Justice Entrepreneurs Project will help new lawyers launch practices serving low and moderate income clients
Chicago’s growing reputation as a hub for innovation once again was on display today as The Chicago Bar Foundation formally unveiled Chicago’s newest incubator in the West Loop, the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP). Through this CBF program, a group of talented and entrepreneurial new lawyers will have the opportunity to launch solo and small firm practices that provide affordable legal services to low and moderate income Chicagoans.
From 1871 to the many other technology and business incubators springing up around the city, Chicago is developing a well-earned reputation as a center for innovation, said Stephen R. Patton, Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago. The JEP is a great addition to this scene, bringing our legal community together through the CBF to start this groundbreaking program for recent law school graduates to start socially conscious law practices.
The goal of the JEP is to expand legal services to low and moderate income people by developing new, market-based models through which lawyers build sustainable solo or small firm practices that provide affordable services to this growing segment of the community.
While Chicago boasts a network of outstanding pro bono and legal aid organizations that provide free legal assistance, many low and moderate income Chicagoans earn too much to qualify for these free services but not enough to hire an attorney at traditional market rates. This leaves them with little access to reliable legal assistance and as a result, they are forced to fend for themselves in important civil matters such as custody or deportation hearings.
At the same time, a growing number of talented new lawyers increasingly are looking for nontraditional paths into the legal profession. These lawyers are technologically savvy, they welcome innovation, and they understand the need to reinvent the traditional law practice.
These two circumstances presented the opportunity for a unique, innovative and elegant solution. We needed to find a way to connect these lawyers with the clients who need them, said Terri Mascherin, chair of the JEP steering committee and partner at Jenner & Block.
Participating lawyers spend the first six months of the 18-month program providing pro bono service through placements at local legal aid organizations. They provide much-needed legal services for people in need during this phase while gaining valuable experience and connections in the legal community. At the same time, the JEP provides regular training to help them establish, develop and grow their practices.
In the later phases of the program, participants will focus more on the business end of running a practice everything from balancing the books to business development, new fee models and how to best leverage technology. The participating lawyers also will have access to a client referral network through the CBF and its partner organizations.
The JEP adds 10 new participants every 6 months, resulting in 30 lawyers participating at a time, and will serve as a proving ground for new approaches to practice.
Our vision is to create new models of law practice that can be replicated elsewhere, said CBF executive director Bob Glaves. This is not only about solving an immediate problem but about finding new, market-based solutions to deliver legal services to a group of people who too often are unable to obtain necessary legal assistance today.
According to Glaves, that will include leveraging technology, maximizing collaboration with clients, and developing innovative fee structures and models of service, such as fixed fees and a la carte legal solutions instead of the traditional billable hour.
The CBF brings Chicago’s legal community together to support the JEP program, partnering with lawyers and organizations who provide significant pro bono and in-kind donations valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, and connecting the participants to a vast network of experience and expertise.
JEP is the ultimate win-win for all concerned, remarked Patton. It gives a group of Chicagoans access to much-needed legal help at affordable rates, while also helping these talented young lawyers launch innovative and successful law practices.
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