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Hatched By Incubator

By Donna Mallard | Sep. 2, 2015

Law Office Management

Sep. 2, 2015

Hatched By Incubator

-Emily Morris

Jasmine A. Braxton was working as a music-licensing intern when she decided she wanted to advocate for musicians as a lawyer. But when she graduated in 2014 from UC Hastings College of the Law, she was nervous about venturing solo into such a competitive specialty when legal jobs in general were so scarce (by March, just 60 percent of her class nationwide had found full-time jobs requiring bar passage).

So she turned to the Modest Means Incubator Program at California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA), which launched that summer. It is among dozens of similar programs created nationally since 2007 with two goals: To train new lawyers, and to address the "justice gap" by helping them serve people who cannot afford to hire a civil lawyer. In California alone, ten programs have launched since 2012, and two more aim to open by next year, according to the American Bar Association.

"It's helping to solve two problems at the same time," says Robert Pimm, an IP lawyer in Walnut Creek, director of legal services at CLA and creator of its incubator. Within weeks, Braxton says, she had "a tricky trademark issue" in which Pimm's help saved her hours of work-and a major headache.

Incubators are typically started by law schools and funded by grants and by fees from participants, though some are free or even provide stipends. Braxton and four other new attorneys pay CLA $500 per month to use donated software and space in its Berkeley office and for mentoring, referrals, and other benefits. Each participant must handle at least two pro bono matters during 12 to 18 months at the incubator. Braxton does contract work on the side to make ends meet.

Some incubators are modeled on the one at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, created in 2007 and thought to be the nation's first. Co-founder Fred Rooney, now director of the International Justice Center for Post-Graduate Development at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York, also has helped start many other programs. He says it would be helpful to know where participants go next and how many modest-means clients they help while at incubators, or afterward. But there is little data: Until recently, Rooney says, "creating a matrix for determining how successful they are has really not been a priority."

Incubator directors say it's unclear how to measure success: Would the best gauge be the number of clients that participants keep, how many low- and middle-income clients they serve, or something else?

Some incubators have had trouble sustaining themselves financially. CUNY's has been on hiatus for more than a year. Lisa Reiner, associate director of the university's Community Legal Resource Network, which runs it, says improvements to the structure and curriculum are under way. CUNY is collaborating with the New York City Bar Association to relaunch the incubator in 2016.

The California State Bar encourages law schools and legal aid services to pool their resources. "By working together, they're able to reduce the expense of creating incubators," Rooney says. "They're able to share training materials and just avoid duplicating those kinds of services." Supported by several foundations, a bar commission gave $45,000 each to the Los Angeles Incubator Consortium, the Bay Area Regional Incubator Project, the Northern California Lawyer Access Academy Project, and the Orange County Incubator Consortium. A requirement for the one-year grants was that the consortia measure their progress by collecting data on training, clients, fees, and more.

California Western School of Law's incubator now has 18 lawyer-participants, including one who took on a contract dispute with "a very aggressive opposing party" for a flat fee her client could afford, and eventually won an appeal, says Robert F. Seibel, who started the program in 2012 and is a former director. "It's clear here that the lawyer made a huge difference," he says.

For Braxton, access to clients and support from professionals have been crucial: "I don't think I would have stuck with this as long if I weren't in the incubator."


Donna Mallard

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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