I recently attended the NYU Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship’s Annual Conference on Legal
Issues in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing – in the US and Beyond. Cutting Edge Counsel was a finalist for this year's Grunin Prize. I just finished this conference at NYU, where the Annual Grunin Prize was awarded.
The Grunin Prize aims to reward the innovation, replicability and/or scalability, and potential impact of projects and solutions developed by lawyers to advance the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing.
While we were honored to have been chosen as one of the finalists for this Prize, we did not take home the trophy. However, what I did take away from this conference was the amazing turnout and inspiring ideas. This year far surpassed all expectations with over 500 attendees, including lawyers and other professionals that are working in, or interested in learning more about how the legal profession can present, share best practices, and learn from one another about the work going on in law to support social entrepreneurship and impact investing.
While I was not able to attend many of the sessions (usually three or more happening at a time), what I was able to come away with from the ones that I did attend was the gratifying sense that there is now a much more keen awareness of the challenges that are ahead of us to find ways to engineer practices toward a better and more sustainable world, and a strong commitment by many in attendance to share what they have learned, and to discuss together the technical and ethical challenges ahead.
Clearly not every lawyer in attendance was there representing practices that were only focused on this kind of work (those of us who are know well how difficult it can be to be “all in” in this kind of practice, and still earn enough for a comfortable lifestyle). I still heard presenters that were fitting some time in toward helping to fix some planetary problems while continuing with their firm’s other work (that may actually be causing those problems), and also encountered some who seemed to be doing this work as more of an intellectual challenge or an exercise toward new or unique solutions that could showcase their creativity as smart lawyers.
There will continue to be efforts made by some to come up with clever work-arounds to attract more clients who want to feel comfortable that they fit within the “impact” space, but who still devote their time to this with little regard toward the outcomes or objectives that are so badly needed.
But I also encountered many who seem completely devoted to finding ways to use their legal skills to truly make a difference, all the way to the end beneficiary for whom this work should really be about, and who are quite intelligent and forward thinking as they apply their work towards solutions that will make an impact on the lives of others, and on our planet. I am more encouraged now than ever that our profession is producing true warriors ready to do what must be done to overcome the unfortunate and severe mindsets that only want more growth and higher returns, while continuing on with their extractive and damaging actions and feeling good about being a winner.
While I would have liked to have seen more panels and presenters with a focus on community and economic justice, I believe that this conference, and perhaps others like it from other law schools, will be able to put those issues front and center at future events
And to that point, I feel that the accolades for this event must belong to those who have made a conference like this not only a reality, but something that is growing in the public’s eye, creating a safe space for all of us who need the support that others bring by coming together.
I am speaking of Jay Grunin, the founder and still active chair of the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship, as well as its Executive Director, Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz, and the Faculty Co-Directors, Deborah Burand and Helen Scott. They not only have made social entrepreneurship a formal area of study at NYU Law, but they use the Grunin Prize to highlight its importance and further its reach. It provides a place for this much-needed community of law students and lawyers, while supporting, advancing, and honoring those who devote their practice to it.
It was quite an honor to be named a finalist for this year’s Grunin Prize. We shared a stage with other very worthy lawyers and firms, as well as those who came before us. After 18 years of working to rebalance an over-financialized system that contributes significantly to the rising income and wealth gaps, an extractive economy, the by-product scarcities of healthy food, water, shelter, and the ever present and difficult to deny climate change, I now feel we are a movement, and that work like ours is finally gaining the recognition and validity it needs. This conference shows that we are now a community, focused on a better and brighter future, and that we WILL shake things up to see it through.
As I reflected on attending this event, I also had to acknowledge and give thanks to my own Cutting Edge partners and team who were not able to be here. They are great lawyers and professionals, amazing and wonderful humans, and they are all fully committed to the economic re-balancing act that must happen. I know they would have found this event quite refreshing and inspiring.
And finally, I have to again give big kudos to TechSoup Global, the organization that proposed Cutting Edge for the Grunin Prize. They have an impressive 30-year track record supporting social justice all over the world, and showed their commitment to do something radically different (without knowing it was going to be possible). Their visionary CEO, Rebecca Masisak, and their offering team of Ken Tsunoda and Dara Westling helped us tremendously so that we could help them make this innovative offering a reality. TechSoup is a great model for the future of nonprofits and for-profits alike, and for anyone committed to supporting those on the front lines of economic justice, and to a democratic form of capitalism that we so badly need to return to.