Teaching Can Teach the Sharing Economy". As Catholics go, I'm more Dorothy Day than Opus Dei, and a large part of my faith and spiritual practice has to do with the developed tradition of Catholic social teaching: preferential option for the poor; subsidiarity; solidarity; the commons; and family values (which is not as easily partisan as too many people on the left and right like to believe). It's also worth noting the recent Guardian Lifestyle piece, It's Nice to Be Nice, as a welcome reminder and companion piece to Catholic Social Teaching.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Call Me a #SocialMedia Luddite BUT Influence ≠ Expertise: Thoughtsre: #Facebook #Patent via @kevinokeefe #msulawsm

So I had a spit-out-the-Earl-Grey moment this morning as I was browsing Twitter, and it was prompted by Kevin O'Keefe's blog post about this:

Kevin O'Keefe, "Facebook patents method to determine a lawyer’s expertise," Real Lawyers Have Blogs (Feb 17, 2015),

This is the visual breakdown of Facebook's 2012 patent for identifying experts and influencers in a social network. Though the patent does not focus on lawyers and Kevin acknowledges as much in his post, Kevin is dead on that if (when?) this patent is used to vet lawyers, it could be a professional game changer.

Essentially, with the patented method, Facebook can track both the rate of sharing of information and its root (the original share). Based on that information, Facebook expects to identify influencers and experts (emphasis added).

Why I nearly gagged on my tea:
  1. The patent is strictly in service of Facebook advertising. The patent abstract states that the information gleaned would "[use] the identified experts and influencers for advertising, social grouping and other suitable purposes." Hint: those suitable purposes are NOT access to justice, improved access to accurate and current legal information, or even improvement in the delivery of legal services by attorneys and other legal service providers.

    Thus, the patent method only highlights the influencers to improve targeted marketing. Which is FINE, since this is Facebook's business. But let's not overstate the value of what this method does. Which brings me to:
  2. Influence is not expertise. Influence is at best an indication of engagement, and at worse is merely savvy marketing. In a perfect world, the only legal information that would be shared via Facebook would be, you know, accurate. But at times - in the parlance of passive wrongdoers - mistakes are made. And sometimes items are shared precisely BECAUSE they are wrong to illustrate a point about the person or organization who originally shared it.

    Now I'm no programmer (as my frustrating quality time with Code School determined last summer) but if the patented method (algorithm?) ONLY tracks rate of sharing and origins (or the "root") of the share, but fails to glean the accuracy of the information shared, then Facebook needs to stop calling this a patent for identifying "experts."
BUT if Facebook figures out how to partner with services that CAN glean accuracy and currency (e.g. Cornel Legal Information Institute, Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, or Lexis) then this really could become a helpful service for clients seeking to use Facebook to find attorneys with relevant substantive expertise and for attorneys seeking to demonstrate their expertise. Granted, there may be issues with respect to ABA Model Rules 7.1 - 7.6, which address how and where attorneys should share information about legal services, particularly where an attorney "thinks out loud" on Facebook.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Is this a "thing" yet? #ClimateChange Relocation and #Localist Economic Development Specialist #placemaking #dreamjob #MSULawSM

It is totally possible that I may have missed something during the fog that is law school, but it seems that most discussions about the expected population displacements due to climate change focus on climate refugees from island nations and rapidly desiccating subsaharan nations. This makes sense of course because for many of the citizens of these nations the evacuation need is now, rather than in some more distant future.

Domestically, the discussion seems to gloss over the fact that if the projections are correct (See NASA's recent megadrought projections for the next 35 years), millions of American citizens will soon need to relocate from flooded coasts or drought-ridden communities, most likely to other locales within the United States. With Central California wells already running dry and the ferocity of recent hurricanes displacing hundreds of thousands of people (e.g. Katrina: 400k people and Sandy: 776k), the need to think about and plan for relocation is now.

At the same time, other communities in the country are rebounding from the Great Recession and are actively pursuing strategies for locally-owned and operated, sustainable economic development (See Cleveland, the BALLE case studies, Richmond, VA). This is particularly true for communities that are off the beaten path or are reinventing themselves as post-industrial locales.

