Los Angeles Law Schools Create Program to Help Low Income Clients
On January 12, 2015, the State Bar of California Commission on Access to Justice awarded UCLA School of Law, Southwestern Law School, and Pepperdine University School of Law a one-year grant to establish a modest means incubator. This pilot program will be designed to help new attorneys develop and launch viable practice models for serving modest means clients. This project was one of four chosen out of two dozen applications received by the commission. While the Commission awarded $185,000 total in grants to four projects throughout California, the grant given specifically to these three law school for the modest means incubator totals $45,000.
These three law schools have partnered with local legal aid organizations and the Los Angeles County Law Library in order to develop the Los Angeles County Incubator Consortium. This consortium will prepare 12-15 recent law school graduates–four or five from each of the schools–for working with and providing legal services to low and modest income populations through training in establishing law practices.
According to California Supreme Court Justice and Chairman of the Access Commission’s grant review committee Goodwin Liu:
This is a wonderful first step in nurturing the next generation of lawyers providing legal services for everyday people with modest means. The unmet legal needs in our communities are well-documented, and this could serve as a model for incubator projects throughout California and nationwide.
The goal of this one-year program is to provide these graduates with the tools for effective solo practice management. These include client communication, case management, and business opportunity development. Additionally, program participants will receive training in various substantive areas of law in exchange for providing 200 hours of pro bono representation. In order to get the most out of this program, participants will receive guidance and mentorship from lawyers and retired judges on legal strategy.
Other members of the program, including Bet Tzedek, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Community Legal Services, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Public Counsel, hope to develop a successful incubator program that can serve the legal needs of low and modest income populations throughout all of Los Angeles County in the long run.
Overall, this program will be beneficial to everyone involved. It will allow new law school graduates the opportunity to do meaningful work while learning from experienced members of the legal field, and it will give lower income families access to the legal services that they need, but would otherwise be unable to afford. Hopefully, the first year of this modest means incubator will be successful, and the program will continue to provide these services for years to come.
It would also be ideal to see this program used as a framework for incubator programs across the country, and not just in Los Angeles. Those everywhere earning low and modest incomes could benefit from pro bono legal services, as it is unlikely that they would be able to afford them otherwise. Other law schools can model programs after this one, while tailoring their individual programs to the specific needs of the city where they are located. While upfront these programs will cost a significant amount of money, the benefits that they will bring to everyone involved will make them worth it in the long run.