A Real Social Network: Time-Banking

by ursavoice

Jessica Glynn

In 1963, Edgar Cahn graduated from law school determined to use his law degree for social justice. The following year, he and his wife wrote The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective,1 which became the blueprint for the National Legal Services programs. Cahn then worked as a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy and helped Kennedy organize a national campaign against hunger and create the Volunteers in Service for America (VISTA) program. In the 1970s, he and his wife started a public interest law school focused on clinical education (now UDC David A. Clarke School of Law).2 After starting a law school, creating national programs, and dedicating his career to public service, Professor Cahn saw a missing piece in the community-building puzzle; the people who need help were being undervalued and cut out of the process. Most recently, he has written two books on “time-banking,” Time Dollars and No More Throw-Away People: The Coproduction Imperative, which he thinks is a solution or at least a start to a solution for mobilizing people and solving many of our country’s problems.3

His idea of “time-banking” is simple but the possible impact is huge. In the time-banking system, every member of the community is valued and has something to give. Members of the time-bank exchange services for “time dollars.” These services range from babysitting and grocery shopping to guitar lessons and language classes but every hour of time is valued the same. Time-banks provide services for the elderly, the poor, the isolated, and anyone else who is part of the community. Professor Cahn used the time-banking system to start a Time Dollar Youth Court in Washington, D.C., which allows youth to appear in a court run by their peers. In a time-bank, everyone can be a social entrepreneur by using underutilized resources. The time-banking system could be used to clean up a community, set up a neighborhood watch, organize tutoring services, and more. Over 110 time-banks have been established in twenty-six countries and the number is growing. Just last month, a time-bank opened in Long Beach, California.4

As lawyers, we have joined a “helping profession” but sometimes we forget that the people we help have just as much to give as we do. Professor Cahn would tell us to stop sending the message to our clients that “you have nothing we need, want or value” and engage them as participants in systems of mutual contribution. We all came to UCI Law School because we saw the opportunity to build and contribute to our own legal education. Let us hope that our entrepreneurial spirit does not stop there and that we use it to improve the legal profession and the communities around us. As Professor Cahn has shown, a simple idea such as “value everyone” can make a huge difference in the way we think about the assistance we provide and the resources available.5

1. Edgar S. & Jean C. Cahn, The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective, 73 Yale L.J. 1317 (1964)
2. Meet Our Founder. TimeBankUSA. http://www.timebanks.org/founder.htm; see also Professor Cahn’s faculty page. Available at: http://www.law.udc.edu/?page=ECahn.
3. Edgar S. Cahn, NO MORE THROW AWAY PEOPLE (2004).
4. Long Beach Time Exchange. http://timeexchangelb.wordpress.com/
5. Edgar S. Cahn, Reinventing Poverty Law, 103 Yale L.J. 2133 (1994); see also two interesting videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8R6VkqvsBY&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COn7Fc5ZurQ&feature=player_embedded#!.