So, why not combine the needs of climate change relocation with the needs of localist economic development? Put another way, where will all the amazing companies and organizations in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area go when the sea levels rise, the heat waves become chronic, the water runs out, and/or the Big One hits?

Proactive planning for relocation should be part of any climate-change threatened organization's or individual's emergency management plan and long-term projections. BUT the best relocation planning would take seriously the organization's or individual's role in becoming a community partner in placemaking in its future home.

Essentially a community development strategy of disaster avoidance and prosperity creation needs to be part of future planning. A proactive embrace of relocation as an opportunity rather than a chore can prove to be a very good decision for business, communities and for individuals' quality of life.

A Climate Change Relocation and Localist Economic Development Specialist would be part Hollywood location scout, part matchmaker, part community mediator, part designer, and part lawyer. She would help relocating businesses and individuals identify communities in more stable zones that are or could be excellent partners for the business' or individual's talents and goals. She would also work with communities hoping for an influx of good neighbors and good business by helping those communities complete a soul-searching SWOT analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Communities hoping to welcome new neighbors and businesses have to recognize that they can rarely control who those people and businesses will be (exceptions: formula business zoning and other zoning & building code strategies), and thus they need to be sure that they are ready to grow and learn with their new neighbors.

Certainly a specialist who is a skilled facilitative or transformative community mediator can help with these conversations. If she also has a design thinking sensibility she can help insure that the process is empathetic and responsive to both the migrants and the communities. And as a lawyer, she can facilitate the numerous transactions incumbent in relocating businesses and individuals (e.g. real estate transactions and syncing business and estate needs with the laws of the new state).

Admittedly, that's a lot to ask of one person, but then again, this is the era of the purple squirrel job description. Personally, I see this need to help individuals, businesses and communities plan for the effects of climate change as an argument for a multidisciplinary practice where relocation specialists, mediators, business-savvy service designers and lawyers work together to help communities, businesses and individuals prepare for and embrace the inevitability of change.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Week in Review: #CommunityWealth Generation & #Socent News Beyond the V/Alley via @OuiShare @nytdavidbrooks @DemocracyCollab

Reviewing the articles collected in this week's edition of Beyond the V/Alley, I have decided 1) that my future practice must include significant attention to administrative law, and 2) I still want to dual qualify as a solicitor in the UK because I am impressed by many organizations in the community wealth development and impact investing circles.

The articles and video that stood out to me in this edition of Beyond the V/Alley, include:
  • Michael Shuman's GritTV interview on "Moving Your Money" followed by a short profile of the Cero cooperative in Boston, MA:

  • David Brooks' editorial, "How to Leave a Mark" not only appears in this edition, it was also was frequently shared on Facebook and Twitter, and for good reason. He distinguishes socially responsible investing (largely a strategy of avoiding the bad) from impact investing (a strategy of building the good through targeted community investments). It's a good, balanced and succinct read.
  • The Stanford Social Innovation Review article, "US Economic Mobility and Investing for Impact" links to the recent Aspen Institute & Georgetown University report, The Bottom Line: Investing for Impact on Economic Mobility in the US. This is a pretty substantive report "with a focus on deal flow and returns. [They] did not set out to complete a comprehensive state of the field survey, but instead to understand how the investments of active investors could help build economic security for families." The report zeroes in on impact investing for outcomes in education, community economic assets (e.g. reducing the costs of recidivism and affordable housing), and health and well-being. As a law student, I find it curious that "law" is rarely expressly referenced in the full report (except with respect to tax laws), though federal, state and local "policy" is ubiquitous and appears to function as a euphemism for administrative law (See pp 127-128 of the report, which is a chart of the most important federal statutes related to community-based impact investing). At any rate, I look forward to reading the full report...soonish (ahhh, law greedy with my time).
  • The business headlines this week are a bit ... odd, but Assets & Opportunity Scorecard (via the Democracy Collaborative) is an interesting resource for "for data on household financial security and policy solutions." From the About page: "The Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is a comprehensive look at Americans’ financial security today and their opportunities to create a more prosperous future. It assesses the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 135 outcome and policy measures, which describe how well residents are faring and what states can do to help them build and protect assets."
  • Anyone who is interested in the nexus between local impact investing, community development, and transparency in governance needs to follow the progress of the new Office of Community Wealth Building in Richmond, VA. It was established last year to coordinate poverty reduction and wealth building initiatives. Richmond, VA and Jackson, MS are piloting potentially transformative and scalable models of prudent public-private partnerships and other community-based initiatives. They are definitely communities to watch.
  • There are two very awesome conferences soliciting proposals, and I am very put out that I cannot attend either of them. 
    • A call for proposals for the 2nd Annual #FLOSS4P2P conference in London is accepting proposals through February 28th. So, if you have a project that is "building software for peer production and organization, with a focus on distributed ones," then you might want to get your proposal in soon. It sounds like a very interesting conference particularly if the projects leverage P2P technology to support effective and efficient cooperative enterprise. Plus it's in London, and as I plan to dual qualify as a solicitor in the not too distant future, my inner Anglophile really wants to attend.
    • The third OuiShare Fest in Paris will explore the theme "Lost in Transition" during "a three-day festival about the collaborative society" from May 20-22, 2015, and it seeks proposals for sessions and content that will further discussions and actions in collaborative social development (e.g. "collaborative consumption, open source, makers and fablabs, coworking, crowdfunding, alternative currencies and horizontal governance." It sounds a lot like the SHARE conference I was invited to attend last May, but OuiShare appears more focused on collaborative society and not as focused on the collaborative workforce as Peers seems to be. Sadly, I won't be able to confirm this in person this year, but perhaps you will. If you make it to OuiShare, having learned about it from me, please note: I really love Cyb√®le, an eau de toilette by Galimard. In case you were wondering. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#CommunityWealth Generation and #Socent News Beyond the V/Alley Highlights

