Law practice incubators have emerged in recent years in response to several factors, including a decrease in the number of attorney jobs, an increasing recognition that new lawyers have not been educated in the practical skills required to practice law, and the chronic, pervasive lack of affordable legal services available to low and moderate income people.
Providing adequate legal assistance to those who cannot afford it has long been a challenge for the legal profession. The economic downturn in recent years has brought added urgency to that challenge, and this topic is now at the forefront of discussions on the future of the profession both nationally and here in California. Millions of Americans need but cannot afford lawyers, and there has never been a better time to think creatively about the solutions.
The Modest Means Incubator Project of the California Commission on Access to Justice is part of a national movement intended to connect practical training for newer lawyers with providing excellent and affordable legal assistance to low and moderate income clients on a range of topics including family and housing law, labor code violations, consumer debt, and more.
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An incubator is a post-graduate program to support and assist law school graduates in starting their own solo, small firm, or non-profit practices. Incubator participants receive the infrastructure and basic training needed to get their practices up and running, and serve the local community’s legal needs at an affordable cost.
A law practice incubator provides a work environment where incubator attorneys can gain experience in the practice of law and knowledge about how to manage a law practice. In an incubator, newer attorneys provide legal services while being mentored, supervised, and taught by experienced attorneys. Most incubators require pro bono service and emphasize creating a practice around service to low and moderate income people. Ideally, upon completion of the program, incubator graduates will be able to launch a sustainable law practice, providing affordable services in communities where there is a need for their services.
Incubators meet two important goals: they provide a structured education in the practice of law and law practice management, and they provide legal services at affordable rates for underserved communities. Incubators benefit newer attorneys by allowing them to gain experience while practicing law under the supervision and mentorship of senior attorneys. Incubators also benefit clients who obtain legal services in the incubator setting, especially in those situations where the incubator structure is built around providing affordable services to low and moderate income people. Incubators can be good environments to introduce or expand the use of technology, alternative fee arrangements, and newer models of practice that will benefit the efficient delivery of legal service to a larger client base.