Sharing the JEP’s (Not So) Secret Keys to Success

The goal of the CBF Justice Entrepreneurs Project has always been twofold. First and most obviously, we want to increase access to affordable legal services for low and middle-income people and businesses in the Chicago area through the direct efforts of the lawyers in the JEP network.

The second aim of the JEP has always been to identify successful and replicable practice models developed by JEP attorneys and spread these innovations to the broader legal market.

All JEP attorneys are committed to offering predictable pricing, which means that rather than offering the traditional billable hour approach, they offer clients pricing options like monthly subscription fees and fixed fees by task or phase. These pricing options offer predictability for budget conscious clients, give lawyers more reliable revenue streams, and allow attorneys to focus on offering value to their clients rather than maximizing their billable time.

To provide a practical resource for attorneys in the JEP and beyond, the CBF and JEP released a Pricing Toolkit in 2016 that provides real-world guidance for lawyers on pricing legal services to be more affordable and accessible for regular people. Since its release, the Toolkit has been used by attorneys across the U.S. and in Canada, and in 2017 received meritorious recognition from the American Bar Association. The CBF plans to release a second version next year.

Another way to make legal services more accessible and affordable to legal consumers is by offering unbundled services (a/k/a limited scope representation). Offering flexible and customizable representation options is a core principle of the JEP.  In an effort to expand the pool of Illinois attorneys offering these services and to meet growing client demand, the CBF worked with several partners to create the Limited Scope Representation Toolkit. The toolkit has everything an attorney needs in order to get started with limited scope: relevant rules and court forms, tips for discussing limited scope representation with clients and identifying for which clients it is a good option, an Attorney and Client Assignment Checklist, and sample Engagement Agreement and Disengagement Letters.

Finally, the JEP itself has served as a replicable model to other legal incubators across the United States and beyond. Notable examples that have adopted the JEP model in whole or part include Lawyers for Equal Justice in Atlanta and the Texas Opportunities and Justice Incubator in Austin. Most recently, a group of dedicated individuals in Colorado is partnering with the CBF to start a similar legal incubator based in Denver called Legal Entrepreneurs for Justice.

The CBF has developed a detailed Incubator Startup Checklist to assist others considering similar programs, which contains a set of practical guidelines for starting a legal incubator. The CBF also freely shares resources on the CBF website, frequently is asked to speak at bar programs and conferences throughout the country and beyond, and regularly hosts or consults with others interested in learning more.