While the Silicon Valley in California and the Silicon Alley in NYC are well regarded as hot spots for innovation, including in social enterprise, I have begun tracking developments in social enterprise and community wealth generation beyond those two focal communities. To that end, I created a, Beyond the V/Alley.

While there are many notable articles and videos in this week's edition, I'd like to particularly draw attention to:

I do not generally think of "Goldman Sachs" and "positive social impact" as complimentary realities. However, the summary process map of how their social impact bonds function in public/private partnerships strikes me as particularly useful. Too often would-be high impact social programs can be sidelined by program mismanagement and/or mission creep. This process map succinctly lays out the importance of division of labor (e.g. the project manager, service provider, and evaluator are different entities) can help a project proceed smoothly and insure that the vital outcomes for the key community, institutional and investor stakeholders are met.
Granted, I think care should be taken to insure that the investors have not been complicit in creating the social ills that the bonds seek to redress (e.g. banks that shamelessly red-lined neighborhoods should not then be able to structure social impact bonds for blight-busting in such a way as to maximize their payouts). But that is a conversation for a much bigger process map.

Written by LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Director of Research Chris Walker, this report highlights early-stage results from LISC’s Building Sustainable Communities initiative. The report demonstrates how a comprehensive community development approach that targets investments in affordable housing, economic development, edu­cation, health, and safety can significantly raise incomes and decrease unemployment in low-income neighborhoods. Also included are case studies in Providence, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

This is a short news article and video profiling the successful transition of a local market into a worker cooperative. It does not discuss legal strategy (for that, a good start would be the SELC's Think Outside the Boss handbook - bearing in mind the need to adapt the information for your actual jurisdiction).

This profile of the Community Purchase Alliance is one of my favorite stories out of last week. It speaks to the power of leveraging the purchasing power of anchor institutions to not just save money but to also invest in just and sustainable businesses that prioritize the three Ps: people, planet & profit.

I am a gardener in withdrawal, and as I carefully pour over my Baker Heirloom Seed Catalog, I have looked forward to the day when I could help keep heirloom seed varieties alive through seed sharing with seed libraries. Unfortunately, that activity has irritated some state legislators. This campaign aims to keep seed sharing legal. 
There MANY other articles and videos on the that are worth exploring. These are just a handful that struck me as particularly timely. Take a look and comment below on what you think I should have highlighted instead.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Single Parenting Through Law School: Some Thoughts on How to Make it "Work" - Part Two #lawschoolmom #MSULawSM

