Seeding Innovation in the Practice of Law

Flash back to 2010, a time few of us would look back on fondly. Our legal community was in the full throes of the recession, with the job market for newer lawyers in tatters and more people than ever in need of legal help yet unable to get it.

Never let a good crisis go to waste was a quote often heard from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel around the time, and the CBF did not. The CBF saw a prime opportunity to tackle this growing dysfunction in the legal market and began the work that ultimately led to the launch of the CBF Justice Entrepreneurs Project in early 2013.

JEP Advisory Board President Terri Mascherin, who was at the center of the JEP’s development from the start, welcomes participants and friends for the opening of the JEP’s dedicated space in November 2013.

Flash forward to today, and the JEP has become a national and international model for legal innovation to improve access to justice and is breaking new ground in the profession.

The JEP is a small business incubator that helps newer lawyers start innovative, socially conscious law practices serving low and middle-income Chicagoans. The JEP draws on principles of entrepreneurship and experimentation common in the tech startup community to develop disruptive, market-based models to improve access to legal services.

JEP lawyers are building practices that offer fixed fees and flexible representation options, maximize technology and attorney-client collaboration, and leverage existing but previously untapped referral networks. The CBF connects participating lawyers to its vast network of expert and experienced partners and supporters in the Chicago legal community to help set them up for success.

To date, the JEP has helped more than 50 attorneys build sustainable businesses serving this market. In 2017 alone, JEP attorneys helped more than 4,000 low to middle-income clients and brought in over $4 million in revenue in the process.

In addition to the direct impact of that work, the CBF is identifying successful and replicable practice models and helping to spread these innovations to the broader legal market. Dozens of organizations across the country and beyond already have adopted the JEP model or leveraged JEP resources to improve access to legal services in their own communities.