Lawyers for Equal Justice

A Plan for the Creation of a Collaborative Incubator Program for Georgia
 
By Hulett “Bucky” Askew, Georgia State University College of Law
 
In September 2014, the Administrative Office of the Courts was awarded a seed grant by the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism to facilitate and complete the planning process for the creation of a collaborative incubator program for Georgia. The grant of $15,000 is for the period of October 1, 2014 to April 1, 2015 and falls under the purview of the Judicial Council’s Access, Fairness, and Public Trust and Confidence Committee


Georgia’s incubator, tentatively called Lawyers for Equal Justice (LEJ)*, is a post-graduate training and support program for recent law school graduates who are interested in solo or small firm practice and are committed to serving communities in need, both pro bono and for an affordable fee. While each participating attorney in LEJ will operate an independent practice, the incubator will enable those attorneys to share resources and receive training in an affordable and collegial setting. Once successfully established, the plan envisions that LEJ will be self-sustaining, the participants will provide high-quality and affordable legal services, and it will produce lawyers who are skilled and committed to representing low and moderate income clients and are able to establish and maintain successful law practices.

altGeorgia’s State Bar, Supreme Court, and five law schools all share a desire that recent law school graduates who are committed to solo, small firm or public interest practice get the post-graduate training and support they need not only to build sustainable and innovative practices but to handle their cases competently and in compliance with all the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. LEJ will create a supportive environment to introduce or expand the use of technology, alternative fee arrangements, and newer models of practice that will benefit the efficient delivery of legal services to a larger client base. The “graduating” participants will be well on their way to succeeding in building sustainable and technologically sophisticated practices responsive to unmet community needs; and as a result, the State Bar will benefit from the development of replicable models for delivering affordable legal services to otherwise unrepresented clients.
 
 LEJ will recruit, train and support thirty recent law graduates in this program. Ten new participants will be selected every six months until the full complement of thirty participants are part of LEJ. Once the ten participants complete eighteen months in the program, they “graduate” from the incubator and continue their solo or small firm practices, which they have developed while in the program, in their own offices.
 
The target clients for LEJ will be persons of modest means with legal needs who believe that they cannot afford to pay the going rates and would not qualify for legal aid or pro bono programs. The basic goals of the project will be:

1.   to expand access to affordable legal services for low and moderate income clients who make up a sizable gap in access to justice;

2.   to help participant lawyers establish, maintain and grow sustainable practices that meet demonstrated community needs;

3.   to develop innovative service delivery models that will support successful practices while also being broadly replicable; and

4.   to improve the capacity of Georgia’s newly minted lawyers to meet the professional demands of solo and small firm practice.

Lawyers for Equal Justice will be a project of the State Bar of Georgia, in partnership with the five ABA-approved law schools in Georgia, housed in the State Bar headquarters. LEJ will provide administrative and infrastructure support to the project and will arrange training for the participants through the State Bar’s Law Practice Management Program and its Sections. A 501(c)3 entity (Lawyers for Equal Justice Foundation- LEJF) will be created, the board of which will be composed of representatives of the State Bar and its Younger Lawyers Division, the five Georgia law schools, the legal aid providers and other stakeholders in the project. The Foundation will raise and provide funding for the project, will retain the Director of the program and will select the ten new participants each six months from among the schools graduates. The State Bar, through a Standing Committee, and the LEJF will collaborate in adopting policies and procedures for the program and overseeing its operation. The Director and any other staff retained will be employees of the Foundation, not the State Bar.
 
The commitment of the State Bar to improving access to justice and providing for the effective transition into sustainable and innovative practices for its newest members can be married with the law schools’ desire to support recent graduates as they begin their careers and to continuing the schools’ educational mission after the granting of the JD. The exciting aspects of this model are that it furthers the goals of both the State Bar and the law schools:   

1. to experiment with and develop new and innovative forms of practice;

2. to assist graduates in transition into practice and meeting the needs of unserved populations;

3. to build upon collaborative relationships among the bar, the law schools and other stakeholders in Georgia that are rare or even nonexistent in most U.S. jurisdictions; and

4. to be a national model of collaboration among all of the state’s law schools.  Many of these aspects of the program currently do not exist anywhere else in the country so in that respect LEJ will be unique and nationally noteworthy.
 

*Lawyers for Equal Justice (LEJ) is a name selected for purposes of this paper.  The official name of the incubator will be selected at a later date.

 

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