In my last post, I focused on two key aspects that have helped me survive and find my stride in law school, as a single parent to a preschooler:
  1. Putting family first, and
  2. Fully using the resources for student parents provided by my law school and the university community.
When I left off, I promised to address three more points:
  1. Ask for what you need: Peer Community
  2. Self-Care: Do It.
  3. Set your child up for her own success
    1. with her own emotions
    2. school as co-parent
  • Ask for what you need: Peer Community
But for the grace, patience and generosity of the friends I have made in law school, I would never have made it this far. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the image below would have become my perpetual appearance (rather than an occasional reality), with only the size of my child and bag changing over time:

 (Image Credit: Melissa Garden Streblow)

In spring 2012, I flew with my daughter to Preview Weekend (which was a reasonable decision despite the fact that she had just turned two years old) because a woman in the alumni office (who was good friends with a Washington state alumnus I had met) was willing to host a playdate between my daughter and her five year old daughter so that I could focus on deciding if I would attend MSU Law. That is not a run on sentence. It was, however, the beginning of a wonderful friendship and my orientation to asking near strangers for help. 

Since then, my peer network has expanded and is largely comprised of other parents (married and single), with whom I have frequently arranged playdate and sleepover exchanges, and family-friendly study dates (basically: we study for as long as the kids can play together nicely or without extended eerie silence). None of us are particularly gunnerish because we know all too well how hard it is to avoid embodying the above image without the added gunning madness. But we all respect the work that we do and our families who need us to get it done. 

My student parent network has been largely informal and ad hoc, but if you find that your law school has a critical mass of student parents, then you might consider working with the law school to create a student parent association (perhaps as part of the Diversity office). You might even decide to set up a formal child care co-op, like the good legal eaglet you are.

However, I would caution you against developing a peer network with only other student parents. Kid-friendly people who do not have children are helpful for your personal sanity and for helping your children learn to interact with adults who are not their teachers/babysitters or family. When I realized that my finances required that I find a shared living arrangement to help me save up for post-3L bar exam and relocation expenses, I decided to rent a house with two guys from my section. They are good, decent men who are respectful and kind toward my daughter and me. I never ask them to babysit and my daughter knows how to respect their spaces (well, except for the roommate who introduced her to Mario Kart...sucker :) ). We knew each other for two years before choosing to live together, and my only regret is that we didn't figure out that we live well together even sooner.

For some people - particularly single mothers - our arrangement would raise red flags, as they would prefer to co-house with another parent, or at least with other housemates of the same gender. If you fall into this camp, then you might look into a service like Co-Abode (co-housing matching for single mothers), or consider establishing your own co-housing arrangement (here are some great resources from

Regardless of the approach you take, you'll want to have some sort of roommate agreement, from the more informal, but recognized, division of labor (e.g. in our house, the guys deal with the garbage, recycling & rent-exchange maintenance on the property, while I try to wrangle the kid sprawl and keep the kitchen clean due to the amount of cooking I do), to a more formal agreement (e.g. the customizable roommate agreement templates by Shake Law).

While figuring out your childcare and child-friendly network, and maybe even a co-housing arrangement, don't forget your social needs.

You will need friends.


Friends with whom you can talk about your stuff, issues, goals, frustrations, dreams.... Some of these friends will be other parents, but it is both allowed and NECESSARY for you to talk to them about something other than your kids, your homework or the Lego Movie (unless you dig deep into the film's brilliant subtext). Even if you cannot afford to go out very often because the babysitter costs $10+ an hour, allow yourself to go out at least once a month and be creative (but reasonable) in meeting your parenting obligations. Last Friday night, I joined some friends and fell in love with an amazing restaurant, (revolver). I could go because my daughter had a sleepover at a friend's house; in a few weeks it will be my turn to host a sleepover in return. 
  • Self-Care: Do It.
Say it loud and say it proud:"Self care is not selfish!"

Everyone and their second cousin's mail carrier will have an opinion about your decision to go to law school as a single parent. That nattering chorus of ne'er-say-wells can provoke overwhelming guilt in the single parent. Or maybe that was just me. Figuring out how to manage the guilt, required that I figure out how to take care of myself.

