The Help Now! Story
In January 2004, executive director Larry Kahn conceived the idea of forming an organization that, on an individual case-by-case basis, would speak up and advocate for those in our society least equipped to do so for themselves and without the funds to pay someone else to do it for them. The organization would give this group of persons—seniors, the disabled, and minorities among them—help in solving critical problems or issues. That organization now carries the name of Help Now! Advocacy Center. Larry's conceiving the organization was a result of several aspects of his own life experience coming together.
For many years, Larry had practiced law in Washington, D.C. as a litigation attorney first with the federal government prosecuting consumer false advertising and product defect cases and then in private practice where he became a partner with one of Washington's premier law firms. While practicing in Washington, Larry earned the reputation as being a tenacious and creative negotiator. He resolved some high profile cases through negotiation bringing him national media attention for his accomplishments. He was also sometimes called in to resolve cases where others before him had failed. By negotiating to strike a fair balance between the disputing parties while still protecting his client's interests, Larry was often thanked by both parties to negotiations after resolving their issues.
In his private practice, there were many prospective clients Larry had to turn away because they could not afford the fees charged by his law firm. He turned away others who presented small matters not strictly legal in nature and not significant enough to warrant attorney intervention. Through this experience, Larry came to realize that a large segment, in fact the vast majority, of the population in the District of Columbia area was disenfranchised from the legal system insofar as their need for advocacy was concerned. To address this vast unmet need, Larry left his partnership in 1991 and formed a new legal corporation, Negotiated Solutions.
In forming Negotiated Solutions, Larry cut the fees he and the other attorneys working for him charged clients by approximately two-thirds. He recruited attorneys who had reputations as being outstanding negotiators. The service was formed with the sole purpose of keeping legal disputes out of court. While in private practice, too many times Larry had observed attorneys on the other side of his cases refusing to settle cases early on but then accepting the same or very similar terms of settlement many months and many client dollars later. Consequently, he did not want the attorneys working for Negotiated Solutions to have any financial disincentive to do anything but settle cases. The idea was to create a dynamic towards settlement. The settlement success rate for Negotiated Solutions' matters ran consistently 80-85 percent, and the typical matter was resolved in 2-3 weeks' time.
Two years after starting Negotiated Solutions and after seeing it become profitable within its first six months of operations, Larry had to suspend the service in the Washington, DC area because family health reasons necessitated an unexpected move to San Diego. However, while running Negotiated Solutions in Washington, Larry observed that probably half the matters handled by the firm were not strictly legal in nature. Larry considered the possibility of training laypeople or paralegals of reasonable intelligence and resourcefulness in negotiation technique so they would be equipped to handle those Negotiated Solutions matters that were not strictly legal. He believed strongly that such individuals, properly trained, could perform some of the work done by his firm although that belief was never actually tested in the context of Negotiated Solutions due to his move west.
This consideration, coupled with Larry's background in having successfully taught negotiation technique to laypeople in many contexts—churches, universities, civic groups, professional groups, and corporate groups including the San Diego Padres front office personnel among others—was one of the two major underpinnings to Larry's creation of Help Now! Larry was convinced that he and non-lawyers, properly trained, could successfully perform non-legal advocacy on behalf of those who most need those services—the disabled, seniors, minorities, and other economically or educationally disadvantaged persons.
The other underpinning for Help Now! relates to the family health reasons that prompted Larry's move to the west coast from Washington, D.C. in 1993. Larry has a son with a severe disability—schizophrenia. Larry was advised by his son's treating health professionals to distance his son from the Washington, DC area due to certain stress factors that were adversely affecting his son's well-being and functioning there. After making the move to San Diego, Larry was placed in the position of becoming a de facto advocate with regard to many facets of his son's life—living arrangements, treatment options including selection of health care providers, medications, and employment among others. Larry also assumed this role in caring for his elderly mother in San Diego during the last years of her life. This role with his son continued when Larry, and later his son, moved to the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon in 2001.
While acting in this role, Larry observed how instrumental his advocacy was in improving his son's level of functioning and in making his mother's last years more comfortable for her. At the same time, Larry observed how others with the same affliction as his son seemed to be languishing without the benefit of the assistance his son enjoyed. Larry saw firsthand how effective advocacy could profoundly improve the quality of life for both disabled persons and seniors. It was from this consideration also that Help Now! was conceived.
Having the idea for a new organization, Larry spent approximately two months researching demographics, economics, and the social service network locally. As part of this needs assessment analysis, Larry interviewed elected officials, agency heads, and directors of other social service non-profit organizations. He also conducted extensive internet research to ascertain whether the organization that he was contemplating forming was already in existence elsewhere. All of his research confirmed a critical and unmet need, not only locally but statewide and nationwide as well, for the services that the non-profit would be providing. As a result, Larry and other prominent individuals in the community, who shared his vision and concurred with his needs assessment, formed Help Now! Advocacy Center in the spring of 2004.