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From the Executive Directors

Providing legal services to poor people distinguishes us from private law firms as well as other public interest firms. Intrinsic to our missions is the shared belief that those living in poverty are subjected to injustices and unequal treatment simply because they are poor. We believe that living in poverty denies people the opportunity to access the court system, to participate fully in society, and to enjoy the same basic rights and privileges as others. We incorporate this shared belief into our priorities and our case acceptance decisions, in the strategies we pursue in seeking redress and in the zealous manner in which we represent our clients. At ABLE and LAWO, this shared belief binds us together in the struggle we undertake each day to fight along side our clients for justice and equality.

As partner law firms, we must take actions and make decisions that make us the best law firms possible. To accomplish this, everyone in the firms needs to understand their role and commit themselves to ensuring that our legal work is of the highest quality and that everyone in the firms—no matter what their job title—supports that work through their own individual work everyday. Everything we do must ultimately support our advocates and their legal work.

Legal aid organizations like LAWO and ABLE originated in the 1860s when it was recognized that equality in our justice system required equal access. Equal access did not merely mean that the courthouse doors would be open to everyone, but that people would have a lawyer walking in the doors with them. In essence, the only reason ABLE and LAWO exist is because low income people need excellent lawyers representing them; they need their own law firms. That is why we do not consider ourselves a social services or human resources agency as some people would like to categorize us. There is a wide variety of social service agencies with a range of purposes, but they are not law firms, which makes us unique among organizations that serve the poor.

Our non-profit nature also distinguishes us from law firms in the private sector. It affects our missions, structures, and culture. Unlike a private firm, our emphasis is not on yearend profits, client cultivation and partners, but on accountability to a broader client community which relies on us to be their advocates and bring about significant change and results for them. Our accountability also extends to our volunteer boards of trustees who are responsible for ensuring that we remain effective and financially sound. Moreover, we are accountable to the many individuals and entities that support our missions and demonstrate that support financially.

Our boards of trustees developed our mission statements through discussions with staff and board members over the years. While the statements have gone through minor language changes, the substance remains the same. We are partner law firms—a group of professionals who advocate for the poor and who are committed to ensuring that the legal assistance we provide is as good as or better than any found in our community.

Kevin Mulder, LAWO Executive Director | Janet Hales, ABLE Executive Director