I know that sounds counterintuitive. But if we do not take care of ourselves, by listening to and respecting our bodies, minds and souls, then we will not be effective parents. Admittedly, when I was trudging through 1L, I did not always make time to exercise, eat well, pray or even sleep. Thus I am not surprised that I packed on an additional ten or fifteen pounds, began losing my hair in clumps, required a prescription bite guard because I was grinding my teeth at night, and kind of went through a spiritual crisis.  Good times.

I don't recommend it.

When I returned from study abroad in London, I realized that something had to change: Me.

I had to love, value and care for myself and the gift of my one life as much as I love, value and care for the gift of my daughter. So I downloaded and used the Couch 2 5k app and began cooking and gardening again (two therapeutic pillars). I began walking to school while listening to my power playlist (don't judge, it works) and going to the YMCA (it has a great student rate on the family membership, and they have a sauna - my third therapeutic pillar). Inspired by Pope Francis and my own spiritual yearning, I even returned to Mass and began to dust off the old prayer life (my fourth pillar). My journey continues in fits and starts (e.g. bacon regularly conspires with Michigan winters to be my undoing), but I have a better grasp on what I need to do to maintain a certain degree of centered wellness.

To manage single parenting through law school, you will need to do the same. So take the time to figure out who you are in your silent place, when you finally sit down, breathe deeply and exhale a soul-cleansing breath. Whoever you are in that moment is the person you need to nurture, not just for success in law school (however you end up defining that success), but for success as a parent with the capacity to love and guide your child(ren) through the law school journey. With any luck, your law school will have some resources to help you (e.g. MSU Law runs a weekly Wellness in Practice meditation and the MSU Council of Graduate Students runs a variety of wellness programs). Regardless, it is on you to take care of yourself so that you can help your child(ren) not just survive law school with you but maybe even thrive.

  • Set your child up for her own success
If you do not already have a routine for checking in with your child in a substantive, on his/her level kind of way, start one. Without a doubt, the variable triggers and stressors of law school will occasionally derail even the best routine, but you have to have one first before it can be derailed.

Furthermore, avoid trying to tweak your kiddo's routines to better accommodate your study and class schedule. There were a few really interesting classes I wanted to take during 2L, but they met at night, after my daughter's bedtime. The few times during 1L when I'd had a babysitter take over the bedtime routine for me so that I could attend a late night study session had all been quite difficult for my daughter. So once I began taking electives in 2L, I knew that was not going to be an option. The two times that I took an evening class (5:45 start time), I made sure to enroll my daughter in a fun class of her choosing at the YMCA. By the time she was done with her class, my class was over and I could meet her and the babysitter at the Y.

But the reality is, kids will be kids. There will be tantrums. They will be frustrated and confused by the amount of attention you pay to those massive books they are not allowed to touch or "decorate." You'll want to address their frustrations before your laptop "accidentally" falls to the floor (thankfully, mine "accidentally" fell onto a patch of floor that was well padded by a pile of clean, unfolded laundry). 

In those moments of child sabotage, the hardest thing to admit is that the saboteur may be right - not in her action, but in her feelings. I'm not a family counselor or therapist, but I can attest to the value of taking a deep breath in those moments, coming down to my daughter's level and trying to validate her feelings first. Eventually we discuss strategies for helping her convey her frustrations without being destructive. I do not always respond with such grace, but I have gotten better at it, and best of all, my daughter has become pretty good at advocating for herself and calling me out when I need to "chill" and take a "mommy time out."

Finally, we have been fortunate in that the school that my daughter attends has been very understanding of our situation. In some ways, the teachers and staff there have been like a co-parent who does not take point on the big decisions but is always supportive. I do not have the time to volunteer as much as they would like parents to volunteer, but I have never been subject to any shaming and my daughter is always treated with respect and warmth by the staff and teachers, and the other families with whom we have become friends. 

Admittedly, there is little in this last section that is unique to single parenting in law school. Rather, it's all just part of the reality of parenting. However, to help you and your child(ren) get through law school in one piece, you may need to cultivate a heightened awareness of how the unique stressors of law school impact you and your family and preemptively take steps to mitigate them. 

