Legal Incubators: A Solution to the ‘Justice Gap'
Sunday, April 9, 2017
University of California, Riverside
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Access to justice and quality legal services has become a profound and often underestimated problem affecting low-income families and modest means individuals throughout the nation. Legal service market rates in the United States have created a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil justice system. The gap accounts for the increasing section of the public that is too poor to afford a lawyer and not poor enough to qualify for legal aid. Studies indicate that a wide majority of people who are not able to meet their civil legal needs or appear without representation in civil court, do so because they simply cannot afford it.The Legal Services Corporation despite its efforts, has found it difficult to meet the significantly high demand of eligible clients seeking free legal services. In response, law schools and bar associations across the country have begun to address the need for lawyer training as a unique chance to also create ‘legal service delivery models’ that address the issue of unequal access to justice and affordable legal services among low income and modest mean individuals. Legal incubator programs are postgraduate training programs that provide newly graduated lawyers the skills and knowledge essential for starting and maintaining their own practice; while expanding access to legal services for those of low and moderate incomes. Model incubators support graduates by providing them subsidized office space, law practice management training and client development skills. Incubator programs have become a viable solution towards decreasing the access to justice gap by requiring participants to offer free and reduced fee legal services to low income populations.
In order to address the impact and potential that legal incubators can have on increasing access to justice among those of low and moderate incomes, I have conducted a comprehensive program evaluation of the Lawyer Entrepreneur Program (LEAP). LEAP is a legal incubator program established by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and is designed to provide the training needed to launch sustainable legal practices by offering participants a range of benefits and opportunities. In return, each participating lawyer must provide LEAP with a required 100 hours per year of pro-bono work. LEAP also trains attorneys in practices such as limited scope representation and unbundling services which benefit individuals who have trouble affording traditional full-service representation. Through semi-structured interviews with participants and an online administered survey, I sought to collect and analyze specific information, such as: number of hours spent on pro bono work, practice area interests, use of affordable legal practices and opinions of the range of resources offered. The qualitative and quantitative results from the data collected has allowed for the evaluation of the programs goals and the impact LEAP has had in the community. Proving imperial success of this program will help ensure its long-term existence and codify legal incubators as a viable solution towards decreasing the access to justice gap.