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Paul Furrh, president and chief executive officer of Lone Star Legal Aid, recently was selected to participate in the Drucker Foundation, Frances Hesselbein Community Innovation Fellows Program. The program is designed to celebrate and foster community leadership. It is a yearlong program that supports the professional development of social-sector leaders who have demonstrated leadership and entrepreneurial ability. What qualified Furrh for this selection? The short answer is that Furrh survived the process that reduced 10 legal service programs in Texas to three. In 1998, the Legal Services Corp., the primary funder for the provision of legal services to low-income Texans, mandated a statewide strategic planning effort to review the best way to deliver legal services in Texas. Furrh, then serving as executive director of East Texas Legal Services, was selected to serve as chairman of the Texas Legal Services State Planning Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services to the Poor. At the time, the whole process was questioned, making a favorable outcome doubtful, but Furrh drew on his experience and accepted the challenge. At the beginning of his career as a legal services attorney, Furrh was given the responsibility of conducting a priority study as mandated by federal law. The purpose of the study was to determine the types of cases that should be accepted. Furrh developed a questionnaire, which was sent to board members, staff, bar association presidents, local community social service agencies, low-income client groups and low-income clients. In addition, he held a number of focus group meetings with low-income clients and client groups throughout the region. These meetings, with 50 to 100 eligible clients, involved presentation of information on budgets, the number of attorneys who could be hired and a list of case category types. Of course, Furrh’s study presented a classic Hobson’s choice: How do you prioritize case acceptance when there is one lawyer available for every 15,000 clients? Is a housing discrimination case more important than a simple divorce? Is a protective order in a family law matter more important than anything else? If low-income clients are turned down for emergency health care at a local hospital, does that trump assistance of a child in need of special education? How does public education of the child of an undocumented alien rank? Furrh completed his study and drafted priorities, and he learned valuable lessons. He learned to tell people no and listened to their disappointment and anger without responding in kind. He learned to make priority decisions and act on them. He learned that the entire process must be repeated from time to time. Furrh’s colleagues credit him with being fair and even-handed. Notwithstanding his experience, Furrh’s service as chairman of the State Planning Committee got off to a slow start. He says he drew on the central lesson that he took from Peter Drucker’s book, “The Effective Executive.” That lesson is that it is critical to know the difference between being efficient and being effective. During 1999 and 2000, not much progress was made. Instead, existing legal services programs simply dug in and argued, without much objective support, that the current number of programs, 10, was perfect; therefore, any change would diminish service to clients. Finally, it became clear that Texas leaders either could voluntarily draft a plan that reduced the number of programs or a reduction would be made for them. As David Levy, chairman of the board of directors of Lone Star Legal Aid said in his letter of recommendation for Furrh to be a fellow, “Paul’s leadership during this time was essential for the majority of the stakeholders in the Texas Equal Access to Justice community to buy into the new plan.” Perhaps the best overview was offered in a letter of recommendation for Furrh’s participation in the Fellows program by Randi Youells, vice president for Programs of the Legal Services Corp., “[T]he Texas state justice community has undergone critical changes, not without great effort and some tension. Paul was a leader in this initiative. As chairman of the Texas Legal Services State Planning Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services to the Poor, Paul oversaw the restructure of legal services programs in Texas from 10 grantees to three, while maintaining services throughout the state. This massive reallocation of staff and funding was taxing, but Paul guided the process with wisdom, understanding and patience. He kept planners focused on the essential prize — improved services for clients.” In addition to LSC-funded programs, their boards and staff, state planning involved other partners in the justice community. In Texas, key State Bar of Texas members, elected officials and judges also were part of the process, since their support was a part of any firm foundation for lasting change. Furrh was required to develop and foster alliances between unlikely partners. John Jones, chairman of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, observed in his letter of recommendation that “Paul’s leadership … was essential for the acceptance and agreement by the stakeholders to radically change the way legal services were handled in Texas. I believe the implementation of the state plan adopted by Paul’s committee has and will continue to expand access to and enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for low-income Texans.” Finally, Furrh continued to lead his own program and craft its merger with the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation — the first, and to date most successful, merger of legal services programs in Texas. One obvious benefit of the speed of this merger is being able to choose the name “Lone Star” Legal Aid. Other programs also had expressed interest in the name now permanently claimed by Furrh’s merged program. Furrh begins a yearlong fellowship program that includes leadership workshops and consultations, conference participation, and access to resources and tools. The Drucker Foundation provides Hesselbein fellows with workshops conducted by leaders from corporate, government and social sectors. Fellows will be Drucker Foundation guests for major educational conferences, including the Drucker Foundation 2002 Leadership and Management Conference in Philadelphia, as well as the 2003 conference, where they will conclude their fellowship year and welcome the next class of fellows. After the close of the formal fellowship year, the Drucker Foundation will remain connected with emeritus fellows, serving as a resource for ongoing professional development. Furrh says he sees his fellowship as a chance to help him deal with huge geographic areas with branch offices usually serving multiple counties, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, he hopes to learn how to save and enhance the past good work of programs, while building on new systems and traditions. If Furrh is successful in his fellowship, legal services in Texas will be the primary beneficiary.

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