If your law school or the residential community in which you will live do not have the resources to help you succeed, and if you do not have the time to develop those resources, then perhaps you are not at the right school or in the right community. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Crowdsourcing #A2J: Some thoughts on @CrowdDefend & the strategic use of #collcons & the #sharingeconomy

Yesterday, I learned about the launch of CrowdDefend, a new platform combining crowdfunding and impact legislation. This appears to be a desperately needed tool for leveling the playing field, first for socially important litigation and second (perhaps) for private lawsuits in which a monied party uses or threatens to use litigation strategies to bully the other party into submission (by either dropping the case or settling). It is an important companion piece to low-bono, pro-bono, and law school legal clinic solutions.

And it also illustrates the expanding application of the ethics of care at the heart of the outcomes-oriented sharing economy, which strives to use transactions as a means of developing a more equitable, just, sustainable and resilient society. With CrowdDefend, that ethic can be taken to another systemic level, improving social justice outcomes in our case law.

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an overstatement for a two-day old startup, because CrowdDefend is currently an invite-only crowdfunding platform. BUT it is a perfectly reasonable statement if one takes the long view and CrowdDefend figures out how to last.

Nevertheless, as a legal eaglet and Reinvent Law devotee, I have some concerns, chiefly: what if the campaign owners (the folks who launch a case crowdfunding campaign) are the attorneys of record on the case? Some of my anxiety below is admittedly the pre-emptive nail-biting of a newbie; hopefully, as CrowdDefend evolves and grows, some (if not all) of my concerns will be rendered moot.

  • Privilege, Confidentiality and Trial Publicity. Any lawyer who ends up using CrowdDefend as a campaign owner will need to pay extra attention to the attorney/client privilege and confidentiality requirements in Model Rule 1.6 (c): "A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client."
  • Attorney commentary about the profession. Imprudent discussion of the counsel or judges involved in a case could also land the attorney in hot water, per Model Rule 8.2 (and maybe 3.5 a wee bit).
  • Justice or Advertising? While CrowdDefend is focused on the justice needs of clients, I wonder if it might not run the risk of becoming a form of attorney advertising deemed "undignified" by some jurisdictions. There are bound to be some attorneys who will reference their use of CrowdDefend in advertising material about their professional services and the strategies they will pursue to help their clients. The problem may arise (and perhaps should arise) when the attorney has more skill for launching a campaign than for raising funds for his clients' case. And if the attorney is the campaign owner, rather than the client, then the ethics can become especially hairy if the attorney offers levels of "perks" as authorized in the CrowdDefend Terms of Use. Provided the perks don't amount to coupons or gift certificates for the attorney's professional services, then they shouldn't be considered "advertising" under the current Model Rule 7.2, but using CrowdDefend would, nevertheless increase the attorney's professional visibility.
  • Fee-Sharing. CrowdDefend charges campaign owners a flat 7% fee on funds generated through the campaigns.  Model Rule 5.4 always surfaces in discussions around law firm capitalization and ownership, and here it has bearing on the actual cases. Does that fee constitute a kind of fee-sharing arrangement since the total amount paid would vary based on the amount of money raised (with the balance going towards covering the attorney's litigation costs)? Or would that 7%fee be considered an incidental expense for the matter?

Presumably the lawyer(s) would have their clients' informed consent prior to using CrowdDefend for their case. But one of the "perks" of donating to a CrowdDefend case, according to CrowdDefend's marketing, is that the donor will receive updates about the crowdfunding campaign and the case.
Certainly, it is possible to provide updates that are largely procedural rather than substantive because attorneys do that all the time, in compliance with Model Rule 3.6. But imprudent management of case information online could have such significant consequences (including the loss of privilege protection) due to the reach of the internet and information caching online.
If ever there were an innovation that lays bear the logic and timeliness of Lucy Jewell's call to develop a participatory legal culture around professional ethics, CrowdDefend is it. Donors and interested parties may well want more insight into the human story of the legal professionals and not just the case parties, but as things stand now in most jurisdictions, if an attorney's analysis of the other counsel or the judiciary is found to denigrate the profession in some way, that attorney risks some degree of professional sanction.
Well, my hands are good and wrung. But I am still convinced that CrowdDefend is a welcome, necessary and potentially transformative resource for access to justice. Despite my totally premature concerns, I look forward to hearing more about how CrowdDefend grows, evolves and improves social justice outcomes in our legal system and our case law.