California Western School of Law has launched an incubator law office for attorneys in solo or small firm practice. The Access to Law Initiative is modeled after the Community Resource Legal Network at CUNY School of Law, and is being run by a visiting professor from the New York law school.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law, also located in downtown San Diego, announced a similar incubator program in May. It is also working with CUNY Law School to create its program. Both programs are designed to help new graduates garner experience, while providing free and low-cost legal services to the San Diego community.
CUNY’s Professor Fred Rooney, who developed the first incubator for attorneys in 2007, has teamed up with Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Professor Luz Herrera, a national leader in the access to justice movement to create the joint incubator program.
“First, like all business incubators, ours aims to assist our graduates to develop successful businesses in our case, small solo practices," said Rooney. " Second, we help our graduates become successful social entrepreneurs who contribute to improving access to justice while enabling them to make a living. The law school provides a low cost working environment, training, and mentoring, and in exchange, the new lawyers commit to give back to the community through pro-bono and low-bono work for underserved clients. Over the course of about a year, incubator lawyers build confidence along with their client base and leave the incubator. Hopefully, they take with them both the business acumen to run a successful practice and a sense of social responsibility that will encourage them to continue to serve their community.”
California Western's incubator law office is located in downtown San Diego and houses eight attorneys who each operate their own practice and pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service, and “sliding scale fee” legal service. The Access to Law Initiative provides the attorneys with mentoring and networking opportunities, in addition to office space.
“The program follows the adage, ‘doing well by doing good,’” said Robert Seibel, the program’s director and a visiting professor form CUNY Law. “The expectation is that lawyers who serve the underserved will gain experience and make contacts that will lead to an economically viable practice, while making a difference in the lives of their community.”
Both programs would meet proposed requirements by the State Bar of California, which is considering whether to impose a practical skills training requirement on lawyers applying for admission.
“With [other] academic programs, California Western is already among law schools taking the lead in a combined focus on the academic and practical requirements of the law,” said Joseph Dunn, the program’s executive director. “The Access to Law Initiative extends that preparation into the first years of practice, offering mentoring and learning opportunities to solo practitioners that will prove helpful throughout their careers.”