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13 May 2021

Bob Glaves: 'We have an opportunity to make law better and we have no time to waste'

Chicago Bar Foundation's top executive on moving to a non-profit organisation, realising the promise of equal justice and bringing the courts into the 21st century

By Anne Gallagher

Image courtesy of Bob Glaves

After practicing law for nine years, Bob Glaves joined the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) in 1999 thinking it would be a short-term role. More than 20 years later, he still leads the CBF in its work to mobilise Chicago's legal community around the issue of access to justice for people in need and he’s working to create change in how consumer legal services are priced, packaged and delivered. 

Why did you make the transition from practicing law to the CBF?

I loved being a trial lawyer but not some of the administrative aspects of it like hourly billing. At the time, I was also doing a lot of volunteer work on court policy and advocacy. I was asked to be part of the search team for the next CBF executive director and read the job description. I remember thinking, ‘this might be something interesting to do for a few years.” I had no experience with non-profit organisations but I did know the legal field. I was hired for the position and once I started, I quickly saw that the people who gravitate to this work are the best in the legal profession. This is work that is inspiring and I am excited to get up and come in to work every day. 

You have been quoted as saying, “For too many people, the justice system is falling short of our ideals, and it is up to us to do something about it.” Can you explain this?

Our legal system in the United States was designed for a different era, one where almost everyone in court was represented by a lawyer. However, with increasing frequency the new normal is for more people to appear in court without a lawyer by their side. Studies show that more than 75% of civil court cases have at least one unrepresented party. Studies also show that the ‘haves’ who can afford lawyers get better results. Our US system of justice is founded on the belief that equal justice for all is possible. Our legal system is not working for everyone and we must change that. 

How do we do that?

Three ways:  First, we need to simplify the legal system and make it more user friendly and accessible so people can do more things on their own if they need to or want to. Second, we need to do more to help the people who truly can’t afford legal services and are facing serious issues like eviction, domestic violence, immigration – things that can literally be life or death. And third, we have to do better in the paying market. There was a time not long ago that everyday people could afford lawyers. Something has gone fundamentally wrong and we need to fix it. 

The CBF has been at the forefront of working to modernise what you’ve called the “antiquated” rules of professional conduct for lawyers, which has been controversial. Why is it needed?

More than ever, people want a range of options for accessing legal services that includes remote and online services. Just look at services like Legal Zoom or Turbo Tax. We need to understand that the practice of law is distinct from the delivery of legal services and the business of law, and we can do so much better by collaborating with other legal and business professionals who may not be lawyers. In a comprehensive report, we provided recommendations on modernising lawyer referrals and law firm models, optimising the use of other legal professionals, regulating technology-based legal products and services, plain language ethics rules and expanding the limited scope rules. In April, the Illinois Supreme Court, which regulates lawyer conduct, responded favourably to our report and has set up an internal process to develop execution plans for most of the recommendations. This is a big step for the legal profession and the public we serve.

By bringing our framework for the profession into the 21st century, we can address these issues in a way that enables all lawyers to deliver the modern service options that both individual and business clients want and need while staying true to our core values as a profession and protecting the public. By way of context, Australia and England already have many of these things in place and we are behind the times in the United States. 

What keeps you passionate about this work?

All of us are the trustees of the justice system and we must take our responsibilities to heart. Coming out of the pandemic and the overdue racial justice reckoning of this past year, we have a real opportunity right now to make law better for all concerned, and we have no time to waste. Everything works better when our legal system works better. It’s my dream to see our courts using 21st century strategies and tools to be more fair, accessible and efficient for everyone, and it is a dream within our reach.  

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