UA Little Rock Launches Rural Law Practice Incubator

The University of Arkansas Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law will launched the state’s first law firm incubator program, the Bowen Rural Practice Incubator, on April 16, 2018.

According to studies done by Arkansas Access to Justice, Arkansas is in need of more attorneys.  The national per capita ratio is 4.11 attorneys per 1,000 residents. Arkansas’s ratio is about half of that at 2.04 attorneys per 1,000 residents.

The situation is even worse in the 25 most rural counties in Arkansas, where the ratio is 0.72 attorneys per 1,000 residents.

The population of attorneys in these rural counties is aging, and there is a shortage of young attorneys willing to serve those communities. In fact, 28 percent of these counties have no attorneys licensed in this millennium, and only 14 attorneys have moved to any of these counties since 2008, according to a 2015 Arkansas Access to Justice Policy Brief. 

Many of the lawyers serving these rural communities serve in both public and private capacities as a county or city attorney and as a lawyer in private practice. The absence of attorneys means some residents may not receive the legal help they need. Many must wait until their local attorneys have capacity to help them, or they turn to representing themselves.

Bowen’s Rural Practice Incubator was designed to address this access to justice issue in these counties by encouraging new attorneys to set up innovative business practices in underserved rural communities.

“Bowen is already reaching out to fill this gap,” said Incubator Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law Amy Pritchard. “Our students are involved in existing programs in rural counties such as the Delta Experience and the Delta Clinic, the Business Innovations Clinic, and the Judicial and Prosecutor Practica. The Rural Practice Incubator is the next logical step to helping Arkansas’s residents and the legal community as a whole.”

The Incubator program is open to Bowen alumni and current Bowen students who are graduating in May 2018. To be considered for the program, applicants must submit a statement of interest explaining why they are interested in a solo legal practice, how they chose their county of practice, and why they wish to practice there. They must also submit a transcript, recommendations, and a short business plan. Participants must pass the Arkansas bar exam before entering the program, and they will be required to maintain legal malpractice insurance.

“The Rural Practice Incubator is a perfect example of Bowen’s core values of professionalism, public services, and access to justice in action,” said Bowen’s Dean John DiPippa. “Our graduates want to give back to their communities and fulfill their dreams of becoming thriving, practicing attorneys.”

Four participants will be selected, with new participants selected every six months to a year thereafter. During their first 18 months of practice, each participant will receive training and mentoring, free case management software, legal documents and forms, scholarships for continuing legal education, an office space and a one time, $3,000 stipend for business expenses.

The program is designed so that at the end of the 18-month incubator term, participants will have the skills, referral network, and client base to sustain their practices.