New Community-Service Trend Coming Out of NYC Law School.

“At a time when job opportunities are dismal, incubators offer a chance to create jobs for new lawyers,” says Fred Rooney,  Director of a newly formed, solo-based Community Legal Resource Network at The City University of New York (CUNY).  The concept of incubators is being taken up within certain law schools in an effort to fill the recent graduate job-less gap…and to meet the needs of the local community, to boot.

According to Law.com, the participating law schools teach an alumnus or alumnae to go directly into a solo practice. They do not pass go, and they do not collect $200.00*.  (The collecting of fees will likely come around at some point, which is the whole idea.)

Incubators also encourage the recent grad to work for underserved communities, for little or no cost.

For example, CUNY offered a spot in its incubator program to Yogi Patel (pictured here), who’d received his J.D. five years earlier.  Patel didn’t jump at the chance right away. He was “thinking of the logistics”.  He’d tried his hand at a law firm and at the legal department of a small construction firm.

Working for employers had its up side. They’d always had the logistics pretty much buttoned up.    “…I never had to think about that,” Patel explained. “Not having clients and managing the overhead were my biggest fears.” Still, he took a huge leap of faith and took CUNY up on their offer.

So what was it like?   Well, remember the logistics concern?  CUNY took care of at least one part of it: an  office.  It provided low-cost space in midtown Manhattan.

Oh, and it also provided office support.  (These perks can be had by selected graduates for at least two years.) So that’s another huge concern down. How many concerns to go?

What about the lack of support? And the well-documented need in law for some sort of mentor to oversee your efforts?  Not a problem.

“Participants have access to a large network of experienced solo practitioners who function as mentors, and [participants also] enjoy an internal support network among their colleagues in the incubator, which helps to reduce the isolation many solo practitioners [would otherwise] experience.”

CUNY was the first to launch an incubator in 2007, and now other schools are considering setting up incubators. “The Charlotte School of Law plans to have its Small Practice Center up and running next summer. Faculty and administrators at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Georgia State University College of Law and the University of Dayton School of Law are among those considering adding similar programs,” we read.

Too, Bar Associations like the idea. ” The Columbus Bar Association in Ohio began a year-long incubator in April with eight young attorneys,” notes Law.com.  More are on the way.

Quite a few law school administrators have come to New York to see the project at work, first-hand.

Additionally, the CUNY Director travels all over the country talking about the program.  Rooney has also “visited law schools in Europe, Central America and India to share his experience.”

As for the community service—what Rooney refers to as “low bono” work, although the spots do pay in the area of $75 per hour—CUNY incubators provide legal representation to clients who would otherwise not be able to afford a lawyer. Their fees are paid for by contracts with New York City.

It seems like quite a few legitimate concerns of recent grads who aim to start a solo or small firm can be addressed with incubators–and finding meaningful work would be one of them.  To learn more, go here: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202513353708

*Words courtesy of Monopoly board game (Parker Brothers).

-ERM

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