The CBF Justice Entrepreneurs Project is in an open-plan, loft office space just west of the Loop. This is where program participants (JEPers) start their innovative, socially conscious law practices serving low and middle income Chicagoans. This is where they learn skills and techniques for doing law differently setting predictable prices, offering unbundled services, making use of tech-based efficiencies. This is where JEPers meet clients and start to build their businesses. But one crucial component of the JEP always gets JEPers out and about to gain valuable, real-world practice experience serving their community the pro bono residency.
JEPers spend 20 hours a week every week for the program’s first six months 500 hours in total working pro bono at the CBF’s partner pro bono and legal aid organizations. The bulk of that time is spent in residency with an organization that works on the issues the JEPer will build a practice around. Immigration attorneys typically spend their time with the National Immigrant Justice Center, while the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing takes on aspiring landlord-tenant law attorneys, for example. JEPers represent clients under the supervision of talented and experienced staff attorneys. While serving those most in need of legal assistance, JEPers build substantive legal knowledge and skills. At the same time, JEPers build relationships with legal aid organizations and staff that result in client referrals and ongoing, career-defining mentorship.
All JEPers also work with CARPLS, staffing the legal aid hotline for one 4-hour shift a week. On the CARPLS phones, they give legal advice about family law, landlord-tenant issues, and consumer debt matters to clients and connect some folks to legal aid partners for further assistance. This experience exposes JEPers to the substantive law behind common legal problems faced by low and middle-income people, gives good practice communicating with clients in the JEP’s target market, and helps CARPLS meet the needs of the 50,000 folks who call the hotline every year. This experience also gives JEPers valuable exposure to using technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness in client service, one of the CARPLS hallmarks.
The pro bono residencies help thousands secure free legal help, offer fantastic training to the JEP attorneys, and cast the need for affordable legal help into stark relief. Through their service, JEPers see the many low and middle-income people turned away because they don’t qualify for legal aid but also cannot afford the billable hours of a traditional firm. With an understanding of the need for affordable options, JEPers are better positioned to build practices designed to meet that need.